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Baird unleashes on her audience, revealing right wing bias

Article (2,043 words) posted on 13 Aug 2018 by Rosie Williams

For the last two weeks I've been busily building a couple of datasets and developing a site to track ABC panellists, their affiliations and number of appearances.

Show Panellist Current/Past Position Date
QandA Simon Breheny Current Director of Policy 19th Feb
The Drum Daniel Wild Current Research Fellow 13th Apr
The Drum Chris Berg Current Adjunct Fellow 23rd Apr
QandA John Roskam Current Executive Director 23rd Apr
QandA Tim Wilson Past Policy Director 7th May
The Drum John Slater Past Campus recruiter 25th Jul
The Drum Georgina Downer Current Senior Fellow 30th Jul
QandA Jennifer Marohasy Current Senior Fellow 13th Aug

To hunt down affiliations (past and present), make decisions about where an organisation and/or its representatives fall on the political spectrum, what kind of organisation it is, its governing legislation, funding sources etc for hundreds of panellists takes many, many hours. Then there is the coding up of the site to enable people to search this information. When this has to be done for hundreds of panellists (up to five a day on The Drum alone), it is not a trivial exercise and can not be continued without ongoing funding. The datasets will be made publicly available for use by others. If you would like to support this research you can find out about the options here.

This new project has several aims including providing ways for the public to interrogate information about ABC panellists by:

  • measuring the incidence across ABC shows of representation across industries including media, political parties and think tanks;
  • providing information about think tanks and their representation in the media.
  • measuring conservative/progressive appearances;
  • measuring how often particular individuals appear on the ABC;

This research is far from complete, as I will show below, it takes a lot of time, skill and labour because the ABC does not provide such information in a way that is easily searchable or even necessarily available at all. It is left up to the public to come up with ways of recording information eg Wikipedia lists to answer the questions we have. Finding funding information on Australia's think tanks (a common source of panellists for current affairs) is yet another difficult task. The ATO will not even provide a list of these organisations.

Interest in potential media bias on the ABC is a strong topic of debate in Australia but due to the demands this would place on me, I avoided committing to the task. That lack of enthusiasm changed on recent column by Julia Baird (regular host of The Drum) to set her audience up as uninformed and irrational in their response to appearances of the IPA on the show.

Baird does at least call for affiliations with think tanks, political parties and the like to be disclosed. Without such information it is very difficult to judge the veracity of the views granted air time in the mainstream media.

The interesting thing is that while I would normally agree with criticisms of online abuse, Baird's attempt to 'persuade' me of her opinion had the opposite effect on me for a number of reasons.

Baird's use of her privileged position to dismiss audience concerns about the Institute of Public Affairs- when it is actually her role to hold such organisations to account -showed me just what the public is up against in our quest for transparency and accountability around the interests informing Australia's politics and policy.

I have several problems with Baird's attack on her audience (which was echoed by other members of staff online):

  • Baird and company expect the audience to know how many times panellists, guests or hosts with past and current affiliations with the IPA have appeared when there is no ready way to establish such a fact without significant research.
  • Baird claims there are not enough conservatives on The Drum and seems to think we should share her concerns.
  • Baird claims the supposed lack of conservatives on The Drum is the fault of the audience as opposed to the personal choice of conservative pundits.
  • The conservative belief in the 'right to be a bigot' seems to undermine their concerns about the behaviour of progressives on social media.
  • Baird is using her elite MSM position to criticise people who have no access to an equally privileged platform on which to publish a right of reply.
  • Baird's argument is made in defence of the IPA specifically without any reference to abuse copped by left wing panellists or guests.

The ABC has upheld complaints against The Drum for failing to disclose links to the IPA, yet Baird makes no mention of this, nor considers how difficult it is to have a clear idea of how often they may appear in her audience-baiting diatribe.

To illustrate what researchers such as myself are up against, IPA Research Fellow, Georgina Downer appeared on the Drum on July 30- just days after Baird's piece appeared in the SMH. Without sitting down and spending the time and data fees to watch this episode, there's no immediate way to know that anyone associated with the IPA appeared as it is not mentioned either in the documentation or the freeze frame.

No picture of Georgina Downer or mention of her as a panellist.
No mention is made of the appearance by IPA affiliated Georgina Downer on recent episode of The Drum

Yet Baird and ABC Programs Editor Annie White feel justified in criticising their own audience for not doing a better job at knowing how often such individuals appear, lecturing us on using facts to inform our commentary.

I'm thankful to David Roy (above) who spent a couple of hours listing appearances which he shared with me, giving me some baseline data to work with.

Although it is now clear to me that ABC staff do not quite understand the difference between a dataset/interface that can, for example, list panellists by different criteria - or even provide a list at all, that lack of awareness seems a poor justification for a public attack on the audience for not knowing information they themselves fail to provide.

That Baird's argument was made solely in favour of the IPA when panellists from minority groups often complain, on The Drum itself, about the abuse they receive shows Baird's article to be strangely lopsided in concern for conservatives. For an article meant to persuade me of the wrongs of IPA critics, all Baird has done is highlight her own biases and put a spotlight on the shortcomings of the information about panellists provided by the ABC itself.