Whose ABC?

The dramaturgy in the ABC’s live exports presentations makes Psycho seem like Sesame Street

THE question of how and why “our ABC” – a taxpayer funded media outlet - is operating such a biased agenda against the live export industry has been a source of anger and frustration for industry members and rural folk for some time now.

A recent article published in the wake of the Egyptian cattle market suspension highlighted the ABC’s perceived lack of balance in reporting on the issue – and it’s hard to disagree. The opinion piece by Flinders University PhD student Nicolle Flint said stories that shock the public consciousness demand more analysis than most.

“The national broadcaster has a duty to present both sides of a story - but on the issue of live exports it appears to be failing,” she wrote.

“The ABC has a responsibility to the Australian public to do more than provide a sensational story, especially when the story is truly sensational.”

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    The article gained solid traction with those who feel the direct impacts of this repeated attack on industry that supposedly enjoys bipartisan support in Canberra.

    I’m not saying the work of Animals Australia, in conjunction with the RSPCA, hasn’t been successful in applying pressure to improve welfare standards globally.

    The Four Corners broadcast that led to the closure of the Indonesian market almost two years helped kick off the introduction of the Exporters Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) into live export markets, generating greater accountability and transparency, and a rapid increase in stunning.

    But let’s not forget the ‘ban live exports’ agenda has also caused genuine damage to our farmers, the trade, associated business and rural communities - and disrupted diplomatic relations.

    Let’s do the sums and consider the $100 million plus compensation pledged to cattle producers after the Indonesian suspension (labelled a “waste” in the Liberal Party’s Little Book of Labor Waste electioneering pamphlet).

  • Consider the pending class action industry members have launched against the government, as that ban’s costs have been conservatively estimated at $100 to $200 million.

    Meanwhile, businesses connected to live export have suffered losses, land values in the Top End have plunged, and cattle prices have plummeted.

    The continuation of this extreme agenda is also threatening our ties with trading partners in third world countries like Indonesia, who wonder why Australia’s national public broadcaster is continuing to portray them as barbarians, using extreme examples rather than depicting the norm.

    Animals Australia has gone to great lengths since the story broke to clarify any misapprehension they’d sat on the footage since October 2012, assuring media and industry they got it in April. Why is that?

    The 7.30 program’s reporting on the Egypt issue on May 6 failed to deliver any rigorous and critical questioning about why the footage was allegedly taken last October - perhaps even as far back as 2009 - but only surfaced last month.

    And what about the motives of the vet behind this issue – were they purely linked to animal welfare concerns? If so, why the lengthy delay in handing the vision onto an Australian activist organisation, then to Australia’s public broadcaster, while bypassing Egyptian government authorities?

    How does this issue connect with the ongoing trade dispute between Australia and Egypt over HGPs in imported cattle, which wasn’t mentioned in your ABC’s latest report?

    The ABC’s failure to allocate its resources to dig around and investigate such questions with journalistic vigour on all sides of the story does an injustice to the Australian public and rural folk in particular.

    Alas, ‘our ABC’ appears content to just run another sensational broadcast of animal cruelty footage to appease the views of activists and replicate the associated story, within their exisiting framework.

    It’s just like Groundhog Day, with the ‘quid pro quo’ of video exchanged for lopsided reporting, meaning critical questions are left begging to be answered and audiences are left misinformed.

    The dramaturgy in the ABC’s live exports presentations makes Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho seem like the opening theme to Sesame Street.

    In the 7.30 broadcast, Animals Australia spearhead Lyn White was allowed to say - unchallenged - “I think the industry is treating the Australian public like fools: putting animals back into Egypt has nothing to do with animal welfare it’s to do with greed”.

    That comment grated on the nerves of Australian cattlemen and industry members, especially those who’ve had their livelihoods decimated by Ms White’s singular agenda.

    When animal mishandling vision was shown in the latest 7.30 anti-live exports program it was immediately followed by emotive comments and biased descriptions of the horror scenes from Ms White, allowing her to run her anti-live exports rhetoric unchallenged.

    No such luxury was afforded to the Australian livestock industry by our ABC, nor was any independent expert analysis provided of the previously viewed images, to balance the activists’ agenda and provide a broader explanation to the public about what really occurred.

    Perhaps the public broadcaster could consider interviewing an Australian vet, then Ms White and an industry representative before returning to the gore?

    Another moment that illustrated this bias was presenter Chris Uhlmann’s complete disregard of Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s defence of ESCAS.

    Senator Ludwig pointed out that 99 per cent of exported Australian animals are subject to positive animal welfare outcomes - and the figure could even be as high as 99.9pc.

    That number still wasn’t good enough for our ABC. True, animal welfare isn’t a perfect science - but what is?

    ‘Our ABC’ presenter instead decided to make source of that information his key focus, in attacking the Minister.

    However - if he was so concerned about the origins and authenticity of the Minister’s statistics, why wasn’t he also concerned about the origins and authenticity of the video footage underpinning the report?

    There was also some contradictory evidence in the vet’s statements, which may have shed greater light on this issue for ABC audiences.

    In the interview, Dr Abdelwahab repeatedly said there are “no laws to protect animals in Egypt”, that his country doesn't care about animal welfare and there’s no punishment for offences.

    That's why he handed the video to Animals Australia, to send a message to the world and seek improvements to abattoir practices in his country, allegedly.

    But when speaking to the media on this issue, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO Alison Penfold said, “the emergency slaughter of the injured animal that went horribly wrong (seen in the video), the person who was involved was sacked in October last year, so action was taken at that time”.

    And as an aside, Dr Abdelwahab hasn’t been appointed as an official spokesperson for his nation or his industry, on animal welfare.

    The ABC could also have considered interviewing Egypt’s Ambassador to Australia, Dr Hassan El-Laithy, who told this reporter that suggestions Egypt doesn’t care for animal welfare are “simply not the reality”.

    As one disillusioned federal politician described it, our ABC’s latest live exports presentation was “lazy, biased reporting”.

    Is there any other industry in the world - never mind Australia - that faces such relentless attacks from its own public broadcaster, while being held to an impractical standard where a 99.9pc positive outcome is still insufficient?

    ABC probably needs to take a long cold shower and revisit its editorial charter.

    Perhaps the same standards they demand of foreign abattoir workers – where 99.9pc positive still isn’t good enough – can be applied to the application of your ABC’s editorial standards and policies.

    Let’s see how they perform under those standards - maybe then the truth and objectivity won’t be butchered.

    The ABC must challenge the ‘evidence’ being handed to them from animal activists and stop performing like a one trick pony in an attempt to shock the Australian public emotionally.

    The ABC used to appeal to our intellect, providing in-depth independent analysis and logical scrutiny on tough issues, according to their policy charter.

    But now they’re just screening sensational stories from a narrow viewpoint, mixed in with dark, flickering lights, exaggerated volume on animal bellowing sounds, murky music, creative camera angles, emotive and opinionated commentary and bloody gore – all designed to manipulate audiences into a frenzy.

    If Lyn White and other like-minded activists are going to sail the seven seas chasing the white whale to ban live exports, cripple the meat trade and re-write the laws of nature to stop people eating animals, they can’t be allowed free passage on a never-ending cruise of biased reporting.

    Could this task of improving animal welfare in export markets have been achieved at a much more affordable price than say $500 million, in a proactive policy move, while preserving diplomatic relations with our trading partners?

    Now, we’ll never know.

    Our animal activists have ‘shared the love’ and had some success in running their agenda with our ABC. But now, in the name of balance and fairness, it’s time for a divorce.

  • This opinion article has been updated to reflect Ms White's public appearance and availability to media at a press conference in Canberra on May 16.
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    Now in NZ
    17/05/2013 5:12:50 AM

    I have only seen brief shorts of questioning from ABC and I have to agree that journalists have neither been comprehensive, balanced or professional. Surely regulators have to question the motives of the ABC in relation to animal welfare reporting and their own charter. It is impossible to even get balanced journalism these days from a government funded station. Dare I say it, the reporting seems to benefit a political agenda, like the state owned stations do in China.
    17/05/2013 6:19:05 AM

    Presenting only one side of the story is nothing new to the ABC. It (the ABC) has only ever presented one side of the debate on the climate change issue as well. That being the side the Govt is pushing. The ABC is not a voice for the people , it is a voice for the Govt. It's called propaganda.
    Jen from the bush
    17/05/2013 6:31:51 AM

    Congratulations on QCL for at last doing something too. As far as I am concerned farming papers have also been in the feeding frenzy.
    17/05/2013 7:40:07 AM

    The ABC is full of lefties, what do you expect.
    17/05/2013 8:08:27 AM

    Live export exposes have shown on 60 Minutes, and other commercial stations too.
    KJ Greene
    17/05/2013 8:14:38 AM

    Perhaps 7.30 didn't waste viewers' time on dead end leads and conspiracy theories about timelines and veterinarian's 'agendas' because THERE WAS NO STORY THERE. Conjecture and baseless speculation is not a valid "other side". Fortunately ABC realises this. How about stepping up to the plate, QCL?
    KJ Greene
    17/05/2013 8:18:27 AM

    Haven't we seen live export cruelty stories run on commercial television too? 60 Minutes? Today Tonight? The Project? A Current Affair...? The argument doesn't stack up. Perhaps Bettles' own hidden agenda against the ABC should be scrutinised.
    17/05/2013 8:38:27 AM

    The ABC have a duty of care to present the news. The cruelty investigations of animals in live export is news. It is news that the industry and the Government would love to have kept as their dirty little secret. God knows they have known about it for long enough. And they are not the only TV show that discusses such issues - 60 minutes, The Project. This ridiculous sensationalism coming from journos in the wake of this investigation is hard to take - banning this trade will do anything but cripple the meat industry. The trade is worth 0.3% to the economy. We have alternative markets.
    17/05/2013 8:39:28 AM

    So if AA told you Colin that 99% of animals were treated cruelly you don't think a journo should ask what they base that figure on?! Give me a break. The only bias here can be found in the rubbish you've written. Maybe you should get out from behind your computer and go stand in an Egyptian or Indonesian abattoir - you might not be so quick to defend the indefensible.
    17/05/2013 9:06:44 AM

    "It’s just like Groundhog Day" I know what you mean! It doesn't seem to matter how many times the live export industry is exposed for animal cruelty, they just keep sending animals off to be abused. It's a pity our government doesn't have the moral leadership to end it.
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    Canberra CommentFairfax Agricultural Media Canberra correspondent Colin Bettles tackles the big national rural and agricultural issues which will impact regional and rural Australians.


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