Paul Sheehan on ABC bias

Not everything Paul Sheehan says today is unreasonable; for example:

The whole set-up and premise was absurd. But I can’t see any problem with Mallah being a member of the audience, or asking a question. Nor do I buy the hysteria that he was a security threat, or that the ABC needs a new layer of bureaucracy to screen guests. I also felt the heavy-handedness of the Prime Minister’s exasperation has enabled the ABC to divert attention from the real issue.

But his thesis of course is:

The ABC’s internal investigation will be a whitewash. It will be carefully confined to a forensic examination of the narrowest possible issue – the selection of Zaky Mallah for a question on national TV. A few reprimands will be issued and the ABC will congratulate itself about its rigour.

The whitewash will be in what is studiously ignored. ABC management will not ask the big question: why did this happen? It seems to fit a pattern of ideological bias, as was evident just a week earlier, when Q&A broadcast a debate about same-sex marriage and the only opponent of same-sex marriage was Fred Nile. The other five panellists were all gay rights activists. In fact, Nile was the only heterosexual guest on the panel.

This was a parody of balance, a mockery. That’s two out of two in two weeks, but the ABC will studiously avoid any ethical audit which looks at the wider context, and thus which examines the sheer weight and tone of coverage of the favoured obsessions of Q&A, which finally stepped on one of its own landmines.

This is the real issue. This is the real source of any consternation with some areas of the ABC, which, as I have written numerous times, is not a monolith.

A similar point was made a week or so back by Miranda Devine.

Dare I point out that there was no Q&A specifically about same sex marriage? There was a special following the excellent documentary Between a Frock and a Hard Place.

This is the story behind one of the world’s most loved films; about three unlikely hero-(ine)s from a backwater at the arse-end of the world daring to step up from the shadows in their shimmering sequined glory and be counted. It’s the story of how a low-budget Australian film about three cocks-in-frocks changed the course of history and loudly and proudly brought a celebration of gay culture to the world that continues to resonate twenty years on.


Narrated by Terence Stamp, this was a delightful and informative look back at the making of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, one of Australia’s most popular and enduring films. It looked at the context in which the film was conceived and made, and at the now 21 years since. A friend of M and I, William Yang, featured quite a lot.

The special #Q&A program was a forum on issues raised in the documentary. Equal (or “gay”) marriage was but one of many issues canvassed. The older members of the panel, including Fred Nile, could fairly be said to represent many decades of change in relation to the way diversity in sexuality has been received in Australian society. Fred is no shrinking violet and defended his position with considerable tenacity. He also occasionally surprised, though I do remember Ian Smith, now deceased, a 78-er or participant in the first Sydney Mardi Gras, telling me he actually had some respect for Fred, disagree with him as he did.

TOM BALLARD: Okay. Okay. Well, I’d ask you Fred Nile, have you seen any positive changes over that time, that have come to mind in your career in politics, for the queer community?
FRED NILE: Well, I think the most positive one and I was involved in it, were the provocation laws. We had a law in New South Wales where someone could say, “I was provoked when I found that this man was a homosexual so I bashed him. I may even severely injured him,” and that would mean he wouldn’t be charged with a serious offence because he was provoked and I was very pleased the inquiry I conducted into that provocation law repealed that whole section so no one can use the gay defence, if you like, in New South Wales now. It doesn’t exist.

But my he can be annoying, mainly because, as Denis Altman said:

DENNIS ALTMAN: You know, my problem with the question is a bit like my problem with Fred’s direct line to God. When you say it’s not ordered, ordered by whom and how do we know? I mean, this reading in to human behaviour and human feelings, some divine providence that some of us apparently know and the rest of us are ignorant of seems to me a very unhealthy way of approaching the subject. I think that – I don’t think that the trans people are where gay people were. I think there are significant differences but I think you’re absolutely right in saying there are huge changes going on and I honestly don’t claim to understand them all.
JULIA DOULMAN: I’m just talking in terms of acceptance in society.
DENNIS ALTMAN: Yeah, I think that’s true but I do want to make the point as one gets older you either can say, look, things are changing and, let’s be humble, I don’t get it all. I don’t necessarily understand your experience but I value your testimony of your experience and this is where I think I am different from the people like Fred who seem to know how I should feel because someone up there has apparently told him. Now, unfortunately I don’t have that line.

I should disclose I had a friend on the panel whom I respect enormously:

FRED NILE: And one was a major in the army and was sacked as a major in the army because of a homosexual persecuting him, Mr Gary Burns, yeah.
TOM BALLARD: Julie McCrossin, are you worried about marriage equality impacting on freedom of religion?
JULIE MCCROSSIN: Look, we actually have an established tradition – people will have mixed views on it – of exemptions under anti-discrimination legislation for religious-based organisations and I think all the people talking about reform, it’s about civil marriage. I think, in other words, it’s not a religious ceremony that I had in New York. It was a civil ceremony. Having said that, when I came back to my South Sydney Uniting church in Redfern Waterloo, we had a blessing ceremony, my partner Melissa Gibson and I, at the church. It was standing room only and a whole swathe of people took communion for the first time in 20 years because they were so amazed at the warmth with which we were accepted in that place. Now, it will, of course, not be – there will be some Christian churches, I believe, who will fight within their faith groups to allow religious marriage and some people won’t like me saying that because people want to keep it nice and simple that we’re only going for civil marriage but you know what? I’m not only going for civil marriage. I actually want full equality. I don’t feel sick and different. I am an ordinary, loving, taxpaying, moral person and I want the lot.
PAUL CAPSIS: And you should have it.

I rated this particular #Q&A among the best ever – civilised, informative, thought-provoking. ABC, you served us well that night.

Do look at A Comment on Paul Sheehan and Irish Referendum Turnout by Antony Green, and the ensuing comment thread, such as:

I’ve noticed a few comments that by using the semantics Sheehan used, an even smaller number of people explicitly voted “no” in the referendum (about 1/6 of the voting population if I’m not wrong. IMO Sheehan is making a silly argument that people who chose not to vote are implied to disagree with the entire legislation rather than just being indifferent.

Footnote: dark green = equal marriage achieved; light green = some progress in civil union rights.