Why not all the Right is against the ABC

According to Robert Manne in today’s Age

THE right in Australia is greedy. Even though it now dominates political commentary on commercial radio and television and throughout the Murdoch press, for the past decade it has been conducting a concerted campaign to root out the pitiful remnants of left-wing thinking still found inside the ABC. The long campaign has been conducted by Quadrant and The Australian; by think tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs and the Centre for Independent Studies (emphasis added)

In fact, the CIS has been rather more interested in appearing on the ABC than rooting out the ‘pitiful remnants of left-wing thinking’ still to be found wandering its corridors. When I put ‘ABC bias’ in in the CIS‘s search engine it turned up only three passing references. When I put ‘centre for independent studies’ in the ABC search engine I get 520 documents, and there are more that just refer to the ‘CIS’.

As I explained in a Catallaxy post last year, I’m not a fan of the ‘ABC bias’ argument. It’s not that I think ABC staff don’t lean to the left; left-wing causes do get more coverage there than elsewhere (though this mainly shows in issue selection; they do try to provide balance once they have picked a topic). But I doubt this greatly increases the total of leftist broadcasting in Australia compared to what we would have without the ABC. There’s a market for leftist ideas, as The Age shows in making money out of a soft left broadsheet and book publishers show by making money out of selling books denouncing capitalism, US foreign policy etc etc. So if it wasn’t the ABC it would be some other institution.

I think this makes the preoccupation with ‘ABC bias’ a strategic mistake by the political right. Even if the ABC’s ‘pitiful remnants’ were left to wander the streets of Ultimo and Southbank (and wherever their studios are in other cities) nothing much would change in the overall political complexion of Australian debate. Devoting significant energy to achieving a reform that would make little practical difference is a mistake the CIS has avoided making.

Aside from strategy, the ABC actually has many virtues to go with its few vices – it gives far more time to explain complex ideas than other radio stations, most of the news programmes are pretty good, and best of all it schedules lots of excellent English television. Yes, I know, ‘middle class welfare’, but one of the few federal government services I actually use for all the taxes I pay.