Tuesday, October 11, 2005

‘Auntie’ bashing: a real piece of work

For those unfamiliar with the Australian social landscape, “Auntie” is an epithet used sometimes affectionately, sometimes ironically, to refer to our national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – ABC for short. So, anyway, there was an article by Paul Gray in the national daily newspaper The Australian on Monday, October 10, which advanced the thesis:

The problem with the ABC is that the majority of its staff hates the values of ordinary, conservative Australians.”

A monstrous, indeed vicious, generalisation and slander, to be sure. For better or worse, here’s my take on Gray’s little diatribe, which I knocked together based on a response in another forum. I recommend you read the subject article to get an appreciation of the truly paranoid-delusional tenor of that sinister piece. For the record, I have no connection with the ABC or any of its employees. I’m just an appreciative consumer, ok?

I take it that we’re intended to shudder when we read of “an effectively self-governing work culture” at the ABC, as previously when the bogey was “a staff-captured organisation”.

It’s not unreasonable to suppose, however, that there may be nothing inherently scary about a “self-governing work culture”, if the values of the organisation are reasonably effectively instilled within the staff. Indeed, various management gurus and pundits actually defend such a culture as an optimal environment for the flourishing and maximisation of the talents of “information workers”, which ABC journalistic staff certainly are.

The converse of a “self-governing work culture”, of course, is a top-down command structure. Mr Gray’s characterisation of the ABC board as “largely tame” may simply be indicative of his jaundiced view of a board that is willing to work co-operatively with its staff. Perhaps the idea of diffusion of democratic principles within organisations causes Mr Gray, and presumably his employer Mr Murdoch, not a little anxiety, and I suspect our Prime Minister Howard would take a similarly dim view.

On immediate reflection it’s quite unremarkable that Mr Gray identifies “the narrow middle-class values of the secular left” as a particular bogey that influences “ABC staff culture”, as this represents a sector of the middle-class that the Howard Government and the Murdoch consensus have neither been able to completely capture nor neutralise. Mr Gray makes repeated reference to “ideological bias” within the ABC, of course, but fails to demonstrate its supposed entrenchment within, and debasement of, the organisation.

I can’t comment on Mr Gray’s criticism of the ABC’s supposed left-leaning “lifestyle” programs because I’ve barely ever given them much attention, indeed I wish the ABC would do a little less of them and – you betcha! – a little more drama, like Power Without Glory of blessed memory.

What’s most sad about Mr Gray’s piece is that, having by and large identified himself with the Government, he identifies “the enemy” as “the ABC itself”. Sad, because it’s yet another example of how discourse in today’s Australia seems so often expressed in terms of unremitting conflict. (It might be argued that it has always been so, however the “culture wars” and the excessive divisiveness they engender seem to me a relatively recent phenomenon.) But sad, mostly, because the Government and its supporters seem unable to work with the ABC to inform, and reflect the diversity of, its citizens as intended under the ABC Charter.

Here’s another passage indicative of Mr Gray’s tiresome pro-Government disingenuousness (yea, I hate the word too, but can’t think of another polite enough that would apply):

Anxious to defend its own decision to go to war, the Howard Government has prosecuted numerous complaints against the ABC’s reporting of the war. Like the war itself, this may prove to have been a tactical error by the Government.

Further along he notes that “Whenever a minister attacks the broadcaster for ‘distorting’ the truth on Iraq, [the Government] lays itself open to the same accusation in return.” The implication is that the disgraceful Iraq debacle – significantly according to Mr Gray, a “tactical” rather than a moral failure – should be swept under the carpet even further. Thus, don’t mention the war (War is Peace!) because we wouldn’t want to further reinforce the perception that the Government is “mean and tricky”, would we?

As for ABC bias being “a problem of class sociology”, which Mr Gray inexorably leans towards defining as “a hatred of the Australian masses and their conservative values”, he like his preferred Prime Minister (again, unremarkably) would seem to favour a good wedge, rather than addressing the decline in democratic values that characterise attacks on a unique and vital institution.

It’s remarkable that although Mr Howard likes to debunk the idea that class conflict could ever exist in Australia – in the perpetual attempt to authenticate his illusory relaxed-and-comfortable Australia – here we have his proxy Paul Gray pushing the idea of “class sociology” being behind “the problem” of the ABC. Well, there either is or ain’t class conflict in this country. Perhaps the expression “class sociology” is just a high-brow term for a more mundane phenomenon called base snobbery, which is an inevitable feature of any social dynamic anyway.


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