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Mass media & politics: an uneasy relationship

It is important that media criticism of the government is based upon facts and constitutes fair comment. This is vital to preserve the credibility of the media



ADELAIDE - Requiring the media to 'instil unity amongst our people' – as the Solomons prime minister proposes - is all too often code for 'do not criticise the government even if this is warranted'.

In Australia, the Liberal-National Party governments have been notoriously critical of the ABC because, as they see it, the management and journalists are biased against the conservative side of politics.

As prime minister John Howard’s adviser Graeme Morris once framed the problem, “The ABC is our enemy talking to our friends”.

They have sought to either control or punish the ABC in various ways ranging from attempting to stack the Board with conservative sympathisers through to imposing unjustified budget cuts.

All of these moves are straight out of the authoritarian playbook as demonstrated by Donald Trump's stacking of the US Supreme Court with reactionary judicial thinkers.

Then there are the even more egregious activities of people like Vladimir Putin in Russia and Recep Erdogan in Turkey.

Both of these men have systematically removed critics from the major state institutions, especially the public service, military, media and judiciary.

This has ensured that these basic institutions are entirely beholden to and supportive of the government and, in particular, the leader.

Consequently, Sogavare's comments must be regarded with a certain amount of scepticism.

That said, there is some validity in what Sogavare is saying.

It is important that any criticism of the government is based upon facts and constitutes fair comment.

This is vital to preserve the credibility of the media. If the audience detects obvious bias this not only damages the media but democracy as well.

For example, the obvious conservative bias of the Murdoch owned media in Australia has resulted in a greatly diminished credibility for its many broadcast and newspaper outlets.

This was reflected in the recent election campaign where the Murdoch media’s sometimes strident support for the Morrison government appears to have been ineffective in influencing voters and possibly counterproductive.

Governments are always going to have an uneasy relationship with national broadcasters: politicians tend to love them whilst in opposition but feel much less well-disposed towards them when in government.


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Arthur Smedley

About three weeks ago The Island Sun reported that prime minister Sogavare had banned the country’s public broadcaster from reporting anything critical of the government.

The report stated the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet had ordered the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation not to “broadcast any news or paid programs that are against the government”.

The Sun stated that it was claimed this will prevent division and help to unify the country.

If SIBC follows this directive, the outcome will be the antithesis of encouraging unity. I experienced two instances of the colonial Administration directing its radio stations in Rabaul and Bougainville, in both cases when I was manager, to 'ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive / E-lim-i-nate the negative' as the old song had it. The policy was a disaster - causing huge community unrest in both places - and was soon changed to take the stations to the middle of the road - KJ

Arthur Smedley

Former ABC chairman David Hill wrote that "practically every prime minister since Bob Menzies has at some stage complained that the ABC either got it wrong, or demonstrated bias in reporting a story."

Hill also said Hawke claimed that ABC coverage was sometimes loaded, biased and disgraceful.

One of Hawke's criticisms was that the ABC incorrectly claimed he had agreed to Australia helping the US test nuclear missiles in defiance of Labor policy.

In the 1980s, as the ABC executive responsible for government relations, I and two ABC chairmen (Ken Myer in 1985 and Bob Somervaille in 1987) had two meetings with Hawke. His attitude to the ABC can best be described as ferocious. But apart from strongly expressing his views, unlike his Coalition successors, he never sought to intervene in programs. Hawke understood the importance of the ABC's independence - KJ

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