Why we need “ABC bias”.

The Four Corners program The Forgotten Children: The young refugees stranded on Nauru  was aired last night on the ABC. It made compelling viewing. However, it did no more than confirm what many Australians had suspected about the government’s detention centre on Nauru.  What it did do was humanise the story by highlighting the plight of a number of young refugees many of whom have been in detention for over three years.


Shamim and Misbah, the two young women featured in the Four Corners program

 The reaction has been immediate.

The government of Nauru has labelled the ABC “an embarrassment to journalism” following a Four Corners report on the island’s regional processing system, accusing the broadcaster of racism, political activism and insulting residents.It also claimed that the program was “biased political propaganda and lies”.

Previously the government of Nauru had claimed that most claims of abuse on the island were fabricated.

Now this was completely predictable.  You can’t expect the government of Nauru to turn around and say “Actually, you’ve got a point. Conditions are appalling and our total failure to protect the refugees is an international disgrace.”

And racist?  Racism is where some facet of (usually unacceptable) behaviour is attributed to someone on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Nowhere in the program did the Four Corners team suggests that the total failure of the Nauruan government to protect the children was a result of being their being Pacific Islanders. If the Four Corners program had, that would have been racism. But it didn’t, so it wasn’t.

In answer to the claim of  “biased political propaganda”, I think the ABC should put its hand up and say,  “Yes it was.”  The program was biased and one-sided in favour of the children who are suffering on Nauru. It only gave their point of view.

However, this is a point of view that the Nauruan government has sought to stifle by refusing to allow reporters onto the island. The Australian government has been complicit in this effort to silence the voices from Nauru by enacting draconian legislation to punish anybody who speaks out about the conditions on the island.

So given this, we need some  “biased political propaganda”. It’s also called balance, giving the other side a chance to put its point of view, a point of view that casts the governments of Australia and Nauru in an exceptionally bad light by exposing the shocking conditions on the island.

This why we have the Four Corners program, to do exactly this.

The Four Corners program was informed by a major Amnesty International report, released on Monday night, that claimed Australia’s regional processing regime on Nauru amounted to the intentional torture of refugees.

The best that Malcolm Turnbull could do when confronted by the voice of a despairing teenage girl asking for the freedom to go to school was:

“We’ve heard from this young lady and it is, it is a… It is a very sad story that she tells, but, you know, there are 1,200 people, many of them young women too, no doubt, from whom we can never hear, because they drowned at sea under the Labor Party’s reckless failure to keep our borders safe.”


 Malcolm Turnbull sees nothing wrong with conditions on Nauru

 Now we have heard this many times before and someone who flaunts his classical education the way Malcolm Turnbull donors should realise the fault of the logic of this.

The primary cause of these drownings is that people go to sea in boats that are not seaworthy. The secondary cause is that that they going to sea is that they are desperate to get to Australia.  The tertiary cause is that they are fleeing war and persecution in their home countries. Now you can keep going back as far as you like and eventually going to say that God caused the drownings which we would all recognise as arrant nonsense, very like saying that failure to keep our borders safe caused drownings at sea.

But Malcolm Turnbull’s defence of this unspeakable situation begs the question. “Is the detention of these people on Nauru deterring people smuggling?” Probably not. What will be deterring them is the fact that Australia’s borders are now extremely effectively controlled by the border protection people.

The real reason that these people are being punished by detention on Nauru is that the government believes that this will deter other people. Indeed it will. But again it’s a secondary cause. The primary cause is effective border protection.

And then we had government mouthpiece, Department of Immigration and Border Protection secretary Michael Pezzullo,  denying Amnesty International’s allegations. under questioning at a Senate estimates hearing on Monday night,

“As to the notion, inference or implication that we use torture as some sort of instrument of state policy, I personally find it to be offensive but, in any event, what I find to be offensive is not relevant. It’s objectively in our view not true.”


Department of Immigration and Border Protection secretary Michael Pezzullo

You’re right, Michael, what you personally find offensive is not the point. But you’re wrong when you state that “our view” is “objective”. You must have missed the class in secondary school where they made a distinction between views and opinions on one hand and objectively established facts on the other.



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