Good thoughts on the ABC and the Right’s culture wars

18 Oct

Our local MP here in Surry Hills is Tanya Plibersek. Today she has a good piece in The Sydney Morning Herald: PM’s game: play the man not the ball.

WHO said bourgeois intellectuals should no longer control the schools? Clue: it wasn’t the Federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop. It was Chairman Mao celebrating the anti-intellectualism of the student-led Red Brigades.

Bishop’s recent comments demonstrate in a clumsy, heavy-handed way one of the most successful Howard Government strategies for dealing with dissent: play the man, not the ball. The Government has failed to convince teachers and parents of its kooky ideas – like the Latin revival – so it turns to abusing teachers.

Australians concerned about global warming are called extreme environmentalists.

The same applies to Iraq. Domestic and overseas police, defence and intelligence experts say the war has led to an increased threat of terrorism and an energising of the international jihadist movement.

Instead of explaining to the Australian people why he is confident the war is making Iraq and Australia safer, the Prime Minister calls opponents of the war Saddam supporters, accuses them of disloyalty to our troops, and says that if we don’t fight in Iraq the terrorist threat will spread…

Howard routinely dismisses arguments because of who makes them: environmentalists; teachers; students; church leaders; unionists – they’re all part of a cultural elite, he says. The constant use of “elite” as a pejorative has become comical from a man who loves the reflected glory of hanging around elite sporting heroes and who governs for big business and rich people while living one of the most privileged existences in the country with his fine mansion on Sydney Harbour, his unprecedented wine bill, his comfy VIP jet and his $170,000, four-day Rome hotel bill. You can’t hide privilege under a tracksuit.

As well as being part of the cultural elite, the PM’s critics are often accused of being socialists, communists, Maoists and the like. His heroes and villains (as described in his recent Quadrant speech) are the old Cold War goodies and baddies. SBS journalist Karen Middleton called this his “red armband” view of history. Full marks for consistency: there aren’t too many people still fighting the Cold War…

Howard said the ABC was the mother lode of socialism. He fixed that by stacking the board with what you could call a right-wing intelligentsia – the generals of the culture wars. His appointments have strong-armed through a new anti-bias code so restrictive that at one stage it looked as though satirical programs like The Chaser would no longer be possible.

While Howard and his ministers are quick to define their opponents as left-wing, they never refer to themselves as right-wing. They deny the existence of factions in the Liberal Party. They’re all in the sensible centre, as Bishop calls it.

As well as claiming the sensible centre, the Government claims a monopoly on mainstream values: God, the family, hard work, mateship.

It talks the talk, but does it walk the walk? When it comes to family values, for example, it’s hard to see why a few same-sex couples wanting to make a public declaration of their commitment should be considered a greater threat to family life than a 24-hour, seven-day work culture that destroys family time. Howard has done a great job of capturing the language of moderation when in fact his policies are radically changing Australia.

Howard is a master at deriding his opponents as crazy extremists, out-of-touch elitists or crypto-communists. He’s winning the culture wars by appointing his supporters to key media and cultural positions; he’s perfected the techniques of using proxies (like Bill Heffernan) to make his more extreme arguments. None of this means he’s right on the issues. To Australia’s cost and shame, he will be proved wrong on Iraq and wrong on global warming, just as he was proved wrong when, in the 1980s, he argued that Australia should not negotiate with the terrorist leader Nelson Mandela.

Bishop’s right: it’s good to know some history.

Of course that is a polemic, but a damned good one. Well done, Tanya. I may even vote for you come next election. (I didn’t last time.)

On Five Public Opinions Arthur Vandelay has written an excellent post on the ABC, and not only because it links to me. I don’t always agree with Arthur; for starters, I do not share his attitude to religion, though I deplore some of the same “religious” manifestations that he does, but then where I stand should be obvious from my “Faith and Philosophy” links on the right. But I do share his respect for George Lakoff, not surprising, I suppose, in that I have studied sociolinguistics. In fact I will add that one to my links.

When you point out to conservatives their hypocrisy in highlighting left-wing bias at the ABC, but ignoring the right-wing bias of the commercial media, they respond with a stock answer: “The commercial media isn’t funded by our taxes, and we don’t want our taxes paying for left-wing views.” Well, they aren’t. What your taxes are paying for is an independent ABC–an ABC that is a public broadcaster as opposed to an official state broadcaster: and I can ony repeat that if, as a consequence of that independence, the ABC leans left more than it does right in its approach to certain topics, you just have accept that as part-and-parcel of the ABC’s independence. Let me put it this way: part of the price you have to pay, for living in a liberal democracy in which journalists, broadcasters, writers, editors and artists can go about their business without living in fear of government retribution for saying the wrong thing, is that sometimes you will encounter views with which you disagree.

Well said, Arthur.

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2 responses to “Good thoughts on the ABC and the Right’s culture wars

  1. AV

    October 18, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    Thanks, Ninglun.

    As a side note, could you please clarify what you mean when you say “I don’t always agree with Arthur; for starters, I do not share his attitude to religion.?” Are you referring the differences in our religious beliefs, or differences in our beliefs about religion?



  2. ninglun

    October 18, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    Perhaps both? Not that this excludes much we have in common. I am just taking that from what you tend to write about.

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