Excerpts from a recent talk
Recent weeks have seen terrorists yet again unleash their work of destruction. In Mumbai, as in London a year ago, indiscriminate slaughter has proven the terrorists' weapon of choice. And in the Middle East, Hezbollah and Hamas - evil twins born of, and sustained by, the same evil parents - have provoked violence, knowing full well the cost their naked aggression would impose not only on innocent Israelis but also on many tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians and Lebanese alike.
Faced with these outrages, it is not enough for us to shake our heads and hope that the world will set itself right. Rather, we must protect and assert the values that underpin our Australian society: values in which there can be no place for terrorism's supporters and fellow-travellers. To that end, we must affirm our commitment to those throughout the world who are on the front line of the fight against terrorism - a commitment which is not merely intellectual and emotional, but also practical: that is, we must contribute as fully as we can, to ensure that terrorism, and the vile threat it poses, is defeated and ultimately destroyed. The Howard Government's commitment to fighting terrorism has been and remains steadfast. Absolutely steadfast....
In an open, democratic society such as Australia's, the media plays a central role in shaping our understanding of the world. It is mainly through the media that we are informed; and it is from the media that we get many of the images and analyses that help determine the way we see the world. It is because the media is so important that we provide large-scale financial support to the ABC and SBS - so that the community will have access to the impartial information it needs and deserves. It is a clear indication of the on-going government support for the ABC that public broadcasting received a substantial funding increase in this year's triennial budget allocation.
I want to state clearly here tonight my belief that both the ABC and SBS in so many ways provide a valuable service to Australian public life. Australia would be a poorer place without so many aspects of the services provided by the ABC and SBS. However, the public broadcasters lets themselves down regularly by failing to apply the same rigour to the task of self-critique that they would claim to apply to the task of representing the truth to their audience. The ABC, for example, has a charter requirement to cater to all Australians. But if it was truly capable of honest self-assessment, the ABC would be more willing to recognise, acknowledge and correct the deep-seated and institutionalised bias that is manifested in its recent reportage of both domestic and international affairs. Some very recent examples I can quote here tonight are staggering.
Merely a week ago, Fran Kelly, the presenter of ABC Radio National's Breakfast program, chose to interview Robert Fisk on the events in the Middle East. Mr Fisk, she said, is a much praised and award winning journalist. And indeed he is - for he has received praise from no less a judge of character than Osama bin Laden himself, who, in a videotaped message on the eve of the 2004 presidential election in the U.S., commended Fisk by name for his incisive and "neutral" reporting. Did Ms Kelly disclose any of this? Obviously not.
As an aside at this point, I would like to quote the same Mr Fisk from an opinion column in The Canberra Times last week. In it, he quotes - without challenge or question - terrorist leader Sayed Hassan Nasrallah claiming that in its rocket attacks on Israel "Hezbollah originally wished to confine all casualties to the military". Fisk then goes on to criticise the - quote - "cruelty of Israel's response" - unquote - to those unprovoked and deadly attacks. It's no wonder that he attracts rave reviews from Osama bin Laden!
To take another example, let's consider for a minute SBS's coverage of the conflict in the Middle East on its flagship 6-30 PM news for Sunday July 16th. Israel's military actions in Lebanon were described as variously "murderous", "illegal" and "contrary to the laws of war". As for what Hezbollah had done, and its disastrous consequences for the people of Lebanon, the report SBS chose to air - and I emphasize the word chose - cutely said this: that Hezbollah "had some little explaining to do".
The Prime Minister John Howard decisively attempted to stop the rot on the AM program on July 14th when he was asked, and I quote: "Has Israel gone too far?" Mr Howard asked the reporter why the question must always be couched in terms of what Israel has done wrong and whether it should be condemned. He was, of course, appalled by the loss of life on both sides of the conflict. But - and to quote again - the Prime Minister said "the assumption that it was started by Israel in this particular instance is wrong".
That the Prime Minister should feel the need to highlight to a reporter the skewed nature of the question he was being asked is indicative of a deeply-ingrained culture - a reflex anti-Semitism - in parts of the media. Such questions betray a belief that Israel is always at fault and has no right to defend itself in any way against attacks from terrorists such as Hezbollah. To say that this is outrageous, and a disgrace, is an understatement.
What makes bias so dangerous, and also so difficult to control, is that it is not only what is said, but rather what is not said, that can be profoundly misleading. Take the reporting - again on the ABC's AM program - of the statement by Mr Chirac that Israel's response to the invasion of its territory and the kidnapping of its soldiers was "disproportionate". Now, how often did you hear Tony Eastely note that this was the same Mr Chirac who merely a few months earlier, had said that were France subjected to a terrorist attack, he would not rule out retaliating through a nuclear attack? The simple answer: not once.
Nor did Mr Eastely make the same point when Mr Putin criticised Israel's response to the kidnapping of its soldiers as "disproportionate" and called on Israel to negotiate with terrorists. Surely, one might have expected our national broadcaster to ask how consistent this was with Russia's own behaviour in Chechnya - but no, yet again, the ABC chose the convenient course of silence.
Equally, how often have you heard the terms "indiscriminate", "illegal", "contrary to international law" and "disproportionate" applied by the ABC and SBS not to Israel, but to Hezbollah's and Hamas' practice of shelling civilian towns in Israel? The answer: not once!
And when the ABC and SBS interviewed Lebanese Government Ministers, who merely washed their hands of Hezbollah's actions, did you hear the interviewer ask how Hezbollah has been allowed to build up its arsenal in Southern Lebanon? No, of course you didn't - because they wouldn't even have thought to put the question, much less to fearlessly pursue the point. Similarly, how balanced is it for the SBS to selectively run commentary from the BBC - commentary which is systematically and aggressively hostile to Israel - rather than say, also running the stories aired on US channels?
Another form of bias is sympathetic language. To give just one example, the ABC refers to Kassam Rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian terrorists as "home made rockets." This has the effect of makings the Palestinians seem like the underdogs, battling away against the might of the Israeli military with home made weapons. In truth - as you all know - Israel is a small country with a small population, virtually surrounded by hostile and in some cases increasingly fanatical countries. The terrorists it faces are well-organised, aggressive and persistently violent. They are financed and armed by Syria and Iran, which are countries far larger than Israel. They cynically exploit the Western media's desire to convey graphic images of casualties by locating themselves in civilian areas, ensuring that women and children will be among the worst victims of the conflicts they ignite and promote. They are hardly the home-made Dad's Army the media language would suggest and would want us all here in Australia to believe.
The decisions to portray events in this way smack of deliberate, thought through, deception. They are what biased journalists do when they want to hide from claims of bias, while still slanting the way the news is presented. A few token interviews, ritualistically presented, with Israeli spokesmen or commentators, or others more sympathetic to Israel's predicament, only make this deceitful purpose all the clearer.
Blatant bias about Israel is nothing new. But the scope of the problems is far broader. When terrorists targeted the London underground, time and again our public broadcasters' reports linked the terrorists' murderous actions to the Britain's participation in the Iraq war - suggesting, if not stating, that the ultimate fault lay not with the murderers but with the Blair government. The further, important, inference was that - just as Blair had brought the wrath of the terrorists onto London - so the Howard Government was exposing Australians to unacceptable risks: risks that, according to many ABC commentators, had already eventuated in the Bali bombings.
Given that, one might have expected the ABC and SBS to at least comment on the fact that India could hardly be claimed to have any role in Iraq - a war it had actively opposed. Rather, here was further proof, if more proof was needed, of terrorism's indiscriminate character. But far from it: no such thought was expressed....
I believe a media which fails to distinguish between good and evil, and which equates `balance' with studied relativism, fails its constituency: if we are not willing to call terrorism evil, then we have lost any sense of truth.
If some journalists on the ABC and SBS are frankly sympathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah, or even on balance believe they have the stronger case, why don't they have the courage to say so, rather than hiding behind a pretence of moral relativism? The cause of truth is not well served when those who have so much power to shape perceptions refuse to disclose, and be held accountable for, the perspective they take.
(For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here.)