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Brilliant column from Chris Kenny on self-righteous journalists and Coronavirus - ABC in particular

Great stuff Chris!

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The lack of maturity and common sense from some journalists covering the coronavirus pandemic has reached fever pitch. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, quite rightly, used an appearance on the ABC’s Insiders to suggest people listen to medical advice rather than pronouncements from “armchair” experts, particularly citing 10 Network’s Peter van Onselen, who also writes for this newspaper.

Hunt is right. The behaviour of many journalists in pointscoring, adding to confusion and seeking gotcha moments is extraordinary.

It is as if they are so used to one-upmanship that they have no concept of a real national crisis.

On Insiders journalists argued whether the right procedures had been put in place over one infection — that of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton — whether his colleagues should have been tested or his offices fumigated. They also debated the on-again and off-again attendance of Scott Morrison at a footy match as if it were a matter of national significance.

Yes, at times my colleagues at Sky have been doing the same, and the ABC, of course, has been the worst.

The public knows this will be a long and tough winter, that the virus will spread, and that each infection needs to be treated calmly and rationally. And they see a media preoccupied with making political points or settling scores.

We are overwhelmed with information and most people are preparing for possible isolation in a largely calm and rational manner. Yet many journalists seem to be demanding that government provides minute-by-minute instruction for everyone on how to live their lives.

ABC television host Yumi Stynes tweeted that people should keep their children home from school, issuing instructions she thinks should come from government. Van Onselen, too, has been busy tweeting his health advice. We are seeing Twitter dumb down crisis management in the same way it has cheapened politics.

On Saturday night one of the ABC’s stable of comedians-cum-political commentators, Charlie Pickering, tweeted that he was proud to be part of the ABC because it was “filling the void with some certainty and trust”.

The reason for this public burst of pride was contained in a YouTube video he attached.

It was a “coronavirus community service announcement” issued by the ABC — a simple presentation from health reporter and physician Dr Norman Swan.

It was promoting the ABC as a trusted news source and providing basic advice about how to avoid virus infection through personal hygiene. It also advised people to seek information from websites and go to a doctor if sick.

So Pickering was proud to be part of an organisation with an annual $1.1bn taxpayer-funded budget that was capable of producing a one-minute promotional video three months into a global crisis. The video came 47 days after Australia’s first infection and 12 days after our first fatality.

But Pickering wasn’t the only one feeling the pride; ABC’s breakfast TV host Michael Rowland shared the YouTube clip and, rather presumptuously, declared on our behalf: “The nation thanks you, Norman.”

The executive producer of 7.30, Justin Stevens, said Swan “has emerged as an important voice of clear advice on coronavirus”. As Swan has presented the Health Report for more than 35 years, if he has emerged during the coronavirus threat, he’s a late bloomer.

Wasn’t this the sort of information that was being pumped out daily by commercial media, politicians, health experts and government websites?

On Saturday morning Q&A host Hamish McDonald tweeted it was “completely bewildering that still at this stage Australia does not have a mass public information campaign” on the pandemic. Rowland tweeted the same day, “Where is the coronavirus public health campaign?”

Now we are starting to get a clue. The previous day Labor attacked the government for not unfurling its paid public information campaign, which had been revealed in The Daily Telegraph a week earlier and announced a few days later.

Still, by this time the public health advertisements were already airing; they began on commercial radio in Sydney on Friday, the very day Labor was complaining. This was 24 hours before those ABC tweets wondered when they would start. Over the weekend, video versions were revealed.

It seems the political attacks on the government about the delay in providing an information campaign explain the excitement and faux praise for Swan’s video.

Could an organisation gifted enormous taxpayer support to provide clear, factual information, only manage to produce a one-minute video, 47 days into a public health emergency, not in order to fulfil its charter but rather to embarrass the government? What else explains the timing and praise?

Could publicly funded journalists be so puerile as to use their Twitter accounts to snipe at the PM over whether he was going to the football, seek to pre-empt decisions the government might take on medical advice, or make inane quips about the lack of a government advertising campaign when their job is supposed to be about effective communication of important information?


Chris has really matured as a writer and intellect - his analysis is spot on and the public commentary well overdue.