Slamming those who do not accept the theory of anthropogenic global warming as “cowboys”, “misfits” and the ”sons and daughters of Dr Goebbels”, the occasional speaker in Sydney at the Commonwealth Day lunch organised by the Commonwealth Day Council of NSW at the NSW Parliament introduced a hitherto unknown divisive and partisan note into these functions.
The speaker, the well known ABC Science broadcaster Robyn Williams AM, was addressing this year’s Commonwealth Day theme, “Science, Technology and Society”. (An edited version of the speech, without the egregious insults, may be found on the ABC site).
In moving the vote of thanks to Mr. Williams for the Commonwealth Day Council, Simon Frame observed that the speech was the most partisan heard in the history of the lunches.
…school students debate -without insults…
Earlier teams from the state high schools and state public schools debated the theme in the beautiful Legislative Assembly chamber. The young people addressed the theme without bringing the debate down to the personal level or insulting one another.
During the lunch, which was attended by the debating teams, MP’s and consular and diplomatic representatives, Her Excellency the Governor of New South Wales, Professor Marie Bashir read the Commonwealth Day Message from Her Majesty The Queen. Earlier she had reviewed the pipe band and students bearing the 54 flags of the Commonwealth.
….to editorialise or not….
Four days later, Mr. Williams dismissed ABC chairman Maurice Newman's suggestion that climate change sceptics are ignored on the ABC as "simply wrong": Amanda Meade “ABC veteran rebuffs Newman on sceptics,” The Australian 12 March, 2010.
Mr Newman had criticised the media in general for its reporting of climate change. In an address to ABC senior staff, Mr. Newman had said "Climate change is a further example of groupthink where contrary views have not been tolerated, and where those who express them have been labelled and mocked." Mr. Newman pointed out that the ABC as a public broadcaster should not have an editorial opinion.
ACM of course has no view on the causes of global warming, but Mr. Neuman's counsel reminded us of the way the referendum debate was treated in the nineties by the mainstream media.
…argumentum ad hominem….
Days later Mr. Williams boasted to an atheists’ convention that he could mount "a devastating argument against religion in two words: 'Senator Fielding"'. (Senator Fielding is the prominent Family First Senator in the Federal Parliament.) When at the same convention, the visiting English professor of philosophy Richard Dawkins referred to the Pope as "Pope Nazi" and said Family First Senator Steve Fielding was dumber than an "earthworm", Mr. Williams added "Richard Dawkins said his IQ is lower than an earthworm, but I think earthworms are useful." (Andrew Bolt, “Speakers' true love of hatred,” Herald Sun 17 March, 2010 )
The subject of this convention is of course beyond the remit of ACM. Our comment is about the style of debate and not the substance.
These elderly speakers should really take a leaf out of the young people’s book. The school debaters at Parliament House behaved as ladies and gentlemen should. They avoided any suggestion of rudeness and discourtesy. They argued different positions which they may or may not have personally supported.
[* This column was amended on 19 March to stress that our concern is as to the style of debate and the need for balance in the media.]