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Charlottesville, guns, Trump-phobia and 'Their ABCs groupthink'

By Laurence Maher - posted Friday, 6 March 2020

Many Australians are unlikely to know that Section 8 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 (the Act) imposes duties on the ABC Board including duties "(b) to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation" and "(c) to ensure that the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognized standards of objective journalism".

Those same Australians are also unlikely to know that in its latest Annual Report (2019) the ABC boasts that it "continues to be the home and source of Australian stories", that its commitment to "innovation in storytelling" is stronger than ever, and that Australians "expect" the ABC to produce "news and current affairs coverage that holds power to account and contributes to a healthy democratic process" (whatever those ideological invocations might mean), and that the "ABC is proud to provide such a service [and] is truly Yours."

Readers who are regular viewers of ABC TV news will not need to be reminded that recently the national broadcaster began skiting about how much smarter it is than all us plebs and plodders: "We don't just tell the stories that matter! We tell you why they matter to you!" Similarly, the promo for the podcast The Party Room teasingly inquires "Want to know what's really going on in Parliament House? and instructs us from on high that the presenters "give you the political analysis that matters and explain what it means for you."


There is plenty of scope here for the satirist, if only something faintly resembling iconoclastic political satire had survived in this era of politically correct conformity. The grim reality is that nowadays what the ABC passes off as news and current affairs is the product of a form of postmodern "Groupthink". Information - "stories" and "storytelling" of varying degrees of coherence and reliability is drenched in the current opinionated ABC "line". That in-house worldview is dictated by the ABC's zealous ideological attachment to the rigid neo-puritanical censoriousness of approved (and disapproved) group "identity". Nothing in the Act authorises the national broadcaster to engage in such blatant partisan politicking, or any politicking.

The extent to which the ABC has strayed from strict compliance with its unique statutory duties as the independent national broadcaster (to which attaches the explicit legal privilege of immunity from enforceability in legal proceedings) is on daily display in its "news/current affairs" coverage of the United States of America. And, since the 2016 US presidential election, the centrepiece of the ABC's own proud daily hate speech "narrative", is its loathing of the 45th President of the US.

For example, beyond being reminded of the tragic deaths of three Virginians, one of whom was murdered by a (Far-Right) man who drove a motor vehicle into a group of counter-protestors, Australians seeking "news and information" about the appalling lawlessness whichoccurred in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August 2017 (and the ongoing controversy) will receive no assistance from using a variety of search terms combined with the name "Charlottesville" on the ABC web site. They will be exposed to ill-informed ABC opinion about the root causes of the deaths, personal injuries and property damage which stemmed from the decision of the City of Charlottesville in late 2016 to remove two US Civil War monuments and to rename the respective city parks in which they had been erected.

What little is there includes a bizarre speculative foray by the ABC into the minds of some members of Far-Right armed militias (specifically, individuals associated with Jason Kessler) and Far-Left armed militias (specifically members of "Redneck Revolt"). The proximate cause of the lawlessness was the fact that those armed militias' make irreconcilable claims regarding the interaction of the First and Second Amendments to the US Constitution. Their conduct in Charlottesville demonstrates that they are joined at the hip in their commitment to bear arms in pursuit of their political objectives.

The First Amendment relevantly forbids the US Congress from making any law "abridging the freedom of speech [and] of the press, [and] the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The Second Amendment provides as follows: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."


The Far-Left armed militia members were in Charlottesville to prevent a protest by a group of Far-Right folks for which the City had given Kessler a permit. Kessler's group was outnumbered by a group of persons who had also obtained a permit to stage a counter-protest in support of the City Council's decision. There is some evidence that the permitted peaceful protest did not occur because it was violently blockaded by armed Far-Left militia members. The opposing armed Second Amendment warriors then resorted to violence (again, there is some evidence that it was provoked by armed Far-Left militia members), roaming the streets and parks of Charlottesville brawling and brandishing weapons.

Last November, following an election in which proposed stricter gun control laws were a major issue, the Democratic Party regained majority status in both Houses of the Virginia legislature. The winning side promptly introduced gun control Bills. Opponents of the reforms proposed a rally in Capitol Square in Richmond in late January 2020.

On 17 January 2020, Ralph Northam, the Democratic Party candidate who had been elected Governor of Virginia in November 2017, made an Executive Order referring to the breakdown of public order in Charlottesville, and declaring that a state of emergency would exist during the period 17-21 January 2020. The order provided that no weapons including firearms were to be carried or possessed in the area in Richmond known as Capitol Square. The rally was rowdy, but order was maintained.

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About the Author

L W Maher is a Melbourne barrister with a special interest in defamation and other free speech-related disputes. He has written extensively on Australian Cold War legal history.

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