In Defence of Diversity: Why ABC’s ‘Unleashed’ Must Remain Free

Of course, the ABC isn’t interested in running this piece, perhaps proving my point, which follows here.

In Defence of Diversity: Why Unleashed Must Remain Free

Although Jonathan Holmes makes some rather good points regarding the recent ‘tempest in a teacup’ involving a post made on unleashed by left-wing parody blogger ‘Alene Composta’, I feel it’s important to provide a bit of a retort to his well-thought, but somewhat biased opinions regarding editorial freedoms.

In a perfect world, an editor could publish anything sent his or her way, assured that no malice or negative agenda was behind the work submitted, and that although somewhat subjective, the author always provided balance — and that there were no ‘trojan horses’ such as the unfortunate ‘piece’ that made it through the gates of The Drum: Unleashed the other week.

Obviously, this is not a perfect world.

But, should we really put the full might of the journalistic-equivalent to the ‘Department of Homeland Security’ at the gates in response to a single abuse of the freedom provided by The Drum: Unleashed? Having had both my own editorial and video works scrutinised by the ABC legal department to the point at which they have lost their timeliness and any intended impact they may have had on the community-at-large, I would have to argue that the present measures are far and away enough, if not perhaps a little too much.

One thing Holmes always argues for is the ‘legitimacy of the contributor’. The author, he imagines, must have thirty years experience in journalism, hold a seat in Parliament, and/or have three PhD’s — but preferably ‘and’. Truth be told, on the surface this seems fair enough. After all, you wouldn’t want the ‘gullible masses’ who routinely read the ABC website to fall prey to some right-wing, fascist rant.

Everyone believes what they see and read; this is why Media Watch is the most unpopular show on television. One can’t imagine why the ABC wastes valuable prime-time programming space on such a wasted effort.

Right.

As such, I can’t really fathom that he’s being completely ‘fair dinkum’ in his assessments here — in fact, he’s likely acting more of an opportunist. As is his right, given his ‘legitimacy’. But Holmes must himself realise that leveraging his own, albeit well-earned credibility to weigh in on a subject toward which he has, over the last twelve months, shown considerable bias is — at the very least and in some small measure — as inappropriate as those who shamelessly take advantage of the relative liberties of The Drum: Unleashed for their own wild political agendas.

Recently, I’ve heard Mark Scott speak. He said that he genuinely wanted to move the ABC’s editorial policies toward a more liberal model, and avoid editorial direction as much as possible. He admitted that the ABC’s coverage of the last federal election was not as thorough and balanced as he might have liked, and he wants that to change, through wider coverage of the issues, and with greater input from the community-at-large.

This is a difficult task if you place further levels of filters on externally-provided content, since humans are inherently subjective creatures, and bias is bound to occur. To achieve the aims Scott claims to aspire to, you need to keep that scrutiny to a minimum.

It has been well-publicised that Holmes does not agree with Scott’s opinions on these matters, and that he fears that by giving a voice to the right-wing, they will somehow manage to brainwash the masses into a panic of fear and hysteria, creating a tide that will wash away the righteous left, and give rise to the rule of bigots and Dickensian-capitalists for the next hundred years, as if we are all sheep and have no brains with which to think for ourselves.

Frankly, it insults the collective intelligence. Australian society didn’t get to where it is today, for good or ill, thanks to the careful guidance of some secret brotherhood, or the whimsical editorialising of a few prominent news outlets — regardless of what some absurd conspiracy-theorists might think. Western democracies — in particular — have always needed the voices of the Tony Abbott’s of their respective countries just as much as the Kevin Rudd’s, or the Barnaby Joyce’s for that matter, to keep progressing in a fair and united fashion.

Everyone has something to contribute. That’s the entire basis of a free, democratic society. You might not like what they have to say, but that right to say it — that ability to add a voice that might not itself prove relevant, but may highlight another issue that is — is what makes a successful democracy advance, not the mere election of a few to a parliament expected to speak for all and sundry on every issue for the next three years, whose only guidance is provided by the venerable institution of the mainstream media.

Oh, wait.

This is why we desperately need outlets like The Drum: Unleashed.

Will a few ‘dirty bombs’ slip in under the radar? Of course they will. Should we muzzle the masses because of that fact? Of course not. The ABC in particular has a freedom no other outlet has — it can afford to be unpopular. It knows this, and does its best to play against the populist views of the day; but, at times, it also needs to be unpopular to itself, unpopular to its followers, lest it simply become a polarised opposite to a Murdoch-dominated commercial-media oligarchy.

That should be someone else’s job. The ABC should remain free.

Or, at least, as free as it currently is.

tl;dr: In short, Unleashed should not be on a leash.

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In Defence of Diversity: Why ABC’s ‘Unleashed’ Must Remain Free

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