Sunday, June 18, 2006

Australian’s Broadcasting Conservatism - correcting the ABC acronym

‘Van Diemens’ Land was host to nothing that resembled genocide’….. Most of the story is just ‘myth piled upon myth’..… 'Aboriginal thieves had little compunction about killing anyone they found in their way’.

Do you recognise any of these quotes? If so, you may also be aware that the board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has just gained the services of one of John Howard’s top conservative ideologues and the author of this blatantly revisionist rhetoric. The man in question is Australia’s foremost genocide denialist and historian, Keith Windschuttle. He is the author of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History and various other colonialist accounts of Australia’s past.

Windschuttle has made a career out of nitpicking at the footnotes of the work of respected historian’s such as Robert Manne, Manning Clark and Henry Reynolds, but rarely makes a convincing argument to challenge their research. He is also fond of sharing his bizarre views with ultra-conservative think-tanks such as the Sydney Institute.

Given that there is now a wealth of academic research and supporting anecdotal evidence on the subject, it’s truly amazing that Keith Windschuttle persists in trying to disprove the now widely accepted view that Indigenous Australians were violently dispossessed of their land and culture.

One need only take a brief tour of Windschuttle’s website The Sydney Line to see how he has made a target out of academics, and even more shamefully, Indigenous Australians. His website is host to a large number of his Blaineyesque texts. One that can’t go unmentioned is his critique of the infamous White Australia Policy in which he deviously argues that the policy was actually driven by ‘progressive political thinkers’ of the 50’, 60’s and 70’s:

‘there were some Australians who did subscribe to theories of racist nationalism, and they were the people who most strongly argued for a White Australia. In their day, they constituted the intelligentsia. They were in favour of the fashionable new ideas, theories and political movements out of Europe. They were in favour of socialism, republicanism, feminism, eugenics, the strong state and the romanticist, racist form of nationalism that emerged in Germany at the time.’

Certainly there were Australians who subscribed to theories of racist nationalism but these people could not be referred to as truly ‘progressive’ given that they were guided by ruling class ideology. To suggest that the ‘progressive left’ was the driving force behind the policy is nothing more than petty one-upmanship: Windschuttle seems intent on waging an ogoing war against the left academics, even at the expense of serious historical analysis.

In the same article Windschuttle goes on to suggest that the ABC’s flagship radio station, Radio National, is merely servicing cultural elites and is out of step with the average Aussie in the suburbs. Windschuttle is really suggesting that the ABC should cease to operate as an independent public broadcaster and transform itself into another banal, commercial broadcaster.

It has been a long held ambition of the Howard Government to privatise the ABC, which it seems to see as a propaganda machine for the political left. As the nation’s independent broadcaster the ABC has a duty to foster debate on issues of national concern and as it turns out, much of the public debate hasn’t been favourable to his Government’s policies. The reality is that since coming to office, John Howard has acted on any opportunity to silence public criticism of his government. The allegations made by the then Communications Minister Richard Alston in 2003 that the ABC showed 'anti-American' bias are a classic example.

Windschuttle’s animosity toward the ABC is obvious. Why then was he so willing to accept a position on the national broadcaster’s board of directors? Windschuttle and his newly appointed colleague Peter Hurley could hardly serve their ideological masters more thoroughly than to undermine the editorial independence of the ABC from within its own boardroom.

The likes of Keith Windschuttle clearly have no place on the board of the Australian national broadcaster. His well-known disdain for the ABC and Indigenous Australians is obviously highly regarded by his appointer, Communications Minister Helen Coonan, and is testament to the fact that the Howard Government’s agenda is to transform the ABC into another mouthpiece for conservative neo-liberal ideology.

In the face of some strong criticism immediately following Windschuttle’s appointment Senator Coonan qualified her decision by referring to the historian’s previous experience in the media, suggesting that this was the main thrust behind his appointment. This is highly dubious given that Keith Windschuttle is renowned for his ultra-conservative views and persistent attacks on journalists or academics whose values sit slightly left of centre.

Senator Coonan must think ABC listeners came down in the last shower. It also seems certain that the Senator thinks experience in the field of racist reporting and genocide denial is a pre-requisite for a job on the ABC board. As long as such appointments continue we are sure to see an increased push for commercialisation and eventually full privatisation of the ABC.

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