Tim Blair


New Criterion



Saturday, May 31, 2003
NO SOONER had Uncle blogged on the lusciously-larynxed Margaret Throsby than the lass found herself well and truly out of her depth in an interview with Palestinian activist Ghada Karmi.

I did not hear it, preferring to use my time for music programming listening to music, but reader Chris W did, and was moved to write Margaret a note.

I'm following the emerging enquiry into the politicisation of the ABC with great interest. In the last five years I have gone from a passionate supporter of that network, to someone who would cheer at the suggestion that the ABC be defunded or even liquidated as an enterprise - you are that bad! Unfortunately your own on-air behaviour is symptomatic of this problem. I have heard (or perhaps just begun to notice) an large number of highly political guests on your show with extreme views, always left wing.

The last straw was this morning, when you featured Ghada Karmi, whose gentle voice disguised the vicious poison that she was speaking:- the elimination of the state of Israel, the 'blood-libel' of the Jews, the evil of the Americans, however sweetly expressed it was all there...

Feeling very angry at hearing these slanders on my national broadcaster, I did a quick search of Google and was not surprised to discover she is a contributor to a hardline Marxist organisation ( Yet from you we have no disclosure that Ghada Karmi is affiliated with this extremist group (or indeed any others to which she might be connected), and not even the slightest attempt to confront any of the horrible things she had to say, in particular about the Jews.

Another friend lost to Auntie.

HOW SHOULD WE establish Auntie's bias? asks reader Dan T.

... it does seem to me that bias should be measured
using multiple methods. The easiest approach is to simply analyse
transcript-based materials - this is what the Minister's people have
done. This method alone is far too weak, and our comrades at the ABC
are far too experienced and knowledgeable to allow themselves to be
nailed on this basis alone

No doubt the Alston document is limited. You might hope, Dan, that somewhere among the hordes of teachers of "media studies" in our fringe universities there might be one or two capable of a detailed analysis of Auntie's coverage and relating it to the body of knowledge available to Auntie's writers and presenters at the time the material was written. I don't.

The great advantage of just presenting Auntie's responses to the Iraq war is this. The war's outcome makes it clear that the spin in the AM scripts has its origin in the prejudices of those putting the reports together, not in the events. Had the outcome been otherwise we would have had no alternative but the kind of time-slice analysis you want, and establishing credibility would have been very difficult.

The Alston approach should be extended to the serial commentators we all love so much; the Gastropod, Max-weird and Pastor Lane. Let's document how they stand in terms of balance and objectivity.

And I know who should do it. The ABC, under the direction of a Board committee using outside talent as well as those "managers" who write the policies that no-one observes.

WHY BOTHER? seems to be the common theme of those writing in to Henny Herald to defend Auntie's right to just go on being Auntie.

If you go through Henny's mail, and all but one think they're defending Auntie, it seems that none of them has actually read the Alston dossier. They just attack Alston for criticising Auntie's politics.

The correspondents published in the Australian are no better.

The message I take from those defending Auntie's virtue is this: we don't care if she's biassed, because she's biassed our way.

These jelly brains actually like having the world filtered for them.

Pity about the rest of us who just have to pay the bills.

Just as pathetic in its intellectual fecklessness is the remark attributed to an Auntie apparatchik. It seems that it is inevitable that those who go into public broadcasting are on the left, since they are, apparently, not paid as much as Alan Jones and not as famous as Ray Martin. Just as inevitable that they'll be unable to comprehend what professionalism means.

Thursday, May 29, 2003
THE RUCTIONS at al Jazeera over allegations they've been channellling Saddam may mean that Radio National's communards have to revert to a more direct route for their supply of anti-Yank news out of Iraq.

THE AUSTRALIAN'S report on the Auntie Affair adds these three gobbets.

ABC Chair, Big Don McDonald, has written to Alston claiming he "ignored pleas for more funding", as if this were an offense against good government. How much, and when, are not specified.

Auntie's national director of news and current affairs instructed his staff on March 12th: "Do not use anything that could be construed as emotional language or editorialisation." His instruction was obviously ignored, raising questions about management within the organisation.

Errol Simper, an Aus writer on media matters, thinks Alston's pursuit of Max "Lying Bastards" Uechtritz is based on the latter's role in knifing failed MD Jonathan Shier.

THE LATEST in the battle to professionalise Auntie.

The Media Report interviews both Biffer Balding and Minister Alston this morning, but you'll have to wait for a transcript.

Gerard Tooth gives Biff a good hearing, but when Alston comes on has an attack of the Kerries, interrupting every reply mid-sentence.
This makes it clear that Gerard has teeth and is no Government patsy, but it is hard to make much else out of a programme in which two people are speaking at the same time.

Biffer is never pressed on the issue of his digital policy. If the new channels for adolescents and kids were of such high priority that they deserved the "one-off" funds the ABC found for them, and which could have been used to enhance quality broadcasting in other areas, or even returned to the tax-payer, why has Biff told his Board to cut them immediately, before the review of programming generally. He assures us their support was "small but strong", which might describe an audience comprising the channels' staff and immediate families.

Or was Biff trying to play clever, thinking if he helped the Government out of its digital policy hole the money was sure to follow. Never a goer, that one. Time to re-read the Machiavelli.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
ANDREW BOLT of the Herald Sun seems to have a warm relationship with the Gastropod.

NOW and then I receive an elegantly phrased note of abuse, neatly typed on personal letterhead and ending with a mock-matey "cheers", over the signature of Phillip Adams.

"I quite enjoy your drivellings," begins a typical one.
"You could be a Melburnian variation on Stan Zemanek," ends another. "Of course, you'll have to wait until your voice breaks."

Uncle didn't know the Gastropod could waddle that close to wit.

Andrew's chronicle of unrequited affection reveals the profound unhappiness in the more sane sections of the Parliamentary Labor Party at the support Philip Adams provides for Auntique thinking on the Australian left. And the support he provides for conservative governments thereby.

The once-lion of the left, who almost helped make Jim Cairns leader, who brought our children Sesame Street and has been feeding the infantility of the middle class left ever since, is now an embarrassment to the Party from which he extracted so much patronage.

I've always suspected Auntie's communards were a conservative conspiracy to weaken the Labor Party. Probably a conspiracy of white people, too.

(Thanks to Melbourne correspondent Bernard).

DEAR UNCLE, The very least you could do if you wish to be taken seriously is publish my reply in full and let your readers make up their own minds. You accuse others of cowardice. You don't seem too brave yourself.
Margaret Simons

What's with this macho stuff? I don't care if yours is bigger than mine.

Uncle is afraid of many things, not least the prospect of filling his blogs with verbiage even more tedious, self-serving and unintelligent than his own.

Get yourself a blog, Margaret, and I'll link to it>

WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? Well, Biffer Balding does, so he’ll be paying closer attention than normal to Minister Alston’s dossier on the performance of Radio National’s AM news magazine program during the course of the liberation of Iraq.

How strong is Alston’s case?

In the first place, you only have to string together the tops and tails provided by the AM presenters to their stories to observe the overwhelmingly anti-coalition spin. In that sense the document is persuasive and should embarrass anyone speaking for the ABC who has any understanding that there is a part of the political spectrum beyond those represented by the Australian Labor Party.

The analysis provided by Alston’s researchers sometimes assists this interpretation. Sometimes it hinders through a certain obtuseness. Uncle can think of a few bloggers who could have provided the shabby AM performance with a better fisking.

A good example of Alston analysis that does no more than highlight the totally unacceptable bias in the communard view of thing is:

“Day 20 AM - Wednesday 9 April, 2003 - 08:00:23
54. The death overnight of three journalists led Linda Mottram to make a furious attack on the United States: ".....the chances of independent reporting of the events on the ground have suffered a body blow overnight, and it's raised new questions about how the Coalition has attempted to shape reporting on this war".
What was the basis?
Well apparently the following remarks by Brigadier General Vince Brookes: "What we can be certain of, though, is that this Coalition does not target journalists and so anything that has happened as a result of our fire or other fires would always be considered as an accident".
55. This led Linda Mottram to sign off with: "Brigadier General Vince Brookes with a sense of how the US Military would prefer reporters in Iraq to work And it should be noted that they key buildings that were attacked overnight, the coordinates and locations of those buildings have been given to the Pentagon some time back".
Given that the remarks in question are logical and given that they contain no indication of how the US Military would prefer reporters in Iraq to work, Linda Mottram seemed clearly determined to read something sinister into the deaths of journalists, whatever the evidence. In fact, her last comment, on its face, seeks to give the impression that targeting of journalists may have been a deliberate Pentagon strategy.”

These examples are, quite reasonably, contrasted with the programme’s uncritical reporting of Iraqi Government statements. As far as AM was concerned, comical Ali was no joke, until that was the kindest thing you could say about him.

The less helpful kind of comment?

“Day 12 AM - Tuesday 1 April, 2003 - 08:20:32
41. ELEANOR HALL: "......the Bush nevertheless trying to counter reports from inside the US that its war plan is flawed".
The evidence?
LEIGH SALES (from Washington): "a cartoon in one of America's newspapers perfectly captures the pressure facing the Bush administration over the war's progress. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld is sitting behind the wheel of a car....full of children all chanting at him 'is it Vietnam yet, is it Vietnam yet?
"The Pentagon's rebutting that type of commentary and criticism that the war hasn't gone according to plan".
This "report" hardly constitutes commentary and criticism - more like immature and irrelevant abuse.”

That may well have been AM’s intention, but the cartoon is open to another interpretation. I’d be happy to see it as a comment on the childish immaturity of the aging peaceniks who wanted Iraq to be a quagmire.

It’s not that the Alstonites are totally wrong. But in debates of this kind you don’t give your opponents the opportunity to muddy the water.

Alston knows he has Biffer’s attention, having grasped him tightly by the short finances. He is right to push this matter and he shouldn’t stop there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
A WARNING before I leave. HREOC is not the only agency of our helpful government to be tinkering with automated censorship of websites. A number of organisations are introducing filters between the naughty web world and their keyboard peons. The Commonwealth Government is very keen for others to wade into this jungle of absurdities. One case was reported recently.

Deep within the bowels of our national Parliament you would find, if they let you in, a grumbling appendix where information specialists and researchers digest the raw materials of information to provide our elected representatives with whatever substance adds gravitas to the insults that are the currency of their debates. It is called the Parliamentary Library.

While HREOC's aim is to demonise sites that link words like 'Islam' and 'terrorism', so demonstrating the crime of Islamophobia, the Parliamentary Library seems more concerned about pornography. Well, Uncle supposes the bosses there know their staff better than he does.

The presence of pornography on a site is, of course, easy to detect. It is signalled by the presence of words like pe**s, va**na, f**ck, d*ck, br**st and to*s. Not to mention phrases like: 'the Black Rod entered the Chamber".

Uncle is resigned to the fact that all of his pages will be filtered out by the Parliamentary Grundymat, but others may wish to ensure that Members of our national legislature have ready access to their wisdom. In that case, never use the word "toes" again. There, I've done it, and I feel ever so naughty.

BARELY ADEQUATE journalist Kerry O'Brien soiled his nappy seriously in last night's 7.30 Report.

When Kerry is determined to be the centre of attention he falls victim to interruptitis. In last night's case, an interview with the Prime Minister over the case of Hapless Hollingworth, the Governor General who almost was, Kerry was so determined to read out his extended scripted comment-questions that most Prime Ministerial answers were interrupted mid-sentence. Very unedifying.

However, Kerry did manage to reach climax. As time ran out, Kerry interrupted his talent before he had even finished his first sentence. 'We're out of time, sorry' Kerry barked.

Then he asked another question!

Uncle doubts that he and John Howard are often on the same wavelength. In this case our bemusement was identical.

"Pleasure" was Howard's last word.

"Disgrace" is Uncle's.

MARGARET THROSBY is one of Auntie's Classic FM presenters. The task of this honey voiced lass is to talk about the next recording while the producer changes the stylus. She has minders to provide scripting, no doubt, and so talk grows and music fades, and that sector of the audience that still misses its father/mother writes gushing letters of appreciation to ABC management.

Alas, all too often the medium wishes to become a message too. The presenter becomes interviewer and soon, like the junkie on the slippery slope to addiction, we see him or her sliding into serial commentary. A vice which Margaret demonstrates less frequently than most. Were her name not Margaret, Uncle might forbear to point this current instance out.

Leading to this morning's interview with digger of ancient dirt, archaeologist Dan Potts, Margaret makes the observation that the looting of the Iraq national museum has been likened to Genghis Khan's behaviour in the distant past.

I'm sure it has been, but inappropriately. You see Genghis was a foreigner who not only pinched the treasures and laid waste the city but also turned Baghdad from a cultured capital into a ragged outpost.

In the recent case, the laying waste was done by the locals. Baghdad is still standing, and it is a little premature to say that the foreigners have made Iraq into a minor province.

I'm sure Biffer Balding would want us to believe that such twisted representations of current events have no political content whatever.

I KNEW IT WOULD COME TO NO GOOD, when The Weekend Australian gave Margaret Simons a right to reply to Christopher Pearson in last Saturday's Enquirer supplement (no link). Whether that action was prompted by the cowardice recommended by lawyers or the same editorial standards that give us Gastropodial gushings in their Weekend Magazine, who is to know. The result is not informative.

I fear that if that precedent is followed we shall all be beset by buzzing clouds of Margarets of impregnable moral vanity.

Margaret Simons now demands right of reply on ABCWatch. This is her case:

I have never attacked Pearson, Brunton et al by calling them names, nor have I or would I suggest they are "a racially motivated conspiracy". Those are your words, and most certainly not mine. Nor does "white men who steered events behind the scenes" (which is a matter of fact - the evidence is in my book) mean the same as "conspiracy of racists" which again are your words, not mine. I have never, nor would I, use the words "racist" or "conspiracy" to describe these people. I don't believe those terms to be true, and "racist" is, in most cases where it is used, exactly the kind of "name calling" I deplore.

You are entitled to your views, Margaret, but to me, "white men who steered events behind the scenes" does indeed mean the same as "conspiracy of racists". If the race of the conspirators irrelevant, why mention it? If 'steering events behind the scenes' does not mean 'conspiracy' what does it mean? If they didn't 'steer' events, you should not say so. If they did, you've got a good story, and it's a conspiracy story.

The history of religion establishes that piety and hypocrisy go hand in hand. Those of non-theistic faiths provide many examples.

I wonder if your publisher will provide the people you condemn with a right of reply?

Get your own blog, Margaret, that's Uncle's advice.

Monday, May 26, 2003
AUNTIE'S CHIEF GOD-BOTHERER monstered by Zionist conspiracy. Via Bernard.

SPEAKING OF MIXED MESSAGES, a further statement from Auntie spinner, Shane Wells, announcing the end of the friendless Fly and Kids channels, has this to say:

This is the first of several hard decisions the ABC will make over the coming months concerning its output. Maintaining the comprehensiveness of ABC broadcasting is becoming increasingly difficult. ABC funding from Government today, on a true comparative basis, is some 30 per cent less in real terms than what it was in 1985/86.

It is now important for the ABC to concentrate on its core broadcasting output, and thus minimise impact on its main audiences. Our audiences have never been stronger and we will continue to offer our audiences a quality public broadcasting service.

Shane leaves it open for us to believe that Auntie's public funding is, at least, no more reduced over the period than other public spenders'.

It is reassuring to know that Auntie is able to maintain her core programming at undiminished quality, and her audiences, at the existing level of funding. Just what Richard Alston wants to hear.

"No evidence for bizarre ABC claims" proclaims Biffer Balding in a stinging rebuttal of an editorial in the Australian of May 25th. Biffer sent it to me, with a copy to the Australian, which published it last Saturday May 24th.

Uncle has never read a newspaper editorial in his life and has no intention of starting now. If I ever feel the need to ogle those engaged in self-abuse I'll go back to reading John Quiggin's blog. I didn't mean that.

Here is the irrefutable evidence with which Biffer squashes those Murdoch hacks:

1. The very pollster used by The Australian, Newspoll, established in 2002 that 80 per cent of Australians considered that ABC news and current affairs were “balanced and even-handed” - consistent with previous surveys.

2. The Australian National Audit Office conducted a searching examination of the ABC’s legislative compliance in 2002. The ANA0 found ‘‘procedures and practices ... were effective in assisting the ABC to deliver news and current affairs programs that reflected the charter requirements of independence, accuracy and impartiality”.

As to the first point, Biff, Uncle passes. Everyone's entitled to their point of view, and this is not the main theatre of ideological contention. I do note, however, that the Aus refers to 'news and analysis' and the survey only to 'news and current affairs'. A distinction you should not be insensitive to.

The second is more interesting. Let's take ANAO's assessment at face value. Now add another indisputable fact.

You and your colleagues in Radio National put to air at least 20 hours (including repeats) of explicit political commentary each week, most of it of the serial kind, involving the selection and manipulation of external talent. Every one of those hours is fronted by people who are confessing leftists, by the usual criteria (explicit (if confused) Marxism, collectivist, pacifist, anti-US, etc. prejudices, hatred of conservative politicians). And that's not counting those presenters of non-political programming who hop on the bandwagon whenever they get a little excited, like, in the case of the recent stoush with Iraq, the presenters of your literary program, your poetry program and your NSW regional night time chat-back.

Now, Biffer, if your procedures are absolutely first rate, and the product stinks, what does that say about your personnel?

And their "manager"?

3. Finally, your editorial blithely advises the ABC to “look at some limited advertising” to assist with funding difficulties. I would have thought that some one so keen to invoke the ABC’s act would have bothered to read it. For your information, the act states rather simply “The corporation shall not broadcast advertisements”.

This is like shooting pigs in a pen. I bet about 300 letters have already pointed out to newspaper editors that Auntie carries more advertising than her poor ethnic cousin SBS, which is legally entitled to do so. Most of it promotes Auntie. Not a little promotes enterprises in which Auntie's staff, as well as Auntie, have a financial interest. Like books and records.

If I were you, Biffer, I wouldn't assume that the Parties in charge of the Treasury are peopled entirely by village idiots.

Thursday, May 22, 2003
A SHORT WHILE AGO, on the line to Doha, I spoke with the network's Communications and Media Relations Manager, Jihad Ballout and asked whether he was confident that the voice on the latest tape is that of al-Qaeda's Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

JIHAD BALLOUT: Well, yes it is. I believe, I mean, all indications that we have, all the yardsticks that we have, we believe that it is Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Otherwise it wouldn't be on air.

I think my '86 Grange is corked.

ABC ENGLISH. No, I really have sworn off that subject.

But reader James D hasn't:

Four Corners
Investigative journalism at it's best (from the ABC website).
Judging from the apostrophe, that’s where Margo is hiding out.

And I just happened to hear Ms Tanya Nolan say to her distinguished talent on this morning's AM program:

"Is any irony lost on you by the fact that..."

Now that does sound like the harpy of Henny Herald On-line.

"I DON'T KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Perhaps you are Tim Blair?

If you are Tim Blair you certainly seem to have an unhealthy preoccupation with the ABC. The ABC seems to be to you what Religion and God are to Philip Adams - you go on about the Broadcaster so much that I'm starting to think that maybe secretly you believe in it."

No, Margaret O'Connor, President of Friends of the ABC (ACT and Region), last time I checked with my Counsellor I was not Tim Blair. Never mind.

I do go on about Auntie and her more witless associates. That's what a blog called "ABCWatch" is for. Should have made myself clearer.

Now, what are you on about?

I take particular exception at your post as I think we work bloody hard in defence of the Broadcaster, in addition to our day jobs and have therefore been goaded into responding. Although we work hard, there is always room for improvement, and - since you seem so interested and seem to have so much time on your hands -if you wanted to join up and become a Friend, we'll soon load you up with lots of volunteer jobs...

I bet you would Margaret. Ever wondered why:

For years and years we have done NOTHING but ark up about the funding cuts, which have continued for 15 years and over different political administrations. We have complained and complained and complained and complained and spoken up and spoken up and spoken up some more and we have worked our buts off hassling politicians and alerting members and trying to galvanise the public ...

and yet

This latest incident of budget bastardry has been very depressing.

Time to stand back from the T-shirt stall and ask yourself a few obvious questions.

Like, is it good enough for the national publicly funded broadcaster to sound like the ALP Left at prayer?

Shouldn't an organisation that spends a few hundred mill of our money be expected to apply professional standards when political opinions are promoted by those to whom it hands its microphones on a regular basis?

Like balance, transparency, respect for others' opinions, respect for facts, knowing enough of what you're talking about not to make a fool of yourself daily.

I bet you don't admire Jonesy and Lawsy. Why do you support providing pulpits to several of their left-wing equivalents? Because one bad thing deserves another?

If you do think that the old tart (I mean Auntie) is open to even the slightest of improvements in the political conduct department, why don't you put it on the FABC website. Let's see the frankness that true friendship demands.

Until you and your Friends turn yourself into Auntie's real friends, poor old Uncle will just have to go on spending his valuable drinking time spouting infantile and unsubstantiated nonsense.

And I'll tell my ISP to stop filtering out your "national spokesperson's" page. That's HREOC's job.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
WHERE'S FABC? No, not the Friends of Annabelle Crabb, you fool. Friends of the ABC.

There's poor old Biffer trying to get up a head of popular steam about the prospects of losing Playschool and Landline, and those fairweather Friends can't even get out of the sofa. The national spokesperson's page is off the air, the Newsletters have gone from quarterly to annual.

In other words, not a whimper.

Perhaps Big Donald McDonald has warned them off. He's going to sort it all out with his friend and hero, John Howard.

Good luck, Big Don.

WOMEN'S FUNNY BUSINESS The "secret women's business" scam, and Margaret Simons.

You may recall Ms Simons told us that The white men who steered events behind the scenes in the Hindmarsh Island affair saw themselves as combating dangerous political correctness. That is, the people she named, including Ron Brunton, Christopher Pearson, Philip Jones of the SA Museum, the Royal Commissioner who enquired into the fuss - all of whom see themselves as people of independent mind and integrity I have no doubt - are in fact a racially-motivated conspiracy aimed at destroying other people's reputations.

Margaret Simons, occasional writer for the Henny Herald, would not do that. According to a piece she presented in Auntie's op-ed program Perspective, she's dead against all kinds of name-calling:

It gets to be quite fun, in an awful kind of way, to spot the childish name-calling, the insult words that don’t mean anything. In some contexts even the terms “left wing” and “right wing” are used in this way.

What does racist mean, after all? So many things that it means nothing. Racist is such an easy and thoughtless word to throw. Often it means “not as broadminded as I think I am”. I think “racist” has ceased to be a useful word in many public debates.

But if we substitute white men who steered events behind the scenes for "conspiracy of racists" we can claim the higher moral ground. And she does.

Here are some more words that get thrown around, in a way intended to suggest that people can be written off. “Discredited.” Some newspaper columnists use that one for anything they don’t like or that one of their mates has argued against.

“Controversial”. What does that one actually mean? Literally it means “talked about and discussed”. A good thing surely. But in the world of name-calling it has come to mean “Don’t trust this person”, or “don’t get involved with this issue”.

I could go on

And she does.

You could say that Margaret Simons is a writer of fixed and narrow political views who likes to accuse others of bad behaviour without providing substantial evidence to back her charges, and to defend the bad behaviour of her political associates against a mountain of evidence, while herself claiming to be above such conduct.

Uncle prefers to say that Margaret Simons is a hypocrite.

IT'S A WEIRD-OUT tonight. Someone has slipped ice into Max-weird's tea, and the mug-punters are hardly getting a word in.

The task for tonight is to examine how Australia's involvement in the liberation of Iraq has made us more vulnerable to terrorism, an effect that our involvement in detaching East Timor from Indonesia did not, of course, have.

Max is ropable about the plan to use reservists to supplement police in terrorist emergencies, should one arise.

It's all a threat to civil liberties.

Think of those "bungled" ASIO raids, on persons of "Muslim persuasion".

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter" says Max. "Then he's a protester. Where will it all end?"

We know, Max. It ends with every free-thinker like you in gaol.

Come to think of it....

Still, Uncle would settle to have Max off his pay-roll.

Memo to Biffer Balding: is this clown worth $25 million? Worth thinking about.

Thursday, May 15, 2003
SPEAKING OF GRATUITOUS ADVICE, this time of the less welcome kind, Uncle has no intention of adding "Governor-General of Australia" to the options available in the deliberative poll on the side-bar.

While the prospect of a bullet in the nape of the neck may well encourage our Prime Minister to do his best, I fear what might happen to those bouncy marsupials who infest the extravagantly broad acres of Government House.

The present administration will likely confine itself to de-knackering the male beasts, which merely helps them hop higher and box less frequently, while preserving the azalea beds from the hoplets that never shall be. What do you think Saddam would do? I would rather not think about it.

BLOGGERED? WHAT'S BLOGGERED? Uncle didn't know what it is, and that he was, until tropical Ken Parish, the blog-jewel of the Arafura Sea, pointed it out.

No sooner had I established the accuracy of Ken's advice, and that all past wisdom was lost to the casual reader of the current blog, than reader Bruce R said 're-publish your archives you old dill!" or words to that effect. It seems to have worked. For any blogger who hasn't worked it out yet, you select "Archive" on the tool-bar and the "re-publish all" button thereunder.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
WHAT A GIFT Richard Alston has given to Ron Brunton and any other ABC Board members who believe in quality public broadcasting.

He's put Biffer and the boys and girls of the commune on a hiding to nothing. They've got to claw their way up hill against the weight of the $25 mill cut that no-one has even noticed, and Alston will, of course, deny.

If that doesn't create a climate of sweet reason, nothing will. Short of sending a very large bulldozer to Harris Street.

ANOTHER CONSPIRACY has been detected by reader Bernard M, who got it from Pastor Terry Lane last Sunday.

It seems John Howard has a plan to separate Australia from that source of all security and hope, the UN.

That's a bit of a worry. Without the UN to connect us to the world, Australia, weighed down as ever by Melbourne, will slip inexorably down the globe and bang up against Antarctica. Which is where we started anyway.

On the other hand, there'll be plenty of ice for the whisky, and those junketing overseas relatives will need an ice-breaker to disturb our peace.

Thanks for telling me anyway.

MORE ON DEFAMATION before old Biffer pulls the financial plug on that unnecessary irritation to the body politic, Media Watch.

Apart from claiming victory over Richard Carleton, Marr and the crew claimed that the law's vindication of Joe Gutnick's belief that he had been defamed was a dreadful threat to freedom of speech.

On the contrary, says reader Douglas:

No, Marr, the Gutnick ruling does not constitute overturning the presses freedom to publish and be dammned. It served another liberty, and a solid principle in common law, the freedom of one's name and reputation from those who capriciously seek to ruin it. One might contrast, to illustrate , the outrageous effort to permanently damage Hollingworth by, above all, the ALP, Tanner exploiting parlaimentary privilege to do so, and holding the [Victorian] Supreme Court in contempt in the process.

Quite so. The best interests of journalists and their employers are not the law's only concern.

We shouldn't expect that every citizen who is drawn into the public gaze should be as thick-skinned as a professional politician. Like Lindsay Tanner, for example.

HERE IS AN EGREGIOUSLY long blog, justified only because Uncle is so pleased to find he has a reader who also reads the full text of the reports of the ACT Supreme Court, and because reader James shows that the gruesome crew at Media Watch are deeper-dyed lying hounds than he had ever supposed.

He is referring to Uncle's recent review of Media Watch's exculpation of Media Watch last Monday night.

Actually the judge found that both the plagiarism and "lazy
journalism" comments were false and defamatory:

"144. In truth, the effort put into and the preparation for
all of the programs referred to, including "The Evil that Men Do"
bespeaks the opposite. The real criticism is that, in the instances
chosen, including the present, 60 Minutes was retelling a story
previously told, usually in greater depth and to a different audience
served by a different outlet. That different outlet was, almost
invariably, catering to a much lesser audience in terms of numbers.
60 Minutes adopts a "popular press" rather than a "quality press"
approach. Indeed, the Media Watch approach simplistically focussing
on similarities in the retelling of stories is no more valid a
criticism as a complaint that the Telegraph Herald had told a similar
story, though more succinctly, to an in-depth article in the Sydney
Morning Herald. It is an elitist view that ignores the fact that the
audiences for the stories in question are different. As already
noted, it is not plagiarism, nor is it "lazy", to take inspiration
from a previous story and to re-tell it as 60 Minutes did in each
case in their own style.
145. The imputation of lazy journalism is also false and
defamatory. The defence of truth fails."

However, the judge upheld the defence of "fair comment", because he
felt that MW honestly believed their claims, and they were not
motivated by malice:

"252. In my view, the production of a program designed to
imitate or copy a previous program could honestly be believed to be
plagiarism assuming, of course, lack of attribution. It is not, in
my opinion, a fair or reasonable opinion, but it is one an honest
commentator could honestly hold. In that sense the Media Watch
broadcasts do not go beyond the protection of fair comment.
Consistently with that view, the characterisation of past programs
exhibiting similar characteristics could be so characterised by an
honest, though wrong-headed or ill-informed, commentator. It is,
therefore, unnecessary to determine whether honesty alone is
253. A fortiori, to comment upon the production of such a
program that it bespeaks "lazy journalism", though, in my view, it
sets the bar for diligent journalism unreasonably high, is not an
opinion an honest commentator could not honestly hold.
254. It follows that the defence of fair comment succeeds
unless the plaintiffs can show that it is defeated by malice or lack
of bona fides (the same thing)."

In my view Carleton was entitled to be "elated" (the court found he
was neither lazy not a plagiarist), and Marr's "spin" on the outcome
of the case gives no credit to Media Watch. Marr claims that the
judge found that Media Watch exercised "reasonable care". He did no
such thing. Let's hear from the judge once more:

"198. That leaves the question of the logic, fairness and,
hence, the reasonableness of the Media Watch conclusions. It is at
this point, in my view, that the defences of qualified
privilege/protection fail.
199. Whilst I cannot conclude, and do not conclude, that Mr
Barry or Mr McEvoy, and, hence, the ABC, were expressing their
opinions of the 60 Minutes program dishonestly, their conclusions
were illogical, unfair and unreasonable."

You can read the full judgement here:




How would you like Biffer and his Board to save about $25 mill from programming?

Biffer has suggested Kids TV and Fly TV (both for children; in the latter case for the somewhat retarded). Uncle agrees to that.

Any other possibilities?

Write to Biffer and offer your help. Let Uncle see a copy too. Please.

This funding outcome is all the more disappointing in light of the anticipated budget surplus, and the ABC's recent outstanding efforts in the coverage of the war in Iraq.

CAN THIS BE TRUE? Henny Herald, aka Auntie in print, hasn't even noticed the nicks taken out of the ABC and National Museum budgets?

According to Henny, Biffer has only missed out on his extra money. They fail to see the cut in funds for existing programming, made necessary by Auntie's more imperial ambitions in digital.

With journalists that lazy, Treasurers don't need to be clever.

BIFFER BALDING SHOULD BE DELIGHTED. Auntie's budget has been maintained in real terms for the next triennium.

That extra $250 mill Biffer wanted is still under negotiation. As it should be.

At the time of preparing this document, the ABC had not been advised of the Government’s response to the Corporation’s 2003-06 Triennial Funding Submission. Therefore the ABC Board has still to fully assess the Government's response and the impact it will have on the Corporation's activities and confirm specific
outcome/output allocations

Looking at the figures that follow it seems to me that the Government is expecting you to take about $25 mill out of programming to cover the next tranche of your digital ambitions.

It seems Biffer agrees with Uncle. This is his statement:

The ABC is very disappointed with its funding outcome as outlined in the Federal Budget this evening.

The ABC must now assess its position. Hard decisions must be made so that we can maintain core services and continue to be relevant to the Australian public. Some decisions about programming will be made within the next few weeks.

Listen out for the shrieking. Are Biffer and the communards game to cut out quality education and information programming to save the preachers?

Here's a suggestion for Biffer and the Board.

There's nothing in your Act about providing pulpits for opinionated half-wits. Stop doing it. Governments love it when their pensioners show their willing to re-direct their own funds before putting the plate out for even more tax-payer largesse.

I know, I know. The Act doesn't require you to be even-handed in presenting opinions. In fact the Act doesn't seem to intend you to be preaching at all.

And if you're feeling hard done by, just take a look at the National Museum's begging bowl. They've lost about the same amount from their money for programmes, but taken from a much smaller total.

It occurs to Uncle there may be scope here for some development of policy, procedure and practice. Isn't that what Boards and their Biffers are for?

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
UNCLE IS BY NATURE a dismal old snot, and doesn' t expect the world often to overturn its well-established ways of doing evil.

Like Media Watch discovering objectivity, the Gastropod integrity or intelligence, Pastor Lane the twentieth Century or Max-weird McCutcheon planet Earth.

So you can imagine my delight, or perhaps you'd better just let me tell you about it, when I picked up the Weekend Aus and, rushing past Christopher Pearson before he could remind me that I had failed to get him appointed to the ABC Board, I came across Bernard Lane's piece on history teachers and how they're dealing with the Windschuttle revelations. (Inquirer, page 24, and not, so far as I can see, on the website)

It seems that someone has arranged a confrontation between Windschuttle and two of the historians whose evidence on Aboriginal history in Tasmania evaporated in front of our eyes when the deep-delving Windschuttle checked the sources. That is, Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan. The event is to take place at the Tramshed in Launceston this coming Friday.

Perhaps, after eighteen months the two disgraced historians will take the opportunity to explain themselves. Or perhaps they'll just hide behind philosophical obscurantism and personal attacks, like their historian colleagues.

I have no doubt that's what Robert Cudgels Manne will be doing in the book he's currently editing. It's title: Whitewash, on the fabrication of Aboriginal history. He doesn't pretend that his goal is to get Tasmanian history right.

"The purpose of the book is to show in how many areas Windschuttle is out of his depth". I hope his authors (he's just the editor) are clear that's their job. To challenge Windschuttle on the substance would take some real historical research. So far Geoffrey Blainey is the only one to have attempted that.

Now here's the cheery bit. Of the history teachers (school, not university) that Lane quotes, none seems interested in the intellectual gang warfare that Manne is so keen to lead.

Esther Davies, a history teacher in Canberra, dislikes Windschuttle's manner. But it does seem to her that teachers "take what Henry Reynolds says as gospel."

... other high school teachers willing to go on the record are by and large adherents of the revisionist history pionered by Reynolds. Unlike some academics, however, they welcome the Windschuttle debate and put their faith in the self-correcting function of historical argument.

The Left [has] perhaps run away to some textent with our history and the pendulum is swinging back for a touch and they don't want to let it go," says Sydney teacher Paul Kiem".

Kiem is among those enthusiastic teachers thinking about informal ways to introduce the Windschuttle debate into the classroom. Formal incorporation into the curriculum would take longer, as it would require elaborate preparation and approval by education authorities.

... Lynden Leppard, principal of Clarence High School in Hobart, is among thsoe teachers who will encourage students to seek inspiration in the Windschuttle debate... "This is a matter of trust and faith in the story we call hsitory, which is different to the story we call fiction," he says. When he finished Windschuttle's book, he was left with a troubling question: "Have I been screwed by historians - people I trusted? I felt cheated. I believed facts that are not substantiated [on Tasmanian history]."

It seems that history teachers throughout Australia are enthusiastically making use of Windschuttle to get a debate going.

While their "professional" colleagues are busily trying to suppress it, or cravenly keeping their heads down.

As Uncle has said before; give it time, give it time.

BEING MONDAY NIGHT it was Uncle's duty last night to don the saliva shield, swallow the barf-protector and wriggle into the asbestos-kevlar flak-projection-rejector jacket.

Yes, Media Watch was in town again, careering about on its slick of righteous hypocrisy and spitting every which way but towards Auntie. And, or course, itself.

You'll be pleased to hear I retained my composure and can report with objectivity and equanimity on the latest from the gruesome crew.

Topic: plagiarism and defamation. What is the former, and how much of the latter is a fair thing.

Obervers of Media Watch will know that it always strives for originality except in its slavish imitation of its own lack of objectivity.

There was its recent spat with Tim Blair over the origin of that US flag that found its way onto Saddam's bronze head shortly before it came crashing down. Did it, or did it not come from the Pentagon. It seems that it didn't, a factoid that Media Watch scored to its own credit.

The crew neglected to remind us that on their first coverage of the matter they were content to damn the soruce of the story, and Blair, on the basis of a single phone call to a bemused military spokesperson in the Gulf, who opined without the benefit of research, in order to dispose of a trivial issue. The people Media Watch criticised had more substantial sources; erroneous as it turned out.

When tackled on the matter by a viewer, Media Watch first confined its self-defense to the correspondence pages of its website, and relied on bluster.

Finally, when something like hard evidence seemed to appear, they trumpeted it on-air. As if they had known it all along.

All a lie.

Yesterday night's story also concerned their own credibility.

They had accused Richard Carleton of 60 Minutes of plagiarism. Carleton had done his own version of a story on the Srebrenice massacres, following closely the pattern established by an earlier program from the BBC. 60 Minutes re-shot some of the footage, re-interviewed some of the talent, and used some of the same bought-in footage. Without acknowledgment, but without denying it.

Is that plagiarism?

Well, it clearly isn't the same as cut and paste. It certainly is pinching an idea, but there's no copyright in ideas, and shouldn't be. Any public debate involves people pinching other people's ideas for their own purposes. To require acknowledgment in all cases would be absurd.

Meda Watch wasn't too sure itself, but it wasn't going to forgo the opportunity to accuse:

Paul Barry: Now I don't know quite what you call this - plagiarism perhaps. But whatever the name it fits a pattern. 60 minutes has been caught at this by Media Watch several times before. It's depressing to know we have so little effect.

No it's not, Paul. You enjoyed it.

The point of our report was that they failed to acknowledge their debt. As I said last week I'm not sure what you call it, perhaps it's plagiarism, certainly it's lazy journalism.

So, it's shifty practice, according to Media Watch, although they're not sure what to call it. But happy to leave us with "plagiarism" ringing in our ears.

And then to Court, before Chief Justice Higgins of the ACT Supreme Court, who had given a couple of earlier litigants a good run on a defamation matter, against that paragon of veracity, Bob Ellis.

Higgins J. decides that it's not plagiarism, but Media Watch's comments are not defamation either. Solomonaic wisdom. Carleton claims he's vindicated. Good move. Let's cop it sweet fellers, and have a beer. Or, in the case of Richard Carleton, a Chivas.

Not on your life. The gruesome crew have to try the matter again in the higher court of Auntie's television studio before David Marr, QC and bar.

That's right; he ruled that Higgins J. was only half right. Right to excuse Media Watch from the accusation of defamation, wrong in excusing 60 Minutes from the accusation of plagiarism.

Who appeared for the other side in this appeal to a higher court? You must be kidding.

This is Other-People's-Media Watch.

Friday, May 09, 2003
HENNY HERALD promises to deliver a cluster bomb in the culture wars.

Margaret Simons gives us a preview of a foretaste of her book defending the "secret women's business" campaigners against the Hindmarsh Island bridge. Forgotten already?

She's going to tip the bucket on Ron Brunton, Christopher Pearson, Philip Jones, Piers Akerman, the Royal Commissioner - all united in spin, dissimulation and wilful ignorance.

Uncle will read it with interest but with low expectations. Simons sets her goals very low indeed.

Look at this:

The white men who steered events behind the scenes in the Hindmarsh Island affair saw themselves as combating dangerous political correctness. I believe that in doing so they gave birth to a kind of anti-political correctness at least as silly, dangerous and ideologically blind to evidence as what it sought to replace.

That is, the faction that used false anthropology to oppose the bridge were crooks. But their critics are just as bad.

How Ms Simons can be bothered writing a book favouring one bunch of crooks over another beats me.

UNCLE CONCEDES that perfectly-adequate journalist and 7.30 Report front-man Kerry O'Brien did right last night.

He made that creep Lindsay Tanner squirm by simply asking him to address his conscience for causing the breach of a Court suppression order, and so exposing Governor General Hapless Hollingworth to public ignominy.

Tanner, of course, asserted the public's right to know, and by his timetable. He didn't mention that he was also supporting the right of individuals to defame under privilege, before any evidence gets near the Court.

IS IT THE FLU? Or is it a revolution?

Late Night Live this week has been under the mouthmanship of Michael Cathcart who is to the Gastropod as a brain is to a toe-nail. His tenancy is not recognised on the LNL website.

This morning the sainted Robyn Williams of the Science Show was mouthing for Peter Thompson on AM.

Bad luck. The Gastropod returns Monday.

THE PROGRESSIVE FORCES are at loggerheads on Iraq. This surprises Uncle who thought there was close enough to unanimity for government work.

But according to Late Night Live, Auntiques all over the world are deeply split between the "liberal" left prepared to support the liberation of Iraq, and the anti-US, pacifist left. Where have those Australian liberals been hiding these last 12 months?

"All the evidence was that the Iraqi people wanted their regime overthrown", Johann Hari a UK member of that liberal left, and a writer on the Guardian, tells us.

Not so, says the US anti-capitalist from Paris, Diana Johnstone . Liberation must come from within. Even the anti-fascist alliance in WWII was unnecessary.

"It is simple and clear to everybody that the US is embarked on a campaign of world conquest!" she raves. Endorsing the US's action in Iraq is just like the Munich endorsement of Hitler's aggression.

The man from the Salon, Edward Lempinen, Senior News Editor, claims that a pro-war left emerged among their readers in the course of the Iraq war. He wants a role in defining a democratic Iraq. Despite the fact that George Bush is "dangerous".

Auntie's favourite local Maoist, Scott Burchill, agrees with Uncle that the Aussie left was practically unanimous in their opposition to the war of liberation. Who counts Albert Langer anyway? You can't go around liberating peoples just because they want it; it's in conflict with the sovereignty of nations, says this classical statist Marxist.

And so it goes on.

I suppose it's a good thing that parts of the left are trying to define a post-Iraq position that gives them a few rags of credibility.

Uncle won't be putting a penny in their bowl.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
THE LABOR PARTY'S preferred think-tank has been officially defined by Auntie as middle of the political road.

You have to call the IPA a "right-wing" body, but the Australia Institute needs no disqualification, and is promoted to the top of the class:

Leading public policy think-tank the Australia Institute has released the damning report [on Australia, of course].

Later: the Director of the Australia Institute, Clive Hamilton, describes himself as "on the left". For the communards that's where the political spectrum begins.

JUST WHEN you were reaching for that camembert that's well past it's use-by date, there's this:

An unknown number of Iraqis who worked for Saddam Hussein's government were given passports by French officials in Syria, U.S. intelligence officials said. The passports are regarded as documents of the European Union, because of France's membership in the union, and have helped the Iraqis avoid capture

I wonder what they knew about whom.


THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE has been waiting for this.

The semantic vacuum was prepared, and reader Lloyd almost filled it. Let Uncle just give it a shove.


That's the word for people who write newspaper columns of the quality of the Gastropod's.

Here's Lloyd's moment of revelation:

It's interesting to listen to Phil take on the same ideological slant as his guests on "Late Night Live". Interviewing Harold Bloom the other night Phil even pretended to be scoffingly anti-PC once Bloom spoke disparagingly about the practice.

The sneering calumniator in print is transformed into a deferential brown-noser once he has to confront the opposition in person.
A lack of courage or just politeness?

Are you really in doubt Lloyd?

If so, consult the Bunyip's comparison of Gastropod before and after the Iraq campaign.

There is no truth in this man. Just protoplasm. And yesterday's dinner.

UNCLE HAS COPPED a couple of slaps from sappy young bloggers about his allegedly dilatory performance on the keyboard.

Steady on, kids.

When you achieve Uncle's years, should you be so fortunate, you will understand that once a week is enough.

Any more is an act of Grace.

Don't pass that on to Auntie, please.

ANOTHER PRETTY FACE on Auntie's Board is not enough, says Jim T.

Regime change is not enough!
Citizens,to the barricades - time to reclaim the fruits of your labour!
Let the revolution begin!

Where is that bloody barricade?


Auntie's foreign relations consultant al Jazeera asked him a question at a press conference, about how far Australia was from the Middle East and how little business we and our soldiers have there.

Well, said joking John, Australians are used to travelling. As he did so, a half-smile began to play about his mouth, probably from embarrassment at having committed irony on a public occasion.

Now, Gough would have spent hours scripting it.

Good one, John, but don't do it again.

Monday, May 05, 2003
A GOOD SUMMARY of the work of the "Jewish neo-conservative conspiracy" theorists brought to Auntie's audience recently through Jonathan Holmes on Four Corners.

Sunday, May 04, 2003
WHAT'S THIS? Dr Ron Brunton appointed to the ABC Board.

Far too talented a man to have his time wasted on such private head-banging. That's why he was excluded from the ABCWatch manipulative rort, oops, deliberative poll, before Uncle wrote to the Prime Minister with your preferred candidate.

Go on, you do remember.

Christopher Pearson.

Anyway, those of us here at ABCWatch extend our best wishes to Brunton. He'll need more than that, but he won't get it from the media.

Yesterday's Fin Review, which seems to share the general Fairfax aversion to journalism, even applies that cheapest of pre-emptive disqualifications "controversial" to him. It is the frst word in Toni O'Loughlin's item on the matter. Before she even says 'anthropologist', a term that is almost as likely to provoke the disgust reaction in a six-month old child as the image of a spider or the words 'professional historian'.

"On some things I'm conservative but on other things I'm not" says Brunton.

"I'm conservative in my view of human nature...but I'm strongly anti-racist and I'm hostiel to fascism. I'm hostile to the notion of specific rights for particular ethnic or racially defined groups of people but very supportive of human rights."

I am happy to report that Brunton's appointment got a very warm response from Labor's Lindsay Tanner: "Ron Brunton is a hard-line right-wing cultural warrior who has no significant background or expertise in public broadcasting."

Since Lindsay Tanner, were he ever to get into office, would appoint to the ABC Board a busload of failed Labor front-benchers and hacks with no experience of either public broadcasting or the world beyond Labor's Tammany we must regard his remarks as praise by faint condemnation.

The reporters at the Australian yesterday allowed Brunton to say a few words about public broadcasting on his own behalf: "I am very committed to public broadcasting" describing him as "a 58 year-old Sunshine Coast based anthropologist".

The Aus quotes the indefatigable Lindsay Tanner as saying "This would be like the ALP putting (former hardline builders labourers unionist) Norm Gallagher on the ABC Board". It is hard to know whether this is a cheer or a boo, since Labor governments put people like Norm Gallagher in Parliament, if they manage to stay out of gaol.

Still, the communards won't be happy, and that is some small achievement.

They didn't like Brunton's predecessor Michael Kroger either, and he did nothing to constrain the communards' campaigning.

Good luck, Ron Brunton. The world of quality, professional public broadcasting lies before us as we stand in the mire the communards have created.

THE WISDOM OF THE BOTTLE has dripped upon the pre-schoolers of Background Briefing this morning.

Uncle wishes to congratulate the ankle-biters of the commune for their precociously good judgement in choosing the topic of - wine.

Here's Uncle's distillation of the matter: Australian wine is being produced in ever greater quantities, at qualities ranging from good to excellent, by a growing crowd of enthusiastic vignerons and makers, and sold in greater and greater quantities at lower and lower margins. And with great discounts just now.

Amen to all that, says Uncle.

Not even a communard could find a crisis there, surely? I have to say they didn't try very hard.

Even Henny Herald on a quiet Tuesday would have been stretched.

"Aspiring small capitalists fail to prosper!"

"Australians getting too much good plonk for the dollar!"

"International cork shortage threatens third-world thirsts!"

Doesn't work for me.

This better? Will the diversity of the Australian wine industry survive? Or will wine become like beer, controlled by only a handful of major companies?

Ah! Monopoly Capitalism. I can feel the hangover already.

Hang on a mo. Haven't the big beers given us booze cheaper than soda water, if you take out the taxes?

Aren't there more "boutique" breweries around now than at any time since the gold rushes? You can pay twice as much for your beer if you really try.

Sorry, pre-schoolers. But you're right to deal with the drinks that really matter, instead of the DINKS who merely chatter.

Time for Church.