The ABC is showing its slip in the gay marriage debate. Whatever we might think about the actual debate surrounding the postal survey, the way it has been conducted has given us a clear insight into the jaundice of the national broadcaster.
We now know that at least some ABC employees think they should be allowed to campaign for the “right side of history” and that if they weren’t then they would be forced to give “undue weight to the opinions of bigots.”
It is a revealing — although unsurprising — insight because it confirms the moral vanity and sense of righteousness that pervades ABC coverage of the gay marriage issue and many others.
Convinced of their own superior virtue on a range of issues ranging from border protection and climate change to indigenous affairs and republicanism, many ABC journalists do not seem to even grasp alternative arguments let alone comprehend how they should allow them to inform public debate. It is sanctimony, pure and simple, and the result is a stifling groupthink that shrinks and constricts the national debate before our very eyes.
This latest window comes from emails obtained under a freedom of information application by online media organisation, The New Daily. They reveal details of staff blowback after ABC management sent a memo to all staff in August to “be circumspect” about the way they covered the gay marriage issue.
The Australian reported the staff directive from ABC news editorial policy manager Mark Maley at the time. It was distributed just hours after Auntie was accused of campaigning for the Yes case by Liberal MP Zed Seselja.
“Please remember that approximately 40 per cent of the population opposes the change and more importantly that the ABC does not have a position on the issue,” Mr Maley said in the email. “It is very important that we are impartial and that all perspectives are given a fair hearing and treated with respect by the ABC. In this charged environment I would also urge everyone to be circumspect on social media — advocating for one side or the other will make it more difficult for the ABC to be seen as impartial.”
The New Daily has reported a series of emails sent by other staff in response to the directive. “We would be on the right side of history to publicly support our many gay and lesbian staff members to be treated equally to the rest of us,” wrote one employee (the name was redacted). The email went on to claim there was not “a single argument in favour of the status quo that is not bigoted in nature”.
“We should be collectively outraged. Isn’t the alternative giving undue weight to the opinions of bigots?” the staffer went on. Another ABC manager, head of indigenous employment and diversity Philippa McDermott, complained about the directive to use the term same-sex marriage rather than “marriage equality” because it was more value neutral. “‘Marriage equality’ was incorporated as a term to include gender diverse, especially non-binary and intersex people in to this conversation,” Ms McDermott said in an internal email to other managers. She warned the Complaining about Mr Maley’s directive that staff should “not censor” the public debate, Ms McDermott also pointed out that the ABC was not exempt from anti-discrimination laws, effectively suggesting that the internal plea for impartiality could cause offence or was an unfair restriction on ABC employees. Perish the thought.