2GB Breakfast – Interview with Andrew Moore

Subjects: New Year's Eve Coverage, Australian Network, Sochi Olympics, Wikileaks defamation action.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

3 January 2014

ANDREW MOORE: Well as we've been talking about, three days after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation took over the televising of the annual New Year's Eve fireworks the complaints are still coming in; and not only were we inundated here at 2GB with very angry listeners who didn't appreciate the ABC host's humour, complaints have been flowing in from foreign nations, which had re-broadcast what they'd anticipated would be a G-rated family event.

And this Australian TV network, television network, broadcast throughout Asia, the South Pacific, and there was all sorts of things: there were references to vomit and drunkenness, penis gags, very thinly disguised insults to public figures like Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Duchess of Cambridge, and His Holiness the Pope.

And the broadcaster – I was reading in The Australian newspaper today – has infuriated Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop as well. Now, I'm in debt to the Minister because it's nineteen minutes past six over in WA where Julie Bishop is. Minister good morning, happy New Year and I do appreciate your time very early this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Andrew and happy new year to all your listeners.

ANDREW MOORE: Yes thank you. I read with interest today, we were flooded- I didn't see the telecast, as I said on New Year's Day, but I started to get a couple of emails about it – this is the ABC's broadcast of New Year's Eve – all I did was tune in for the 9:00pm fireworks display, and that was all I watched. But my goodness, the criticism has been deafening, and what we were being asked a lot was 'gosh I hope this wasn't seen overseas', but obviously it has been.

JULIE BISHOP: Look I didn't see the coverage either. I had a very pleasant evening at the open night of South Pacific in Adelaide, and I can assure you that was delightful.

Some people may have found the ABC's commentary entertaining, but the feedback that I have received was people found it amateurish and crass and boorish and insulting, and in itself that would be questionable for a domestic audience, but I understand it was broadcast into our region, into the many and varied nations of Asia.

The Sydney New Year's Eve spectacle would have been of interest world-wide, and it should not have been spoiled by the commentary. Of course everyone had the option of turning off the sound and leaving the fireworks to be the spectacle, but those in charge of content and programming at the ABC should cast their mind to how such material impacts on our image in the region, and the potential for this kind of commentary to be misinterpreted and used negatively in parts of Asia is immense.

ANDREW MOORE: Yes well it seems to have upset enough of us here, let alone for those people – I mean this Australian television network, this is the impression people are left with of this country when they're watching it in places as afar as Pakistan or Malaysia, I've watched it in Fiji in the past – it goes all over the place.

JULIE BISHOP: Well I have been speaking publicly in recent days about the Australia Network. It is a $230m funding agreement between the former Labor Government and the ABC, and I've had concerns from the outset because of the way the tender process for Australia Network was corrupted by the former government.

ANDREW MOORE: Well it was badly botched; the recommendation was that it was going to be Sky News.

JULIE BISHOP: Well the Auditor-General was scathing in the assessment of how this tender process was managed because the government – the Labor Government – essentially prevented it from being subjected to a competitive tender.

ANDREW MOORE: Yes.

JULIE BISHOP: And just awarded it to the ABC. Now, that's fine, except that the whole process was corrupted, and that raises questions that still remain. The Australia Network is required to meet key objectives, including to foster and improve understanding of Australia's global role, and to increase awareness of the links between Australia and Asia.

It's meant to be a vehicle that advances Australia's national interests in the region – it's a tool of public diplomacy, and I question whether it's meeting that objective, because the feedback that I get from ex-patriots and local Asian viewers is largely negative, and that surely must be of concern to the ABC.

ANDREW MOORE: Well what happens, Minister, if they don't fulfil those objectives?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the Australia Network contract is going to be viewed by our Commission of Audit. Your listeners will be aware that the Abbott Government has put in place a Commission of Audit that will look at government spending – all contracts and agreements and initiatives – and we will judge whether or not the contract is fulfilling its objective.

And I have to say, judging from the very negative feedback I've received from overseas, I'm concerned about the quality of the content the ABC chooses to broadcast, because of course the ABC is responsible for the programs it chooses to broadcast. But, I would hope they would take into account – as they assess their ability to provide what should be appropriate, high-quality content – I hope they take into account the fact that this network is delivered into many and varied nations across the Asia-Pacific.

ANDREW MOORE: Yeah, well, especially you get something like New Year's Eve, I mean this is- what is a lovely advertisement, for Sydney especially, but Australia; I mean everyone around the world loves watching the Sydney fireworks.

JULIE BISHOP: It is a truly fabulous spectacle, and it deserves worldwide attention, and it would be a shame if it was spoiled by the commentary. Now as I say, I didn't see the coverage, I was elsewhere, but just judging from the feedback that I've received, people have actually taken the time to send me emails and text messages about it, if I were the ABC I'd be deeply concerned that there's this level of disquiet and dissatisfaction about the commentary, for as you say, the spectacle itself is fabulous. The fireworks at Sydney Harbour and the Opera House, it's the kind of image that we want to project world-wide, as Australia is a vibrant, fun and lively place to be. So it would be a shame if the commentary spoiled it for people.

ANDREW MOORE: Well, good luck getting that concern heard. I see Richard Finlayson, the head of ABC Television, saying it was a terrific job, it was wonderful, it's backed up by the fact that 3.8 million Australians watched it. Well, of course, look, people are going to tune in to watch the fireworks.

JULIE BISHOP: Well indeed. And they had a captive audience, people delighted by the fireworks. But obviously so much commentary and of course they will race to forward it on to the ABC in the event that they're not getting this kind of feedback, I certainly am.

ANDREW MOORE: Yeah.

JULIE BISHOP: I'll forward it on to them and they can take that into account as they consider whether they're meeting the objective of providing appropriate high quality content for these broadcasts into the nations of the Asia-Pacific.

ANDREW MOORE: Alright. Just a couple of issues, I'll let you go, I know it's very early where you are, it's not yet 6.30 in Perth. The Winter Olympics in Sochi in Russia – they're emerging very, very quickly. What's the latest reports coming that you're hearing about the safety for our athletes over there?

JULIE BISHOP: We are working closely with the Russian authorities, we're working closely with our people on the ground, we have an Embassy in Moscow and the Russian authorities have assured us that they will do all they can to assure the security and the safety of our athletes and that's our utmost concern – the safety and the welfare of our athletes, the officials, their families and the spectators. So we'll continue to monitor each and every day up to and during the Olympics to ensure that our athletes are safe.

As I've said on a number of occasions we would not likely advise our athletes not to attend the Olympic Games, after all they've trained for years for this. Likewise we have to take into account the terrorist attacks that have occurred in Russia in recent times – absolutely abhorrent but they're a reminder of the ongoing battle that we face in combating extremism and terrorism in all its forms world-wide.

ANDREW MOORE: I think it was yesterday, John Coates came out and said the Australian team over there would basically be in the village and at the venues and that's about it.

And just one last issue, we're reading in the international news wires today that John Shipton, father of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has hired a barrister with the intent of suing yourself and the Prime Minister over your criticism of WikiLeaks sending a team to Syria to meet accused war criminal President Bashar al-Assad with Mr Shipton reportedly claiming comments suggesting he was stupid and reckless defamed him and he's looking for $5 million from you and Tony Abbott. Where are we at with this whole Julian Assange thing if anywhere?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, obviously I'm now constrained by what I can say about this. Some may find it ironic that WikiLeaks claims to champion open debate and free speech...

ANDREW MOORE: [Interrupts] Except when it's against them.

JULIE BISHOP: Yet is using our legal system to try to silence its critics. What I can say is that the Australian Government consistently and strongly advises Australians not to travel to Syria. It's extremely dangerous. It's a very volatile security situation. There's a military conflict underway; there are kidnappings and terrorist attacks. It is a dire situation and we encourage Australians to stay away from Syria.

ANDREW MOORE: Yes, well, it seems pretty obvious advice to me and I'll leave you with this email from Greg. It says: 'Hi Andrew, I just spent a month in Thailand recovering after surgery. The Australian Network telecast into Asia is an absolute embarrassment. Content is awful to say the least and the typical left-wing bias doesn't do us Aussies any good for promoting Australia. PS. And the New Year's Eve telecast nonsense – turned it off after 10 minutes.' So that's in keeping with some of the feedback you're getting as well. I really appreciate your time, Minister. Thank you, I'll let you get back to it, it sounds like the messages are coming thick and fast.

JULIE BISHOP: They are indeed, thank you Andrew, and Happy New Year to you and your listeners.

ANDREW MOORE: And to you too, grateful for your time. That's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joining us in Perth.

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