In praise of the ABC

There are many things I love about the US media. When it comes to newspapers, theirs are unquestionably the best in the world – led by the New York Times, and followed at some distance by the WSJ, WaPo, LA Times, and others. Moving back to Australia after living in the US from 2000-04, I was stunned at the drop in newspaper quality, and quickly set the NYT as my homepage. But of course, Australia has only about 1/14th of the population of the US, so worse newspapers are really no great surprise. In some sense, we should be comparing our newspapers not with the best in the US, but the best in Florida – a state with a population similar to Australia’s (compared to the Miami Herald, the Australian broadsheets look pretty good).

What I’d somehow forgotten while in the US was how great Australian broadcasting is. In terms of radio, the best of US current affairs comes through NPR, which has some great programs, but barrages its listeners with incessant appeals for money. Next to NPR, ABC radio current affairs is definitely better. The flagship current affairs programs on radio – AM, PM and TWT – are first class. LNL is unique. And the local radio programs are genuinely interested in exploring new and interesting ideas from around the world.

In terms of TV current affairs, Australia does pretty damn well too. It would be nice to have something like C-Span Australia, but the 7.30 Report and Lateline are equal to 100 US programs featuring two shouting ideologues. Being able to see our politicians regularly get a BBC-standard grilling is a luxury I hadn’t appreciated before leaving the country. And did I mention that Australian Story is magnificent?

Which brings me to the Chaser, a program of such blokey irreverence it could only have been developed in Oz. For some odd reason, the Chaser lads have been copping flack over the past 24 hours for their APEC stunt. Watching stern-faced Mark Day on Today Tonight last night, you would have thought that the lads brought us within inches of armaggedon. Is it just me, or does anyone else feel a kind of cheeky pride at being part of a country where the public broadcaster pays comedians to dress up as Osama in a a Canadian car, and attempt to meet George Bush?

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29 Responses to In praise of the ABC

  1. Kim Weatherall says:

    amen, brother. subscribe to 100% of the above.

  2. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Can’t agree at all with your extremist media preferences, but agree about the Chaser incident being overblown. But why were you watching Today / Tonight?

  3. Mr Denmore says:

    I stumbled onto Today Tonight. I swore I saw that ghastly tabloid bitch from hell Anna Coren’s nostrils flaring as she huffed and puffed about “taxpayers’ dollars” being spent compromising national security.

    This from a network that has been desperately trying to buy the Chaser off the ABC, so good are its ratings.

    The contrast in coverage of Apec this week between a cosmopolitan and sophisticated ABC and an hysterical and mind-numbingly parochial commercial broadcast media provided the best argument yet for keeping the public broadcaster in good health.

    The commercial radio and television networks in Australia are a disgrace. They long gave up any pretence about being homes for good journalism. Instead, they are full of cheque-book wielding, overpaid and undereducated mediocrities.

  4. Kevin Cox says:

    The thing that worries me the most about the Chaser episode is the fact that the “authorities” did not spend $1000 keeping an eye on the ABC parking lot. You would expect to get a visit from the Chaser and if they had stopped them at the first check point then everyone would have been happy.

  5. Seneca says:

    Leaving aside the comparison with the US, I can’t really agree that 7:30 Report and Lateline are all that great – I watch whenever the intro suggests something of interest to me and I find that mostly the “grilliing” seems to be about getting a point of view across (the interviewer’s) or forcing a gaffe. I would have thought informed and “thinking on your feet” questioning would have been the go (and this isn’t necessarily being soft on the interviewee – for example Chris Uhlmann’s now famous/infamous questioning of Rudd about productivity – this technique should be more widely used). Are the leads of these programs any better than say Laurie Oakes?

  6. I’m a big fan of the Chaser, but the previous series were much better than the War on Everything. Some of the things they do are outrageous (and I mean that as a pejorative).

    Putting a stocking over your head and going into shops might be funny. It was funny. But scaring the living daylights out of people who’ve not consented to it is completely unacceptable and I would have thought common assault.

    People might well have injured themselves or others in fleeing from someone they thought might be violent.

    I’ve only seen snippets of what they got up to in Sydney (I was there for the day and saw what a mess the security people have made of Sydney. So taking the Mickey out of the nonsense that’s going on in Sydney right now is definitely OK with me.

  7. Paul says:

    Nice point Nick but didn’t The Chaser recently admit that they gave the shopkeepers targetted in the Stockinghead stunt forewarning of what they were up to?

    I believe it was one of the stunts “exposed” by TT as a set up (which in fact The Chaser acknowledge in the commentary on the DVD of that episode).

  8. OK Paul,

    I don’t follow it that closely. But it’s just a stunt show at present, whereas it used to be really good satire.

    But I did like them dragging the wooden horse around – that was inspired!

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  10. Sacha says:

    Andrew, the “Hard Talk” interviews on BBC world are far better than any political interviews on Australian TV – they’re the best I’ve seen – although no doubt only political junkies would watch them. I remember seeing a Hard Talk interview with the President of Botswana and being fascinated – I particularly remember the President’s comments on the Botswana govt’s controversial policy on HIV prevention (involving promoting abstinence as one element).

  11. Sacha says:

    A BBC story on The Chaser’s incursion into the ring is steel is

  12. christine says:

    Well, the stunt made front page of Canada’s Globe & Mail and National Post today, with most of the focus the use of the Canadian flag (natch). As far as I can tell, most people are very entertained and think it’s a sign that Canadians are generally thought of as nice and inoffensive. This group tends to be challenging the ‘similar’ Canadian comedy shows to top it (a forlorn hope – someone in communications or whatever should do a PhD thesis on why Australian domestic comedy is so strong, but most of the Australian actors who work in the US do drama, while Canadian domestic comedy is rather weak but most Canadian actors in th US are comedians).

    Others seem to think Canada was chosen because the rest of the world thinks Canada is likely to harbour terrorists. A bit sad, really.

  13. christine says:

    Also: Sacha’s right, Hard Talk is absolutely fantastic. I don’t watch it nearly often enough, but the amount of stuff I learn when I do is enough for a week’s digestion. They never ever let an evasive answer go by unchallenged (though I haven’t seen them interview a local British pollie, or anyone important in the US govt – maybe they’d treat that differently to, eg, Pakistan’s foreign minister?).

  14. Andrew Leigh says:

    Christine, those Canadians are very cool. And yes, I agree on HardTalk (that BBC tradition of hard-hitting interviews is a great one).

  15. harry clarke says:

    I am a big fan of the ABC but not of this stupid action by the Chaser crew. The security concerns were not a joke and these idiots could have caused someone to be killed.

  16. Damien Eldridge says:

    Lighten up Harry. The security precautions in Sydney for APEC are way over the top. If something as innoccuous as the Chaser stunt could have resulted in them being shot, then that suggests that the people holding the guns are nothing better than trigger happy rednecks. I hope that is not the case.

  17. Damien Eldridge says:

    Of course, given the murder of a non-terrorist by the British police, it is possible that some armed police are trigger-happy rednecks. Perhaps Harry is right.

  18. Damien Eldridge says:

    Sorry Harry. I shouldn’t have told you to lighten up. But I do think that the security precautions for APEC seem excessive. It is difficult to believe that the Chaser crew were putting anyone in danger by pulling what is a rather amusing prank.

  19. Sinclair Davidson says:

    On the other hand watching the Chaser team being shot, in slow motion, may have been their greatest contribution to popular entertainment.

  20. harry clarke says:

    Damien I have no idea whether the security precautions were excessive or not. But an attack on a foreign leader would have been disasterous for Australia.

    I thought the APEC meetings were important for Australia and this action stupid. I also disliked Howard being challenged about leadership questions at a press conference with Vladamir Putin.

    How are security services at the time expected to know it was an ‘amusing prank’? Would that have been obvious to a man with a gun perhaps hundreds of feet away who was instructed to use his weapon if a perceived threat developed?

  21. Bring Back CL's blog says:

    the chaser showed up:
    1) the inexperience of a newly promoted Police Commissioner who had intelligence as good as the AFP on the good doctor in QLD,
    2) the NSW police whose security look liked the keystone cops
    3) whose recommendations to the NSW Government was well over the top and should have been rejected by any competent leader

  22. Damien Eldridge says:

    If Australia is so worried about the possibility of an assasionation of a foreign leader on our soil that we will treat our citizens like terrorists, then perhaps we shouldn’t hold these meetings here. This isn’t the middle east, Harry. Was Canada even here as part of APEC? If not, they should have been stopped at the first checkpoint. Perhaps the police should have been taught which countries were here as part of APEC. As for instructions to men with guns, I would hope that they would recieve very clear and restrictive instructions about when they are allowed to shoot. If not, that doesn’t say much for the security planning.

  23. Tom N. says:

    Why, Harry, would the assassination of a foreign leader in Sydney have been “disasterous for Australia”. I’m sure everyone around the world would have cared, but I doubt that many people would have that it occurred in Sydney. Everything about APEC and its effect on “our reputation” has been overblown by Howard and the media. Ther truth is that the average citzen outside Australia will be hard pressed to remember where it was held in a week or so, assuming they know anything about it.

  24. christine says:

    Presumably the security barriers are not the only way Australia is protecting foreign leaders. For a start, there’s customs and immigration, which as far as I can tell do a pretty good job. Then there is the security team actually around the delegations. And I gather the Chasers didn’t in fact get near anyone. And I do hope the police were spending more time monitoring suspicious types than ABC comedians (though as Kevin pointed out, if you are wondering who might possibly try to penetrate security barriers, ABC comedians would have to be high on the list).

    And for crying out loud, they dressed a guy up as Osama bin Laden. Does anyone really think there’s any possibility that he could have managed to sneak into Australia with the intention of piercing a police security barrier to assassinate someone personally, with no security services having noticed that? They were basically screaming ‘joke’ right from the start.

    For Damien: Canada’s PM was in attendance, but reports suggest he hadn’t actually arrived by the time the stunt was pulled off. So a bit of a boo-boo there.

  25. Paul Frijters says:

    I agree with Sinclair that there are some pretty extreme viewpoints in this blog:
    “When it comes to newspapers, theirs [the US] are unquestionably the best in the world ” ?
    And this from a guy that I believe can only speak one language, has never spent a significant amount of time in a non-Anglo country and has hence only experienced the top newspapers in less than 20% of the speaking world? Unquestionably a bald statement.

    I’m with Tom N on the issue of the Chasers. Australia can be proud of the Chasers. They almost make you forget the Glass House.

  26. Andrew Leigh says:

    Paul, enough with the hyperbole. Which country’s newspapers do you think are better than the US’s?

    (Parlo un po Italiano. Una lingua e un mezzo?)

  27. larry says:

    Paul- What is the point of your post? “Extreme viewpoints” over a comment about the quality of newspapers.

  28. Paul Frijters says:


    🙂 who can fault your Italian?
    the question of how to judge a good newspaper from a bad one is interesting in its own right. Pardon the link-whoring, but see

    I’m sure you’ll have some interesting counter points.

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