'Just a little too arrogant and authoritarian': Barrie Cassidy on how the ABC reacts to criticism
Welcome to an audio-led edition of Unmade.
Today’s episode features an interview with one of Australia’s most storied media figures - former Insiders host Barrie Cassidy, who shares his unfiltered thoughts on the state of the Australian media landscape, the ABC, Michelle Guthrie’s turbulent tenure as ABC boss, the devolution of the prime minister’s press office, and the unhealthy coziness between politicians and journalists that’s developed in recent years.
Further down, the major stocks on the Unmade Index see a bounce back after a rough fortnight.
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Barrie Cassidy on media manipulation, and the ABC’s place as a vital but fading cultural touchstone
If there was ever someone to offer an authoritative account on the evolution (or devolution) on the state of Australia’s media, it would be Barrie Cassidy, former foreign correspondent and original host of ABC’s Sunday morning Insiders program for 18 years.
In conversation with Unmade’s Seja Al Zaidi, Cassidy offers a candid analysis on the state of political journalism, the ‘arrogance’ of the ABC when it comes to outside criticism, and his loss of faith in editorial judgments across the media industry after the Robodebt Inquiry was poorly covered.
The conversation begins with Cassidy’s scorching assessment of how prime ministers’ press offices have devolved in how they try to manage the media. Cassidy was former PM Bob Hawke’s press advisor from 1986 to 1991. He believes the decline began in the Kevin Rudd years, as political operators began to see an opportunity to fill the void created by 24 hour news.
“And that's a very different way of operating now than what exists today, where they have so many press secretaries that they're able to get so heavily involved in media manipulation,” says Cassidy. “They get to the point where they really do think they can manage the media.”
He warns that journalists are now reluctant to hold politicians to account the way they used to, because of the fear of being frozen out from information.
“The end result of this - and I think it's a sad development in terms of how political journalism works - is the coziness of the relationship between the politicians and the journalists. They all depend so much on one another and it becomes this bubble, this club where where there's an attempt to mutually benefit one another,”
While Cassidy classifies the biggest change in the Australian media landscape in the last decade as News Corp becoming “more blatantly propagandist”, he doesn’t spare his alma mater, the ABC, from criticism either.
Though he believes the ABC to be ‘the most important public institution’ in the country, he also says it's “become just a little too arrogant and authoritarian in some respects”. He’s also critical of proposals to move some ABC operations to Parramatta as “tokenism”.
On the topic of the ABC, Cassidy also explains why he believes former managing director Michelle Guthrie’s tenure was such a failure, and what made her predecessor Mark Scott so successful.
An uptick on the Index
After persistent falls, the Unmade Index finally moved upwards yesterday, rising 1.03% to land at 630 points. The Index measures how ASX-listed media and marketing stocks perform on a daily basis.
Domain and Ooh Media both rose by 1.89% each. Seven West Media saw a 1.69% improvement in its sagging share price.
The smaller end of town had a worse day, including Aspermont posting a 7.69% drop.
Time to leave you to your Thursday.
Today’s podcast was produced by Seja Al Zaidi and edited by Abe’s Audio, the people to talk to about voiceovers, sound design and podcast production.
We’ll be back with more tomorrow.
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