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.