The Fact Check unit at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been closed down, ostensibly because of budget cuts. The Rudd government provided an extra $60 million over three years to enhance news gathering services, but in last year’s budget the federal government cut that to just over $41 million. It was expected that about 30 people would lose their jobs.
The Fact Check unit did not ingratiate itself with the federal government when it showed that assorted politicians of both persuasions were ‘economical with the truth’ or simply lied. The unit’s work was so good, it was shortlisted for a Walkley Award in 2014.
To the chagrin of many politicians, The Conversation has started its own fact checking unit and fact checkers are springing up all over the world, especially in the light (or darkness?) of Trump’s use of lies in the presidential campaign, something which is now starting to happen in Australia.
ABC Managing director, Michelle Guthrie, in her online profile states that she has worked for a “range of broadcasting and media organisations in Europe and Asia, including BSkyB, Star TV and Google. However she is considered to be out of her depth by some senior staff at the organisation.
Guthrie worked at a law firm in Sydney and Singapore before moving to London as a corporate lawyer for News International, the UK arm of Murdoch’s News Corp, where she worked for over a decade before a short stint as a director of legal and business development at Foxtel (part owned by Murdoch), then replacing James Murdoch as CEO of Star TV, yet another News Corp entity. She then took up the position at the ABC in the middle of 2016. So, she is tainted by the association with Murdoch, whose newspapers and other media outlets are as biased as you can get (the Australian, Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, Fox News), to the extent that Fox News, or Faux News as it is more correctly named, invented stories about the Obama administration. Faux News is by its own admission, not a news organisation, but an entertainment organisation. I have found that a good rule of thumb, for a story of which you doubt the veracity, is to Google keywords from the story, and if the first page of results is dominated by Murdoch newspapers, it is most likely the story is bullshit.
It is clear that Guthrie, sometimes referred to as a Murdoch Groupie, has been inserted into the ABC to get rid of perceived bias. This bias was only ever perceived by the right wing of the Liberal and National parties while they were in government, just as the ABC was accused of bias or unfairness by the Labor Party when it was in government, and just as it was accused of bias by the Liberal and National parties before that, when they were in government. Her work is clearly shown by the demise of the Fact check section, just when it is required the most; the demise of the Drum online, just when it was seen to be most important; the demise of several programs on Radio National, which informed people about the details of subjects such as science, medicine, law, history and politics among other topics. Informing people about topics as varied as these is something that conservative governments hate. It runs the risk of people being informed, thereby making it clear their simplistic slogans are drivel.