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Bias on ABC Radio National

By Valerie Yule - posted Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Radio is far better for a busy and active person than a computer or TV because you can attend to other things while listening. In our house, Radio National is on 24 hours a day, due to an old person's difficulty in changing stations without losing them all – although I do not listen to eight of the nine Music shows nor the shows I cannot understand because they are intentionally fashionably non-sequitur. Radio sets in different rooms are ready to be turned on as housework and leisure time permit.

Since the public pay taxes for the ABC, we demand that the programs are regularly examined for evidence of political bias. This is not sought for commercial radio and television programs and presenters, although it would be interesting if it were done. Advertising? Shows with embedded products? Missing information in the news? Alan Jones?

My expertise on biases in ABC Radio National results from listening to most of the talk shows for the past five years, not random sampling which may lead to prejudice. My greatest pleasures are listening to people brighter than I am, and talk about matters at a level above my own.


In my last piece a list was given of ABC Radio National programs, that fit in between the current down-market formatting of promos, music, news and stings. There are 62 titles, and the titles themselves do not shout out any political bias. However, critics who may watch occasionally or not at all, may read into them anything at all, often from hearsay about the presenters in their lives beyond the radio station.

Radio National lets us hear many of the movers and shakers in every field, including in the news. The great advantage of Radio National talks is the usual format, which is that each one consists of one to four experts in a particular field, representing a range of opinions, introduced by the presenter. Most of the programs therefore are presentation of expertise in their fields. This going for the top is not paralleled by any other radio station. Here, for example, is what I heard one Monday, showing that Radio National is not a single voice or a single attitude to the world:-

International - Aung San Suu Kyi speaks for herself; Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan discuss 'the Special Relationship' between the September 11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia and the Bush administration; Health care workers in danger, talk by Jeremy England of the International Committee of the Red Cross; Police in London riots, discussed by Paul McKeever, Chairman, Police Federation of England & Wales, Mark Burgess, Chief Executive Officer, Police Federation of Australia, Professor Lorraine Mazerolle, Research Professor, Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) at the University of Queensland; Anna Brown, Director for Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Human Rights law Centre; Indonesian politician extradited from Columbia on graft charges; Sierra Leone's child soldiers' rehabilitation; Thousands trafficked through and into Thailand - report of the International Committee of the Red Cross; US elections - Mary Kissel, Member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board in New York; Michelle Grattan of The Age.

News headlines, including Australian papers.

Rural News – City people rarely know so widely of rural happenings and issues from other sources.

Economic - A second global financial meltdown? Talk by the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick; Coal seam gas and farmers land – both sides; Markets' rush to and from gold; Supermarket price wars hurting the farmer; Supermarkets in Asia; Tony Abbott, Allan Jones cited; Carbon tax protesters & Carbon Minister.


Science - Greenpeace attack destroys more than GM field trial - Christopher Preston, Associate Professor of Weed Management, School of Agriculture, the University of Adelaide; The evolution of copulation in the natural world - John Long, Vice President Research and Collections, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles; Climate change - Royal commission sought by West Australian liberal; Conservation groups concerned over Sri Lanka elephant census

Social - Clint Greagan, Founder, the Mentally Sexy Dad competition; Housing crisis in London - Rachel Wolf, Director at New Schools Network; Mental illness in prisons - Professor Eileen Baldry, Professor at the School of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of New South Wales.

Health - Gut bacteria open way for new drugs - Sarkis Mazmanian, Assistant Professor of Biology California Institute of Technology, Pasadena CA USA; Heart recovery following bypass surgery - Nicola King, Lecturer, Biomedical Sciences School of Science and Technology, University of New England; Nutrition and childhood illness - Dr Nancy O'Hara, Paediatrician; Plants provide start for development of pharmaceuticals – Hans Wohlmuth, Pharmacognosist, Southern Cross Plant Science, Southern Cross University, Lismore NSW; three research papers on IVF; Health and Nutrition.

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Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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