Friday, August 18, 2006

Duffy v Adams on your ABC? No contest!

Paul Gray’s column of yesterday drew only a single response in The Australian’s Letters page today. A reader from Coorparoo, Qld complains that Gray

...only makes passing mention of the one conservative jewel in the ABC’s somewhat unbalanced crown – the weekly Counterpoint on Radio National. Its host, Michael Duffy, is the long-awaited conservative Phillip Adams, though far more polite and not at all concerned with trying to demonstrate how clever he is.

Well gee, Duffy can present some interesting material, but ... a “conservative Phillip Adams”? I do listen in on Counterpoint occasionally, but to equate Duffy with Adams is just a comparison too far.

Take the program I heard a few weeks back, where Duffy discussed urban planning, specifically the question of more freeways v. more public transport. During the discussion, which unsurprisingly took a pro-freeway slant, Duffy offered the following observation:

There’s a certain religious element to this anti-car feeling I’ve found in people I talk to. One of the things I’m often told here is that if you build more freeways it will just encourage more people to use cars. There’s a sort of anti-choice philosophy at the background of all this, isn’t there?

It’s puzzling how Duffy can discern a “religious element” from a perfectly reasonable inferential statement like “if you build more freeways it will just encourage more people to use cars”. Whether the inference is a correct one or not is beside the point. If he means to say that particular statement is a common misconception, then why doesn’t he just say so, rather than attributing some kind of sinister religiosity to his opponents.

Of course, from Duffy’s point of view, the great sin of his opponents is that they are purportedly “anti-choice”. Duffy’s polemic is as disingenuous as if his opponents were to argue that there’s “a certain religious element to this pro-choice feeling”. But, of course, Duffy’s listeners will know exactly what he means.

Duffy’s guest in the discussion was “the world’s best known critic of urban consolidation”, Wendell Cox, who runs a consultancy called Demographia. At one point in the program, Cox established himself as a prime contender for Most Specious Gynaecological Analogy since the “Telstra Can’t Be Only Half Pregnant” foolishness of the Howard Government:

This whole idea that building freeways creates traffic is sort of like the assumption that building maternity wards would raise the birth rate.

No, Wendell, it’s not “sort of like” it at all. There’s a causative relationship between building freeways and traffic flows that doesn’t obtain between building maternity wards and human fertility. Adams would have put a stop to that sort of nonsense, quick smart.


UPDATE 19/08

Michael Duffy has a feature article in the Sydney Morning Herald today that further discusses Wendell Cox’s critique of urban consolidation. It’s actually not a bad article, giving reasonable space for opposing views. Of course, Duffy leans towards Cox’s view on the topic, but that’s cool.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Times changed

While recently sorting through some old news clippings, it became apparent how times have changed.

In March 1999, then Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister Tim Fischer went to Iran on a trade mission. State sponsored terrorism and other abuses by Iran were only minor considerations then for the Australian Government, apparently. This, of course, was before September 11 2001.

Mr Fischer briefly raised allegations of state-sponsored terrorism and human rights abuses, but said his talks were primarily on trade and investment.

... [Mr Fischer] said Australia stood with Iran in opposing the US Government’s decision to impose secondary sanctions against firms from other countries doing business with Iran. ...

Mr Fischer made only passing reference to Iran’s poor record on human rights and claims it wants to develop weapons of mass destruction. “The main focus of my visit here was trade, investment and tourism,”' he said.

  • The Age, 4 March 1999

A year later, Fischer had retired from public life, and Prime Minister John Howard was on his way to Israel “to receive an honorary doctorate of philosophy for his support for the state of Israel and for his contribution to peace.”

Mr Howard's first trip to Israel was in 1964, when he was a 25-year-old university graduate travelling [sic] from Asia to Europe. Since then he has visited only once, when he was Opposition Leader in 1988. ...

The Prime Minister has strongly supported Israel’s stance in Middle-East peace negotiations, which sometimes brought him into conflict with his former deputy, Mr Tim Fischer, who was outspoken in his criticism of Israeli actions against the Palestinians.

  • The Age, 3 March 2000

But the more things change, at another level they stay the same. Fischer has recently criticized Israel for its excesses in its late war against Hezbollah in Lebanon (although he also takes a swipe at Hezbollah).

“There is a rogue element in the (Hezbollah) military machines in Lebanon firing Katyusha rockets even on places like Nazareth, killing two Israeli brothers in the first salvo,” he said.

“Equally, there is a rogue element in the military machine of Israel.” ...

“Why the hell are they targeting Red Cross vehicles in Tyre? Why have they targeted more recently, in the last day, a UN compound, involving Austrians and others?,” he said.

“If they are so good at precision bombing, then there should be a lot more children alive in Lebanon today than there are.”

Fischer also took the opportunity to make obeisance to a long-time favourite cause, and to offer some advice to the US on the Iraq debacle:

He also expressed support for a Palestinian state, which would include East Jerusalem, and said Iraq would be partitioned along ethnic and religious lines.

But, strangely enough, not a word about “trade, investment or tourism”...

ABC cheered

In The Australian today, Herald Sun columnist Paul Gray contributes another of his occasional columns continuing his searing criticism of the ABC’s “endemic culture of ideological bias”.

It should not be assumed that Gray is a reflexive right-wing wingnut though, since not long ago he very sensibly wrote a column condemning the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which he opined “was the one thing worse than a crime; it was a mistake. ... it has emerged as one of the West’s great foreign policy debacles in modern times”. Further, Gray called for “someone” to apologise to Mark Latham because retrospectively he (Latham) was correct in opposing the war in Iraq (“Apologise to Latham”, The Australian, 21 March 2006).

In today’s column, Gray calls for “credit where it’s due”, and gives “two cheers to the ABC”, because “at last, Aunty shows signs of taking some conservatives seriously”. Gray’s ebullience seems primarily due to the ABC’s “excellent coverage” and “sensible treatment” of “provocative conservative thinker” Mark Steyn’s recent visit to Australia.

I couldn’t agree more that the ABC gave excellent accommodation of Steyn’s views, notably the latter’s call to invade and conquer Syria, in order to effect regime change there and set up another beacon of democracy in the Middle East (Lateline, ABC-TV, 9 August 2006). With the recently invaded and conquered Iraq rendered a catastrophic basketcase, the thought of doing it all again in Syria really is a truly “provocative” idea. Thanks Mr Steyn, thanks Aunty.

Another positive sign of the ABC’s rehabilitation, according to Gray, was the recent incident where Helen Razer pulled the plug on her interview with film-maker Bob Weis, when Weis accused historian and ABC board member Keith Windschuttle of “Holocaust denial” over his published views on Aboriginal history.

Gray has some ideas as to why we might be seeing this supposed thaw in the ABC’s ideological winter: “Perhaps new ABC managing director Mark Scott ... is changing the culture as no MD has done before. Or perhaps the new board of directors is asserting itself.” Hmm, and perhaps Gray could flip a coin to settle that particular question, since he doesn’t appear to have any real insight on it.

Or perhaps Gray’s perception of the ABC’s ideological bias is based on a narrow and selective audit from the profusion of ABC programming. He opines that “the ABC’s main problem goes beyond news and current affairs. It’s also about lifestyle and entertainment shows, where there is no charter requirement for impartiality, such as theoretically holds sway (very theoretically, you might say) in news and current affairs.”

In support of this line of criticism, Gray cites: “Unfunny jokes about setting fire to the Pope on The Glasshouse, gay kisses on Spicks and Specks and extended Andrew Denton interviews with eccentric Christian ‘peace campaigners’ who attack military bases...”

So, out of thousands of hours of programming, Gray has managed to point to perhaps an hour of content that he finds objectionable, arguably on somewhat narrow and subjective criteria.

Has Gray identified a really serious problem here? Or perhaps it should more rightly be asked: Is Gray really serious?