This morning’s episode of Insiders on ABC was flatly embarrassing. I don’t say this as a crybaby lefty who always whines that the ABC is far too right wing and has been infiltrated by right wing spies. I say this as a conservative who is genuinely interested in good political debate where people from both sides of the political ‘divide’ contribute to meaningful dialogue.
The concept behind Insiders has been under some scrutiny this year after New York Uuniversity academic, Jay Rosen, said:
I then mentioned the ABC’s Sunday morning program, The Insiders. And I asked Leigh Sales if it was true that the insiders were, on that program, the journalists. She said: “That is right.” I said: “That’s remarkable.” She… well, she changed the subject. And let me add right away that Leigh Sales is one of the most intelligent journalists I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
So this is my theme tonight: how did we get to the point where it seems entirely natural for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to describe political journalists appearing on its air as “the insiders?” Don’t you think that’s a little strange? I do. Promoting journalists as insiders in front of the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate… this is a clue to what’s broken about political coverage in the US and Australia. Here’s how I would summarise it: things are out of alignment. Journalists are identifying with the wrong people. Therefore the kind of work they are doing is not as useful as we need it to be. [Source: ‘Why political coverage is broken‘, The Drum]
Insiders has tacitly declared that it has no interest in changing the context of its show. The best people, it thinks, to analyse the news are the people who are part of the news production cycle: political correspondents and columnists.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s inherently a terrible thing. Rosen’s argument relies on a particular view of what people want the media to do: namely, to be a vital part of the democracy machine. I don’t share that view. I want good opinion writers who can digest the huge amount of information on a topic and present it as an argument which will challenge my views.
As a literate conservative who wants high quality dialogue, this means most of my news comes from left wing sources. There are very few right wing writers that I enjoy.
Insiders tries to present balance in the same way that the rest of the media tries to present balance: three white guys arguing, moderated by another white guy.
In order to get that argument, you need people who hold quite different opinions to come to the conversation. All too frequently, this means getting the people with the opinions but not getting the people who can turn those opinions into a conversation.
What’s the difference? Take the podcast that I’m in. We have three white guys (but no white guy moderator): two are partisan left wing (one more centrist than the other), one is non-partisan right wing. Even though we have very different perspectives, the conversation is usually good because we can critique each other’s ideas.
Piers Ackerman demonstrated this morning that he is incapable of critiquing the ideas of others. After interrupting with mostly incoherent interjections, here’s this morning’s conversation about the Energy White Paper.
Piers Ackerman: ‘I thought the word “bullshit” was the one that Labor got so offended by when Tony Abbott said it to Nicola Roxon.
Malcolm Farr: What do you think about the content of what he had to say?
Piers Ackerman: Combet? I think he’s a joke.
Does Ackerman not understand the definition of the word ‘content’?
As I see it, the problem is that there are very few right wing commentators in Australia who aren’t just trolling for attention. Ackerman’s performance this morning showed that he was more interested in maximising his air time at the expense of a sensible conversation about politics.
At the end of the day, having commentators like Ackerman (and, previously, Andrew Bolt) on the show seemed more like the ABC trying to trivialise and ridicule right wingers than include them in mainstream political conversation. News Ltd papers use Ackerman and Bolt (and the myriad of others) for linkbait. They say outrageous things and all the lefties click on the links just for the experience of being outraged. The left is the profitable target audience for Ackerman and Bolt. After all, not many rednecks who hold those views are picking up the newspaper…
Ackerman: In the last month, in this country, the only appeal to the extremists has come from Julia Gillard with her ridiculous misogynist speech in Parliament, and that was a shrieking cry for the endorsement from a group of radical activists — feminists — we haven’t seen since the bloody seventies.
If Ackerman isn’t contributing to the conversation — which he isn’t — he shouldn’t be given air time. Not only does it trash the conversation, but it presents the image to the audience that all right wingers are fringe lunatics who think Cory Bernardi’s speech on marriage equality —
There are even some creepy people out there—and I say ‘creepy’ deliberately—who are unfortunately afforded a great deal more respect than I believe they deserve. These creepy people say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union.’ It is extraordinary that these sorts of suggestions are put forward in the public sphere and are not howled down right at the very start. We can talk about people like Professor Peter Singer who was, I think, a founder of the Greens or who wrote a book about the Greens. Professor Singer has appeared on Q & A on the ABC, the national broadcaster. He has endorsed such ideas as these. I reject them. I think that these things are the next step.
— is less offensive than the Prime Minister’s acclaimed speech (which, although it had an unfortunate context, resonated with the genuine experiences of women across the western world).
Insiders got rid of Glenn Milne. Bolt went on to his own television show on a different channel. For the sake of Australian conservatives, it’s time to get rid of Ackerman.