- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia — The government-funded Australia Broadcasting Corp. is under fire from some members of Parliament who want to cut its budget amid charges the broadcaster is riddled with anti-American bias.

Last month, Communications Minister Richard Alston released a thick dossier listing more than 60 instances of anti-American reporting related to the Iraq war, which he has asked ABC’s managing director, Russell Balding, to investigate.

“If the Parliament thinks they have lost the plot, they could be defunded,” Mr. Alston was quoted as saying in the Australian, a newspaper.

He appeared to back off later in an interview with The Washington Times, saying: “The issues of ABC funding and the ABC’s commitment to objective, quality news and current affairs programming are entirely separate.”

But the demand for an investigation of ABC bias is being viewed — by ABC supporters — as the latest of many attempts to intimidate the national broadcaster.

Phrases extracted from the prominent morning radio bulletins, like a possible “human catastrophe” a day after the war began, and describing the Bush administration as “taking the opportunity to make advances in the propaganda war,” are being used as examples by the government to show that the ABC is not fulfilling its charter of providing objective news.

Mr. Alston also asked to see all instructions from the ABC’s head of news and current affairs, Max Uechtritz, who was quoted as calling the military “lying bastards” during a media conference in Singapore last year.

While Mr. Uechtritz said his remarks had been quoted out of context, Mr. Alston said there was a chance that the remark could percolate down to news reporters and writers.

Australia provided 2,000 troops to the war in Iraq, most of them special forces.

The ABC has had a history of clashes with the authorities that control its purse strings.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the broadcaster was forced to investigate coverage when the then-Labor Party Prime Minister Bob Hawke objected to the use of a Middle East commentator, who he believed was biased against the United States.

Then in 1998, the ABC once again came under fire from the present conservative government for its coverage of a waterfront dispute.

“We have managed to offend every prime minister since 1932 [when the broadcaster was founded],” Mr. Balding told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

During both Gulf wars, critics railed against ABC as a fifth column, often referring to it as “Radio Moscow” and “Radio Baghdad.”

“No one is asking the ABC to do a sort of McCarthyism exorcism of its [left-wing] intellectuals, but I am asking for some kind of balance in the reporting,” said Andrew Bolt, a columnist for the popular Herald Sun.

“I don’t have a problem with healthy skepticism, but I do have a serious problem with the fact that the ABC attempts to identify all intellectual, sensitive reporting with the left,” Mr. Bolt said.

This opinion is reflected in the administration as well. Last year, Prime Minister John Howard attacked ABC TV for left-wing bias in the coverage of a refugee crisis. Mr. Howard urged the broadcaster to devote some funds to right-wing opinion-makers for balance.

Quentin Dempster, who presents a high-profile TV current-affairs show called “Stateline,” said: “It’s always been a war of attrition against the ABC when it comes to funding, with operational funding cut by almost 30 percent in the last 20 years. We are being squeezed on the quality of our programming at every step,” Mr. Dempster said.

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