What ideological and opinion limits on our ABC?

I appeared on ABC TV’s The Drum on Monday night. Refugees, politics, my book #LeftTurn and Obama’s “kill list” were all discussed.

The show aired and the show finished. End of story. And then this happened yesterday:

The ABC last night aired an apology to federal opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison over comments made by its economics correspondent Stephen Long on The Drum.

During a discussion on Monday’s edition of the current affairs talkshow Mr Long said he thought the opposition’s stance on Australia’s border security was “a cynical manipulation of an underlying prejudice in the Australian community and that it has very little policy merit”.

He went on to say: “I think Scott Morrison in particular as a spokesman in this area has just pushed way beyond acceptability in a way that he is willing to pander and manipulate that level of prejudice in what is essentially a racist manner.”

Mr Long is a senior reporter at the ABC, doing reporting and analysis across its radio and TV programs.

A transcript of the comments was published by columnist Andrew Bolt on his blog.

An ABC spokeswoman said Mr Morrison had made a formal complaint to ABC managing director Mark Scott, which was passed on to the audience and consumer affairs team as was normal practice. The decision to air an apology was taken by news management.

Mr Morrison revealed he had complained on social media network Twitter, saying: “(Andrew) Bolt makes a good point re ‘balance’ by some at ABC.”

He later tweeted: “Thanks to ABC for their quick response and I welcome their advice that an on air apology will be made on The Drum.”

A spokesman for Mr Morrison said he had nothing further to add.

The ABC said Mr Long’s comments were “clearly inappropriate”.

“While it is appropriate for ABC journalists to provide comment and analysis backed by demonstrable evidence, the remarks in question went beyond that, and were an expression of opinion,” the broadcaster said.

“These opinions were not supported by evidence and were inappropriately expressed.

“News management is discussing the matter directly with the reporter concerned.”

For the record, I think this ABC decision is a serious over-reaction. The episode has also been scrubbed from the ABC archive.… The Drum is a panel show where people express opinions. Clearly there are some views which are beyond the pale. If a politician or political party plays the race-card and tries to demonise minorities or Muslims, which the Liberal Party has perfected for years, commentators and journalists should be able to call them out. Loudly. Is there a serious doubt factually that this has happened on a number of occasions?

One can’t but think in this case that an apology was so quickly offered to Scott Morrison, unlike so many other complainants to the ABC, because he’s connected and powerful and overly sensitive about being challenged on the ramifications of his ideas. To think that journalists are above offering views and supposedly objective (an issue discussed in today’s Crikey) ignores the inherent, establishment-friendly position given by the vast majority of reporters. And that’s called “balance”.

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