Senator Eric Abetz – Estimates question about ABC coverage of the Gaza flotilla and perceived anti-Israel bias on The Drum

photo of Senator Eric Abetz
May 26, 2011

Questioned ABC coverage of the Gaza flotilla and perceived anti-Israel bias on The Drum.

The organisers of the flotilla have admitted that the purpose of the flotilla was, in their terms, to break the blockade. In the answer I was given, which is over the page, the second paragraph, we are told by the ABC:

The flotilla was correctly described as being made up of vessels delivering humanitarian aid. While it may be clear that there were other aims in attempting to draw attention to the blockade and breach it, it was done through the delivery of aid.

The ABC here are being greater apologists for the flotilla than the organisers. The organisers themselves said on the public record that the idea of the flotilla was ‘to break the blockade’.

Whole interaction with  Mr Mark Scott (ABC Managing Director) during Senate Estimates (Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Portfolio).

Senator ABETZ: But, if I may, I will move on— talking about bias, and about Israel yet again, unfortunately—to the answer to question No. 32. This is the Gaza flotilla, at the time. The organisers of the flotilla have admitted that the purpose of the flotilla was, in their terms, to break the blockade. In the answer I was given, which is over the page, the second paragraph, we are told by the ABC:

The flotilla was correctly described as being made up of vessels delivering humanitarian aid. While it may be clear that there were other aims in attempting to draw attention to the blockade and breach it, it was done through the delivery of aid.

The ABC here are being greater apologists for the flotilla than the organisers. The organisers themselves said on the public record that the idea of the flotilla was ‘to break the blockade’.

 

Senator LUDLAM: That was the whole point.

 

Senator ABETZ: Senator Ludlam says—thank you very much—’that was the whole point of it, to break the blockade’. Here we have the ABC saying, ‘No; the main purpose was to deliver aid’, when, of course, Israel had said, ‘Whatever aid you want we will take in for you.‘ Even the flotilla organisers acknowledge that the main aim was to break the blockade. But the ABC cannot help itself—it has to go a step further than the organisers of the blockade to try to justify this activity.

Mr Scott—another example—in relation to a question you told me at the end: ‘ABC records indicate there are almost 4,000 stories related to the Israeli and Egypt blockade of Gaza.’ Then you provide me with examples. That is a disingenuous answer to a question where I was seeking information as to all the references to the Egyptian blockade and all the references to the Israeli blockade. What you have conveniently done is interpreted, put them all together and said, ‘Here are 4,000 references.’ You know what I meant. I will say it now, and please take it on notice: Of those 4,000, which ones only referred to the Israeli blockade, which ones only referred to the Egyptian blockade and which ones referred to both? We will have a discussion at the next Senate estimates hearings about it. From the Hansard, you must have known exactly what I wanted. The fact that you would not break up the figures as requested is indicative of what the raw data will disclose. But I will not make that allegation until we see figures.

 

Mr Scott: Some search engines were used to demonstrate that there were 4,000 stories that made references to the blockade. But, no, a story-by-story breakdown of those 4,000 stories was not done. That would be a very time-intensive process, of course.

 

Senator ABETZ: No. If you were to put in the search engine ‘Israeli blockade’, then ‘Egyptian blockade’ and then ‘Israeli and Egyptian blockades‘, it should not take very long at all, I am advised. I would be obliged if you could do that, please.

Continued.

Senator ABETZ: In relation to The Drum, I have been told in the answer to question No. 46, second paragraph:

Editors will continue to monitor and maintain a balance of diverse opinions appearing on discussion sites.

Going through the writers who are given a regular platform on The Drum, I could find only four who were in some way supportive of Israel and none who were in favour of the war in Afghanistan, in comparison to literally dozens of anti-Israel and anti-Afghan war pieces, most of them being very accusatorial and damning. Would that be a fair assessment of the—what is the term?—’maintenance of a balance of diverse opinions appearing on the discussion sites‘?

 

Mr Scott: There are two things. I do not have the breakdown the way you are constructing it there. More than a thousand people have written opinion for The Drum—

 

Senator ABETZ: Regular—I said those who write regularly.

 

Mr Scott: There are six non-ABC staff who are regular. I am told two could be deemed, if you are going to put these labels on them, to be from the right: one is a centralist academic, one is a pollster and two are from the left. They are the six people who are regular. They write weekly or fortnightly for The Drum. There are other people who pop up incidentally, from time to time. If you are asking me about those with whom we have an undertaking to write every week or every fortnight, there are six—

 

Senator ABETZ: There are 98 writers who have been published more than eight times, producing a total of 1,880 articles.

 

Senator Conroy: How many words is that? I hope you have counted them.

 

Senator ABETZ: It is those about whom I am inquiring. If you are not concerned about the anti-Israel bias, Minister, so be it. The record will disclose that.

 

Senator Conroy: There are many things I can be accused of, Senator; that is not one of them.

 

Senator ABETZ: In relation to asylum seeker stories, there are 50 stories sympathetic to asylum seekers. There does not appear to be a single article from any one of the top 98 contributors advocating the border protection policies of the coalition—

 

Senator LUDLAM: Why is there not more demonising from the ABC?

 

Senator ABETZ: I am once again inquiring about how you monitor and maintain this ‘balance of diverse opinions appearing on discussion sites’ that you so glowingly tell us about in answer No. 46, which is not matched with the reality of what is on the websites.

 

Mr Scott: You have undertaken an analysis there, Senator. I understand that for a broadcaster on The Drum there are a range of viewpoints, a range of perspectives, a range of different voices. We get criticised from the right and from the left from time to time on our editorial perspective.

 

Senator ABETZ: But never by the Greens during the election campaign for bias. You continue with this mantra.

 

CHAIR: Senator, you should hear Malcolm Turnbull—

 

Senator ABETZ: And Kevin Rudd.

 

Senator Conroy: Kevin Rudd is campaigning for our policies, but so is Malcolm.

 

Mr Scott: As you will be aware, Senator, yesterday in the Australian there was a story about our campaign, criticising our coverage from the left. So you do get criticism across a range of perspectives. Our aim is to ensure that a plurality of viewpoints is broadcast and published. That has been our assessment of The Drum, even though I appreciate that from time to time there will be some criticisms of decisions that I make.

 

Senator ABETZ: There are many criticisms that you were too pro-forestry, too pro-Israel. You never had to apologise for anything like that.

 

Mr Scott: That is not true. Even on the pro-Israel we currently have a complaint before our ICRP which goes to the issue of the flotilla.

 

Senator ABETZ: Which you are abolishing, which is my next line of questioning.

Link to full Hansard transcript (Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Portfolio, 26 May 2011).

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