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Friday, 26 June 2015

The ABC should be on the side of truth

When the prime minister asked rhetorically - and very publicly - "whose side" the ABC was on following the Q and A debacle where a convicted felon was allowed to ask a government minister a question on live TV, I stared very hard at the computer screen. I didn't laugh out loud, or splutter incredulously, or choke with rage, although I would hardly be blamed for doing any of these rather more dramatic things. I just looked coldly at the picture of Tony Abbott on the news website and seethed with quiet anger and thought to myself, "Mr Abbott needs to go back to his much-vaunted university and do some more reading I think if he thinks that this is a reasonable response to something so unremarkable."

A free press is one of the things that characterises Australia in comparison to, say, China, where the media is entirely state controlled and where they have a multitude of major problems on a scale inconceivable in Australia, such as widespread pollution of the air and water and land, inadequate support for children and the elderly, endemic corruption, no rule of law, a non-existent public school system ... and the list goes on and on and on and on. And because Australia has fixed all of these kinds of problems - because we have a free media - thousands of Chinese investors are buying properties in Australia every year. More than that, Chinese parents are now paying for the privilege to send their secondary-school-aged children to Australia for an education and a promising headstart in life Down Under. Our universities have long been an important magnet attracting talented young Chinese people to come and migrate to Australia - because these institutions have been developed in a society that had a free media - and now Chinese parents want their child to start their Australian education a few years earlier. Australia should be rightly proud that we are such an attractive destination for both investors and for parents living in China, our vast northern neighbour.

None of those attractions would have existed without a free press. In fact, a free press has existed in every country where democracy has taken root. You could go further to say that a free press is a precondition for democracy. There is a reason that they call the media the fourth estate, after all.

But Mr Abbott should also go further back in his research than just last Monday's Q and A program. He should go back to 2003 when his conservative predecessor John Howard took Australia to war on the basis of a bald lie, to find the roots of the discontent that animates people like Mr Mallah. If the young man is unhappy then the reason for his unhappiness can clearly be ascribed to the actions of people in the Coalition. People like Tony Abbott are responsible for Mallah's discontent, and to blame the ABC is ludicrous. If anything, Mr Abbott should be blaming the biased sources of information at his beloved News Corp, which is operated by a politically-conservative practicing Catholic like the prime minister himself.

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