© Neil Spark

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September 17, 2017

Fair and balanced is the US cable network Fox News’s slogan. Anyone who has watched it knows it's a good example of an Orwellian phrase.


And now the phrase may be added to the charter of Australia's pubic broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. And the broadcaster's salaries may be published. These interventions are likely to be passed by the Australian Parliament and become law.


On the surface it seems reasonable. But delve a little deeper and an insidious incursion intended to control is revealed. It threatens the broadcaster's independence.


The interference is part of a deal to get the government's changes to media laws passed by the Senate. The ABC is governed by, among other things, editorial policies where the words "fair" and "balanced" are mentioned many times. 


The push for the additional "fair and balanced" came from One Nation, a climate-denying, anti-immigration, anti-civil liberties party led by Pauline Hanson. The ABC Four Corners current affairs program shone its investigative spotlight in April on One Nation. It wasn't a hatchet job. But Ms Hanson thought it wasn't "fair and balanced" and tried to stop further revelations.


The government needed the party's vote to get the media laws passed. The price is high. "Fair and balanced" are nebulous words that mean different things to different people. To One Nation, it means giving equal air time to opposing points of view, which the ABC does now. But in One Nation's warped world, people who have no  evidence for their claims, such as Holocaust and global warming deniers, would be given equal time. Who is to decide what's "fair and balanced"? Will the ABC have to employ a layer of bureaucracy to administer it? 


Australia's Prime Minster, Malcolm Turnbull, marked two years in office last week. He promised much but delivered little. But he has given Australia is Pauline Hanson. Turnbull called an early election last year. His party didn't have control of the Senate and in attempt to get it, or at least more senators likely to support him, the election was for the House of Representatives and the whole Senate.


There were no One Nation senators in the last Senate. The winning vote quota in 2016 for senators was a lot lower than what it usually is when half the senators face election. Four One Nation senators were elected. Consequently, the likelihood is high that Australia will get more legislation that undermines democracy-dependent institutions such as the ABC.












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