Media Watch is everything that is wrong with the ABC, squeezed into 15 insufferable minutes.
Smug, elitist and, above all, awash with the misguided idea that commercial media outlets are not to be trusted and that the only place where honest news can be found is in Aunty’s warm, state-sponsored embrace.
The program is usually best ignored, but its segment this week on the saga of Peter Ridd is worth calling out for its breathless hypocrisy. For the uninitiated, Ridd is a marine geophysicist who, until recently, was professor of physics at James Cook University in Townsville. Ridd is also an expert on the Great Barrier Reef and disputes the view that it is being killed by climate change.
Earlier this year the Federal Circuit Court found that his dismissal was unlawful.
Fast forward to this week’s Media Watch in which host Paul Barry spent a fair chunk of taxpayer-funded time bemoaning the attention from The Australian and other outlets to Ridd’s perspective on reef science.
The coverage, according to Barry, was “a real free kick” and “a free platform, with no opposing viewpoints”.
That the ABC could complain about a lack of opposing viewpoints is staggering.
When it comes to climate change in particular, the ABC is hopelessly predisposed towards climate alarmism. That may explain why up until Monday night, the ABC has shown less interest in the Ridd affair.
Ridd’s sacking, legal appeal and eventual victory in court attracted such strong public interest that eventually even the federal Attorney-General weighed in when the subject was raised by numerous colleagues in a recent partyroom meeting. But coverage from our “trusted” public broadcaster?
Not much. A search of the ABC’s website returns just a handful of reports on what was the most significant case on academic freedom in many years.
If the ABC had bothered, they would know that Ridd’s beef isn’t just with popular notions of doom and gloom surrounding the Great Barrier Reef but also with the quality of the underlying science.
Much of it, according to Ridd, is not being properly checked, tested or replicated.
As a result, governments are spending billions of dollars and jeopardising whole industries to “save” the reef when it probably doesn’t need saving.
It should be noted as well that throughout the extensive disciplinary process against Ridd, James Cook University never once addressed his complaints about the poor quality of climate science coming out of the university, a fact highlighted by the judge himself during Ridd’s case.
But far be it for the ABC to let poor science get in the way of a good story. Naturally, the segment included an article from The Guardian citing a handful of scientists who are adamant the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble and that Ridd should be ignored.
Media Watch even repeated hysterical comparisons between Ridd’s research and anti-vaxxer campaigns.
Interestingly, one scientist cited by the ABC was Terry Hughes. Like Ridd, Hughes is based at James Cook, and arguably triggered the whole saga when, according to court documents, he lodged a complaint about some relatively mild comments Ridd made in relation to reef science on Sky News. This connection was apparently missed by the Media Watch team.
What the ABC doesn’t understand is that the Ridd saga is about much more than the Great Barrier Reef or even climate science.
It raises serious questions about academic freedom, about the right of a university professor to voice dissenting views without being hounded out of his tenure, as Ridd was by James Cook.
This is why Ridd was supported by a large section of the community. Many of his university colleagues defended him and one resigned in disgust.
He even received support from the National Tertiary Education Union — not exactly a bastion of right-wing views. But of course, on the ABC, all of that complexity is lost, reduced to a tired pantomime about right-wing commentators pushing the views of one scientist to advance their own murky climate agenda.
Now, if the ABC were a private organisation it could take whatever editorial line it wanted — and would be far from the only outlet in Australia to sympathise with climate evangelism. But the ABC receives $1.1 billion of our money each year for news coverage that, by law, must be balanced.
Maybe the ABC should comply with its charter and make way for alternative views rather than taking juvenile pot shots at its rivals.