The ABC takes a long summer break

I was barely awake, but even so I recall the unmistakable voice of the ABC summer presenter mouthing polite platitudes of sympathy for the thousands of Haitians killed in the massive earthquake which hit the capital, Port-au-Prince on the 13th January. The journalistic imperatives of what, where, and who were barely mentioned, with the crucial how and why, the object of neglect. In their place, the summer listeners were urged to partake in an aural orgy detailing their own most frightening life event.

Such was the state of current affairs over the summer break. If ABC news and analysis is so crucial and demanding of our listenership during the year then how is it that our loyalty is so badly rewarded over summer? The case of Haiti and the resultant pitiful media response stands as a poignant example of the neglectful state of our ABC and in particular its practice over the summer break.

Take the TV coverage of the Haiti earthquake as an example: the reports from the ABC’s correspondent stationed in the capital Port-au-Prince show many miraculous images of grateful people, bravely rescued after spending numerous days under rubble and carnage emerging seemingly lifeless, but alive. There are frightening visuals, of gangs of looters being gunned down, and starving and begging survivors fighting to get their hands on the token food aid. But are we really to believe that the devastation inflicted on the Haitians is just the natural outcome of an earthquake and not the result of unbridled exploitation that placed profit above all else?

There is scant reference to the history of this poverty-stricken country which has endured centuries of colonialism, slavery, violence and patriarchy. The ABC is failing its charter which dictates that it educates its audience and therefore has a duty to relate the history of US-Haiti relations which bear direct responsibility for present crisis confronting the Haitian people. Such an omission risks the United States being seen as the saviour coming to the aid of the Haitians in the form of rescue teams, money and most of all food.

To her great surprise, Associate Professor Bronwyn Winter, from the Department of French Studies, at The University of Sydney found herself regarded as the ‘Australian expert’ on Haiti, after media outlets failed in their efforts to unearth a commentator with suitable expertise on Haiti. The Adelaide Advertiser learned of Winter’s interest in the country, about which she has lectured, and where she lived for a short while in 2000. Winter says that the media neglect of Haiti, reminds her sadly of the scale of omission, that is entirely the circumstance of the poverty stricken Caribbean island nation even in normal times. Bronwyn Winter’s article leaves no room for doubt over the past and present predicament of Haiti: “a little over two centuries ago, Haiti was the Jewel of the Antilles, largely thanks to the trade in sugar and indigo. It is now the region's poorest country.”

It may be too late to expect that the ABC’s current affairs programs will take up the challenge with Chris Masters, the former producer of the ABC’s Four Corners program telling the audience at The Friends of the ABC, that by the time he left the program, he had no assistance for the investigative research, that was needed to be undertaken in order to produce the former high quality program. Masters left the ABC 12 months ago, after working for the national broadcaster for over 40 years. He spoke of his time as producer of Four Corners with its hallmark of original research and confrontation on the difficult subjects. He laments the past and says that these days ‘the news industry is about being first and fast – not thorough and accurate.’ Rather than doing investigative research these days, news he says is about the least possible amount of investigative research. He urged his audience to find some way to pay for thorough research and said that ‘ all journalism should be investigative.’

Just this week the Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott, announced a 24-hour rolling news channel that would feature continuous news coverage. Jason Wilson from New asserts that the new channel will cater for the ‘political junkies’. However, he asks if it can assist in the restoration of ABC current affairs which are currently inadequate. His assessment is that it will be watched by ‘a niche market which is already well-catered for.’ We need to ask should the ABC be spending money on this new 24 hour channel or could the money be better spent on improving what we already have in the way of current affairs programs. Wilson outlines the dismal state of television current affairs and calls local radio to task for its underperformance.

Dr. Joseph Toscano, the convener of The Anarchist Media Institute is not surprised at the state of news and analysis at the ABC. The AMI was established in 1986 to counteract the celebrity driven media and the self censoring which excludes any alternative view. “I don’t blame the presenters for the current state of programming because there are set editorial guidelines”. Before each program they have certain guidelines set along with directives on what the presenter will be able to say in regard to the breadth of the subject. The presenter is a presenter.” Toscano explains that this has much to do with the type of middle management appointed during the Howard years to gut the ABC of ideas.

Although ideas as well as information have been absent on our ABC this summer, I was not left uninformed and the best analysis of the Haiti situation came from Dr Ralph Newmark who is one of the presenters on the Latin American Update program on community radio 3CR. Newmark clearly loves the Haitian culture which he describes as extraordinary and in between tracks of Haitian music he explains that centuries of colonization, dispossession, genocide, and slavery resulted in turning Haiti into the poorest country in the Americas: one where buildings were so poorly built as to crumble in the wake of mother nature, and so devoid of the necessary infrastructure that aid to the victims was not possible. Newmark concluded his discussion by declaring that “the world is at least reminded, if it didn't know before, that the conditions in this country are an absolute disgrace to humanity, and historically the west should feel utterly ashamed of how this country has turned out.”

Now that the ABC has concluded its summer break and the regular presenters and producers are back behind their desks and microphones, I wonder if I will be informed and stimulated by ideas, or merely titillated and entertained by talk back callers with mundane details about their western, privileged existences.

Helen Lobato 2010



The break is lasting almost 22 years now. Moreover do we need school-teacher like creative scripting of current affairs with so many un-informed middle-men-women ? Soundbites, consumables, vignettes, promos and the general schizophrenia of a 24 hour mindless babble, with a conveyerbelt of mediocre to total nonsense babble sound ??? It's not news, its not informative, and it is at best mildly amusing - yawn.
Clean out the babybooming crust crap !!!