Delan Azabani

Patriotic journalism is a farce

If you were under the impression that Tony Abbott's political rhetoric couldn't possibly get any more ridiculous, then take heed; you may just be sorely mistaken. What appears to hit a nerve with our current prime minister today is his realisation that our national public broadcaster won't simply prostrate and assume the position of a partisan and corporate mouthpiece like Murdoch's properties.

Once again, our dear leader has simplified a vast array of complex contemporary issues into false dichotomies. A few months ago it was goodies versus baddies, and it's now us versus them, or rather, Australia's side versus the unpatriotic ABC.

As much as I have a disdain for the overused term, startlingly Orwellian is his claim that “the ABC instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's”, and the corresponding implication that there should be an “Australian side” to be preferred by journalists.

Abbott also said, “You would like the national broadcaster to have a rigorous commitment to truth and at least some basic affection for the home team”. In the real world however, the truth and a nationalistic sense of basic affection for one's country do not always go hand in hand; in fact they frequently assume conflicting positions.

Of course, let's not forget the incorrect conflation of the political ideology of the Coalition with the interests of Australians in general. Even more concerning are his comments about the damning information revealed by Edward Snowden over the past year:

The ABC seemed to delight in broadcasting allegations by a traitor [...] The ABC didn't just report what he said, they took the lead in advertising what he said, and that was a deep concern.

The difference between “reporting” and “advertising” the evidence yielded by the leaks appears to be no more than one of vocabulary. I have no idea how one would even measure “delight” taken in reporting the leaks, but if anything, the evidence is a necessary embarrassment to the countries involved, not something that anyone has celebrated.

The far more grave fallacy, however, is that where Abbott implies not only that the application of United States law is equivalent to a universal moral judgement, but also that the charges brought against him under these laws diminish the validity or significance of his whistleblowing — but the evidence will not simply relent.

If one wanted to make an argument against government whistleblowing, with some effort they could posit that, for instance, unredacted leaks could threaten the safety of overseas operatives with secret identities, or the efficacy of military operations relying on confidential tactical and strategic data. Debatable, but a good start. Alas, the best our prime minister could conujure was a vacuous argumentum ad hominem.

Our politics are a caricature without an artist when the head of government empathises and confides with shock jock radio personalities like Jones and Hadley. Although I think that the left wing–right wing model is far too one-dimensional for Australian politics, it suffices to use it here to say that if the Coalition sees “left-wing bias” everywhere, perhaps the message is that they are the ones who are backed deep into a right-wing corner.

It is possible that the political aims of the incumbent government may be better served by maintaining a healthy dialogue with the public. Simplex streams of propaganda through ideologically sympathetic media outlets are not enough and never have been, nor is it acceptable to be consistently opaque under the guise of “operational matters”.

Then again, an increase in public knowledge of a government's actions may degrade just as likely as improve the reputation of the government, and that's exactly how it should be — the people employ the administration, not the converse.