IN THE MEDIA
Danby vs the ABC
Nov 18, 2017 | Allon Lee
The national broadcaster appears to have a problem with Israel
The Spectator Australia – Nov. 18, 2017
You’d think that, with its $1 billion budget, the ABC could handle a little criticism. Not so, as Melbourne Ports ALP MP Michael Danby recently discovered.
In late September, Danby had the temerity to use his electoral allowance to run two advertisements in the Australian Jewish News questioning the reporting priorities of ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill.
One ad compared how McNeill reported on a Jewish family, the Salomons, slaughtered in their home by a Palestinian terrorist in July, who Danby said received ‘minimal coverage’, with the large scale coverage given to the eviction of a Palestinian family, the Shamasnehs, from their home in east Jerusalem after they lost a court case involving a property dispute.
For his sins, Danby was publicly rebuked by ABC head of news Gaven Morris, then hauled over the coals by the ABC’s Media Watch (MW) (Oct. 9).
Interestingly, when LNP Queensland MP George Christensen placed a full-page ad in Queensland local papers attacking an ABC Four Corners report on the Adani mine project, the ABC declined to comment.
MW smeared Danby as a ‘serial complainant’ and indirectly accused him of misusing taxpayers’ money. Viewers weren’t informed the appropriate Parliamentary office approved the ads.
But here’s the rub, MW not only implicitly conceded that the substance of Danby’s ad criticising McNeill’s coverage of the Salomon family was factually correct, it agreed it could not know if a larger critique of ABC coverage is justified without an ‘extensive audit’.
So how did it fill the airtime?
Past Middle East correspondents were trundled out as prosecution witnesses – and not only against Danby. MW expanded the focus to the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) and ‘Jewish lobby groups’ for supposed ‘targeting’ and ‘attacking’ McNeill and other Middle East correspondents generally. It was strongly implied all such criticism was unjustified and immoral.
Former Australian Middle East correspondent John Lyons, whose tendentious recent memoir Balcony over Jerusalem defends McNeill, was given great prominence. MW didn’t disclose Lyons is now a senior ABC employee.
Lyons’ ABC audition came in 2014 when established Australian-ABC hostilities were suspended, so he could collaborate with Four Corners on a hit job against Israel that his colleague Greg Sheridan denounced as ‘evil and deeply untrue’.
MW quoted Lyons saying, ‘If you write the truth of what you see in front of you in Israel and the West Bank, you will be savagely targeted.’
McNeill was quoted insisting that Danby is ‘part of a campaign of attacks on reporters who refuse to kowtow to intense and intimidating lobbying.’
To establish a pattern of unfair criticism, Fairfax’s former correspondent Ruth Pollard was mentioned as a professional who was criticised by Danby despite winning an award for her reporting. The award would be Pollard’s Walkley for her feature from Gaza’s Shifah Hospital morgue during the 2014 war provoked by incessant Hamas rocket fire at Israeli cities. The Walkley selection committee praised the piece as ‘reflective of the courage Pollard demonstrated in securing access to this war zone morgue and the sensitivity she displayed during her time there.’
This courageous reporter didn’t note that Hamas and its allies deliberately fired rockets at Israeli cities from within Gaza’s civilian areas to maximise Palestinian casualties – and didn’t reveal that Hamas’ leadership was bunkered down in the Shifah Hospital basement. Brave indeed. Hamas of course spent the war threatening journalists who dared to report these facts.
McNeill played from this same handbook in her 2016 7.30 report which ostensibly focused on Egypt opening its border with Gaza after it had been totally closed for an extended period. McNeill featured Robert Piper, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Gaza, who said, ‘Our focus really is on that Israeli border and on the imposition of a blockade on Gaza. That’s where we believe the focus should be.’
But why is the onus only on Israel? McNeill didn’t bother to ask, or share the response if she did. Instead, the report attacked Israel for denying ‘30 per cent’ of requests from Gazans asking to cross into Israeli territory for medical treatment. Egypt, which totally blockaded Gaza, and allowed 0 per cent of medical requests through, got off scot-free. So did Hamas.
This lack of quality control goes beyond the level of ABC correspondents.
In 2013, ABC Breakfast aired an Australian pro-Palestinian activist who said Gaza is so miserable that there are no birds there. The World Bird Database lists 171 species of birds there. The ABC also reported that year that Gaza has one of the highest rates of breast cancer. Actually, the opposite is true.
How about seeing no problem with allowing an ABC employee who pushed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel whilst at Marrickville Council in 2010 to produce a two-part radio documentary in 2015 so outrageously one-sided that the ABC had to issue a post-broadcast qualification stating that it was merely ‘her perspective’?
Then there is the ABC’s stubborn refusal to concede any problem with its reliance on sourcing TV and radio news about the Israeli-Palestinian issue from the Qatari royal family-owned Al Jazeera English – which its own former employees admit often acts as a propaganda tool for the Muslim Brotherhood. When Danby called for SBS and ABC to stop using Al Jazeera, SBS and the Australian interviewed him. ABC Radio, by contrast, instead found a former Al Jazeera employee to paint a favourable picture of the network.
These are a few examples from a vast array of incidents where the ABC has failed to live up to its charter requirements for fairness and balance as a taxpayer-funded media outlet – which Danby, AIJAC and others have highlighted.
It should be of great concern to every fair-minded person that fundamental facts and context are routinely buried or ignored by the very people Australian taxpayers are paying to provide them. It should be of even more concern that these same people think the proper response to legitimate criticism is to use programing on its taxpayer-funded media outlets to denigrate its critics.
Allon Lee is a policy analyst with AIJAC