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Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 04:55 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Costello replies

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18 September 2009 12:55

Former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello replies to my post of 26 August about Australia's journalism culture, a piece sparked by Costello's op-ed alleging pro-Labor bias at the ABC:

You do not address the other issue I raise. Am I right or am I wrong about the preponderance of Labor staffers and future Labor MPs who work in the 7.30 Report? Am I right or am I wrong that the line of questioning on the ABC always comes from a certain direction?

Costello asks me for facts I cannot supply. I don't know whether there is a preponderance of ex-Labor staffers working at the 7.30 Report, and it would take a pretty sophisticated content analysis to determine whether the ABC's lines of questioning always come from a pro-Labor point of view.

My guess is that journalists, as a class, tend to lean left, and I suspect there are more Labor voters among ABC news and current affairs staff than in the general community. But from my own (extensive) consumption of ABC news and current affairs content, my impression is that the ABC is quite scrupulous about balancing party perspectives — they're professionals and are trained to do this.

So where does that leave Costello's complaint? I think what he reads as a party bias is actually cultural bias; a set of beliefs and prejudices common to journalists and the class of university-educated professionals they belong to. Off the top of my head, I'd list these key beliefs as internationalism, egalitarianism, suspiciousness toward traditional elites and a focus on individual rights (particularly that of free speech).

It so happens that the Labor Party reflects these cultural values more than the Liberals do, but not always, and it doesn't mean ABC journalists feel an allegiance to Labor. When the ALP transgresses these norms (as Senator Conroy is thought to be doing with his internet filtering proposal), the journalistic class will display the same biases toward Labor as to the Liberals.