Why bother watching the ABC

I have been loyal to the ABC for my entire adult life. I worked for “Aunty” too, in radio current affairs, at Radio Australia and for Triple J before it became a kid’s music station.

But now, to be perfectly honest, I can’t be bothered. I’ve given up on ABC News, I find that 7.30 (what kind of postmodern nonsense name is that for a TV current affairs show?) just makes me furious and shouty, and the flagship Q&A is just troll-bait and right-wing apologia interspersed with lectures from pontificator-in-chief Tony Jones.


I tweeted this on Monday night and I’ve been surprised and slightly chuffed at the response I’ve had. Over 130 retweets and 144 likes, which is a lot for me. It seems to have struck a chord with people who are as fed up as me with the ABC’s blatant shift to conservatism over the past few years.

I’ve written previously in this column about how Michelle Guthrie is reshaping the ABC to be more Murdoch and Coalition friendly, much to the chagrin of ABC Friends and some staff.

This week, we’ve seen more decisions that confirm this direction with the appointment of yet another #IPADrone to yet another rote-formula radio panel show, showcasing conservatives like the entitled Georgina Downer.

I’ve also given up almost entirely on ABC radio. I’m usually in the car during the day when I listen and, after listening to Jon Faine for years, I’ve finally had enough. He is pompous and pretends he’s progressive, but it is only a layer nano particles thick. When given an opportunity to really stand up for something that is truly progressive, he gets cold feet, lest he come across as *too* leftwing.

Like Leigh Sales on 7.30 and Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast, Faine attacks real lefties and gets all faux tough on ministers. The afternoons on Radio National are no better, with Amanda Vanstone, Patricia Karvelas and Tom Switzer dominating the day. Vanstone is a former Howard-era Liberal minister, while Karvelas and Switzer are both still on Murdoch’s payroll as well as being paid by the ABC. Karvelas even has her own show on Murdoch’s “Fox Down-Under” network.

I’m pleased that my time has been freed up now that I no longer feel the ABC has to be constant background noise in my life. I’ve also stopped reading The Australian entirely too. I don’t even bother with the weekend edition any more.

There’s plenty of alternative sources out there. I’m still a news junkie, but I tend to follow stories more selectively than I used to.

What’s your view?

I’m keen to know what IA readers think of the ABC these days. Please share your thoughts in the comments thread. I will jump in for a chat and perhaps write another column pulling your suggestions for improvements together.

You can read more by IA’s political editor Dr Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

10 Responses to Why bother watching the ABC

  1. Here, here. Q&A has always driven me nuts for exactly that reason and I very rarely watch it. Faine-it’s occasionally satisfying when he gets stuck into someone you disagree with, but then he does the same to someone who doesn’t deserve it. He and Epstein are so sanctimonious – they (especially Faine) think they know everything, and yet whenever a caller takes them to task with actual facts, they are shut down.

    Subject matter knowledge is also not a strong point for RN presenters. Karvelas let Barnaby Joyce make the preposterous claim that the United Firefighters Union were trying to force all volunteers to join the union, and didn’t raise a word of doubt against him. Sabra Lane just the other day, while going into bat for the coalition’s insane pro-coal stance while pretending to be impartial, called wind energy “non-renewable” several times, presumably because it is an intermittent source. 7.30 I rarely watch but their story on the CFA dispute was ridiculously biased and full of inaccuracies and irrelevances. Fran Kelly is another that suggests she’s the epicentre of sensibility. She, like so many others, represents the 80s/90s/00s establishment consensus, the ‘sensible centre’ which is actually Tory politics with a facade of social and environmental conscience.

    The constant stream of IPA and associated spin doctors brought on as ‘experts’ drives me nuts. What these little circle jerks serve to do is legitimise right wing opinion. Even if the host makes a show of impartiality or even opposing the far-right voices, the fact that they are constantly on the outlet and engaged in discussion as if they have something to say that is potentially worthwhile, serves the purpose of shifting the entire spectrum of acceptable opinion to the right.

    The other thing that drives me crazy and which also serves the purpose of normalising right wing ideology is the constant stream of representatives of business interests, brought on as ‘experts’. The message is: don’t trust the government or academia, trust the private sector. They will sometimes talk to private weather companies instead of to the BOM! They talk to fund managers for finance ‘analysis’ (cough cough, no conflict of interest there!!! And in fact the very presence of finance/stock reports is done for propaganda purposes only – what percentage of listeners actually care? Don’t they have apps for that anyway?) They pick up press releases from start-ups trying to promote their new widget or service and provide them with an informercial that’s a bee’s dick away from commercial morning TV. Sickening.

    That’s enough of a rant for now :).

  2. calochilus says:

    Actually, the fallout at the ABC has had unintended consequences. The reduction in permanent staff has had the benefit of lots of highly skilled and competent musicians and singers doing really good work on ABC Classic FM. In our house it’s rarely turned off during the day and I find myself actively listening much more than just having background music

  3. I stopped watching or listening to ABC news and most of its talkback and opinion—radio and TV—a few years ago, for most of the points you make. In addition, I got sick of news stories regurgitated and not updated from the day before, and of the amount of grammatical errors and poor writing. The ABC is no worse than others, but like you, I expect better of it. SBS seems to be the only mainstream media network left to find real news on.

  4. ana says:

    Classic FM, non?

  5. Ant Mann says:

    I stopped watching the ABC a couple of years ago after Tony Abbott seemed to scare it into submission. Cuts don’t help of course. I’ll still check out Mad as Hell and the good satire and what have you, but that’s pretty rare these days. RN lost me over Xmas when they cut The Afternoon Show and The Inside Sleeve, so have given up on RN completely. I’ll still listen to AM (Radio Sydney) while I’m working, but frankly the ABC has been gutted and its TV current affairs offerings are wishy-washy and often overflowing with IPA apparatchiks, thus unwatchable. I can only assume it’s Michelle Guthrie’s ambition to destroy the ABC, and as it was Turnbull who installed her, I assume it’s his ambition as well. These days I read The Guardian online and The Saturday Paper. There is no good TV current affairs in Australia any more (though having said I don’t usually watch SBS these days – could be good?).

  6. Some feedback on pinned post here in regard to RN: https://www.facebook.com/groups/handsoffrnmusic/

  7. Phil Cullen says:

    Agreed Martin. Insufferable generally. I find China Global Television Network less shrill, genuinely inquisitive and more factual than most global TV news marques, including the ABC. Crikey, Mother Jones, Slate, The Guardian etc. still sustain journalism. Otherwise low budget info-tainment prevails. ABC Local Radio has been a disappointing and self congratulatory cacophony for at least a decade. It’s a crime really. The Charter promises much more.

  8. andrew767 says:

    Yes except for QI repeats I stopped watching the ABC after seeing the first two Q&A shows, instead of opening dialogue to audience questions the producers cherry pick questions to amplify whichever his own bias & ignorance is. The show gets away with pretending it allows questions while being more biased than other current afair offerings could get away with.

  9. Mandy Rojas says:

    I agree with you on some parts of the ABC. I don’t watch 7:30 anymore because of Leigh Sales shameless biased towards LNP. I got sick of my blood pressure rising because of Sales constant intrepreting and rudeness towards ALP politicians and getting her facts wrong; while letting Malcolm Turnbull get away with murder. Also, I’ve given up listening to Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast for the same reasons I’ve given about Leigh Sales. It’s a shame that both shows are driven by their own personal agendas instead of trying to stay neutral; for example Stan Grant or Hamish McDonald.

    However, I have to disagree with you about Tom Switzer and Patricia Karvelis. While Switzer’s Between the Line program is blatantly favoured towards his conservative views; I’m giving Switzer a little bit of credit for trying to make Sunday Extra more neutral. While I miss Jonathan Green greatly on Sunday Extra, Switzer has been bearable. & Pat Karvelis while I didn’t agree with her Twitter post defending Turnbull on his attack on Bill Shorten in qt last month; she does a decent job on RN Drive & I enjoy the most part in listening to her. Amanda Vanstone forget it.

    I’ve said this on Twitter, but I think ABC should go the NPR & WNYC route & go to the fundraising route. The reason why I think this is best for the future of the ABC is that they won’t be bound by LNP government funding & having to be pressured to not investigate the LNP failures; and instead ABC will be free to conduct their shows without the fear of being labelled as “lefty” or get slammed by NewsCorpse for putting women on air on International Women’s Day, or “sticking up for Islam” and put on shows and presenters that will represent the views of the community. That why ABC will be able to fulfill their charter without being compromised by the LNP government. I’m not sure if that will work on to but I think it will work on ABC local radio, RN or ABC podcasts. I know I’ll be happy to donate my own money every month knowing that the ABC is performing on a neutral ground without the pressure of the LNP government.

  10. Great comments
    Thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts.

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