Th Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the Sydney headquarters of the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on 5 June 2019 — one day after a seperate raid on a Journalists home — have provided a writ large context for questions about press freedom and the role of the State. These raids coincidentally took place when the Conservative Prime Minister was out of the country (in England with USA President Trump and others on the 75th anniversary of D-Day) — making it easier for him to avoid media and public scrutiny.
The ABC has faced relentless pressure by the Conservative (neoliberal) federal government for several years about its reporting, in particular being framed as having a 'leftwing bias.' We can look to chief onion aficionado[^1] and former Prim Minister Tony Abbott for a clear rendition. I 'a fresh attack on the national broadcaster' he claimed the ABC took "everyone's side but Australia's" and should show "some basic affection for the home team".
This attack is part of the bigger picture context for the recent raids, clearly linked to ongoing funding cuts in the order of the tens of millions and broader attempts to pressure the ABC board to be less critical of the current government. We have seen a stylistic shift in reporting, mirroring that of commercial networks soft and uncritical focus and approach. Both in regard to what is covered and the how. Earlier in 2019 the Prime Minister chose a new Chair — which is apparently his prerogative. The person chosen has a history in tabloid and puff piece journalism... which bring back to why of this musing.
The night before the raid at the ABC offices, 7:30 the ABC's nightly current affairs program included what was largely a nondescript story by journalist Madeleine Morris. Framed as a public interest story in the wake of an official interest rate cut (an historic low), two families and their current economic circumstances were introduced as a means to explore its impacts. The Morris story is insidiously indicative of the shift in the ABC's reporting in the wake of the repeated attacks from the government over several years, changes to the board and appointment of Chairs. The story starts with a young family who will benefit from a reduction in expenses under the official interest rate cut:
With two kids and two mortgages, one on the family home and one on an investment property, the Melbourne teacher has been eagerly waiting for today's interest rate decision.
This is the neoliberal ideal of the family. Aspirational investors. Reference to the two mortgages was very nonchalant. There being two was not questioned. No reference to it being a minority of people who can afford a second mortgage, nor the mortgage stress many are under who own their own home (or those unable to afford one). There was no reference to the policy of negative gearing, that is tax breaks on 'investment properties', for those able to afford to buy on. How these investments are subsidised by the State at the expense of social programs, or how this policy impacts drives up house prices and impacts housing affordability, or that investing in housing frames homes as a market commodity rather than a social issue (as in everyone should have access to affordable and stable housing).
The second family introduced were self-funded retirees, who will lose out on the interest they are 'earning' on their investments. Or that these are investments on which they are gifted money by the State (referred to as franking credits) merely for having investments. There was no mention of those who have retired without having investment portfolios, struggling to get by on meagre incomes and not beneficiaries of this State gift.
To bring this back to the insidiousness of this all, there is — rightly — outrage about the police raids. The attack on press freedom writ large. More disconcerting are how the fingers, the tentacles, of the State have penetrated into media organisations themselves. The fear central to these raids, massive funding cuts and appointing people with less critical approaches (to put it a nice way) are all having an impact for the benefit for the neoliberal Stat and its ideological bent.
What we have is a somewhat mundane everyday personal interest story that normalises neoliberal ideology and paints an idealised picture of a minority of relatively affluent individuals and families as representative of the Australian population. Papered over and ignored are those actually struggling to make ends met in the everyday, those impacted the most by neoliberal policies and effectively ignored-forgotten. This is poor journalism published by the National Broadcaster, a media organisation the public has trusted highly.
If this is what the ABC is becoming (and in many ways has already become), the near future is concerning. Th impacts are currently under the radar given a focus on the spectacle of police raids on journalists homes and press offices.
[^1]. The video linked to here is an example of the sad state of affairs of Australian journalism, in particular the morning news program on he ABC. The content, approach and focus are clear in this piece.