The Coverage of the Vietnam War in an Organizational Context: The ABC and CBC Experience

Neville Petersen (University of Western Sydney, Nepean, Australia)

Abstract: The Vietnam War occurred at a time of considerable internal disputation over the role and nature of news within the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) which had its origins in the competing and contrasting values of two groups of professional journalists. In both organizations the traditional criteria for defining and reporting news came under challenge from the new and apparently less constrained field of television current affairs. Each vied for organizational priority. In important respects this mirrored the breakdown in journalistic consensus which was occurring in liberal democratic societies worldwide over attitudes to authority and official sources and reporting of widespread social protest. The period of "high modernism" in journalism was ending. This paper examines aspects of the coverage of Vietnam by the ABC and CBC within this organizational climate.

Résumé: La guerre du Vietnam a coöncidé avec une période de disputes internes considérables au sein du Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) et du côté anglophone de la Société Radio-Canada (SRC), sur le rôle et la nature des nouvelles. Ces disputes ont eu leurs origines dans les valeurs contrastantes et concurrentielles de deux groupes de journalistes professionnels. Dans chaque organisation, les critères traditionnels pour définir et présenter les nouvelles s'affrontèrent au nouveau domaine apparemment moins contraignant de l'actualité télévisuelle. Chaque groupe convoitait la position dominante. À bien des égards, cette situation reflétait, parmi les démocraties libérales du monde, la fin d'une entente journalistique sur quel point de vue prendre envers, par exemple, l'autorité, les sources officielles et les nombreuses protestations sociales. La période de "haute modernité" en journalisme tirait à sa fin. Cet article examine des aspects de reportages faits par le ABC et la SRC sur la guerre du Vietnam en tenant compte de ce climat organisationnel.


The 1950s and 1960s were marked by dramatic changes in the ways news was defined and presented by broadcasting organizations in Western liberal democracies and by an apparent transformation in the nature of their relationship with official and authoritative sources. What appeared to be largely derivative and relatively passive services were challenged by the advent of television in the mid-1950s which brought with it internal tensions over competing codes of professionalism and over what forms of journalism best served each organization.

In particular the emergence during the 1960s of a more critical and sometimes adversarial approach by broadcast journalists brought about apparent crises in the relationship of their employers with governments. This particularly applied to those public service-oriented organizations, established by legislation or charter, which were quasi-independent entities in the BBC tradition. The latter, such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC, now Corporation) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), were either fully or partly funded by their governments in the belief that they were essential to the functioning of the state (Ericson, Baranek, and Chan 1987, 28). This was a period when news and current affairs departments became more self-assertive, a process which undoubtedly impacted on their long-time dependence on governing elites and authority figures, a relationship which reproduced hegemonic definitions of society (Hall 1979, 136-37). The obligations of the ABC and CBC to be "impartial" and serve "the national interest" seemed by some, at the end of the 1960s, to be at variance with the ways in which news was being organizationally defined.

It is now a sociological commonplace that the identification and production of news is affected by its organizational and bureaucratic setting. Organizational theorists supported Epstein's argument (1973) that personal values were modified inside media organizations in accordance with organizational requirements. In particular he noted the organizational, economic, and technical parameters of decision-making. As a consequence, the study of organizations, not individuals, is necessary to analyze news. In the view of recent scholarship, journalistic practice within the organizational framework can constrain the search for "truth" far more than the perceptions of individual journalists. In their ground-breaking study of journalists' methodology, Ericson, Baranek, and Chan concluded that "news comes closer to mirroring the social and cultural reality of its own organisation than to mirroring the events it reports on" (1987, 350).

There are now widely shared views among media analysts, whether from the pluralist school which essentially believes in an independent journalism being part of the democratic process, or the dominance model of Marxism which sees the media as reproducing the ideology and values of the dominant classes in society (Curran, Gurevitch, and Woollacott 1987). It is recognized that there are constraints on journalistic autonomy related to the boundaries of the sociopolitical consensus, and that powerful forces in society receive privileged access to journalists and their product. Within these parameters, it is however also strongly contended that journalists, in certain circumstances, do possess autonomy of a relative kind and actively work towards obtaining more. The issue is how journalists devise ways to work within, around, and through organizational constraints to achieve their goals, namely, the arrival at a version of events which, by their definition, is "the truth" (Ettema, Whitney, and Wackman 1987).

Within this social organizational approach to media analysis one must also take into account the inevitability of a "social construction" of reality and the questioning of any claim that there is a "reality" out there which can be reported by identifying relevant "facts" (Schudson 1996, 150-151). In this view, facts are defined organizationally (Tuchman 1978).

Schlesinger (1990) in particular questions the notion of the dominance theorists that media output is essentially a creation of primary news definers, notably authoritative and official sources, a view promoted notably by Hall (Hall et al. 1978). Schlesinger argues that there are inequalities of access and shifts in the structure of access of these sources, and importantly that allowance should be made for moments when primary definers are challenged by journalists or forced to respond. Ideology is not simply reproduced as a one way process but, can, at times, be subject to journalistic filters.

In support of this view Curran suggests that the structuralist approach pays too little attention to hierarchical controls and pressures within media organizations (1990, 127). While claiming autonomy many journalists work within a value framework developed at higher levels of control (Schlesinger 1987). There are, in fact, "inherited norms" decisively shaped by managerial intervention in the past.

Of particular interest are the findings of Ericson, Baranek, and Chan (1987): that the commitment to the dominant order and professionally shared means of interpreting the world among journalists must be reassessed. Instead of consensus there is frequent conflict over individual and organizational goals. Values and practices are not fixed rigidly but are worked out in ongoing negotiations and conflicts. "These conflicts and contradictions are a significant component of the newsroom environment" (1987, 124).

These writers emphasize the need for more research into this area. In this context there appears to be a need to return to the theme of hierarchical control of journalists, producers, and editors by broadcasting bureaucrats and the constraints of the cultural setting in which they operate, first identified in seminal works on the BBC by Tracey (1977) and Schlesinger (1978 [Schlesinger 1987]). From an organizational point of view there is a need to examine more closely for their ideological significance those occasions when the ABC and CBC appeared to challenge official definitions of "impartiality" and "the national interest" in order to preserve, in their view, both professional and organizational "credibility." Apart from examining this interface between sources and broadcasters, both at a working and managerial level, there is the further question about shifts in the structure of access by sources over time and the dynamic of contestation between sources for access (Schlesinger 1990, 67-68). We need to know also whether the apparent struggle between broadcasters and their official sources was a natural process of adjusting hegemonic values within a climate of social change (Gitlin 1994) which left the essential attachment of national broadcasters to the corporate/elitist consensus unchanged.

This paper is based on work for an ongoing comparative research project dealing with the ways news policy was determined in public service broadcasting organizations. It will focus narrowly and specifically on several instances when the ABC and CBC appeared to challenge the dominant view of the Vietnam conflict, the consequences of such challenges, and whether they pointed to significant shifts within those organizations whereby journalists gained greater freedom from institutional constraints and opportunities to move outside source-defined occurrences and interpretations.

The organizational setting

The reliance of the ABC and CBC on authorized sources ("authenticated knowers," using the term of Berger and Luckmann 1966) was heavily emphasized in the 1940s and 1950s when they adopted a style of news gathering which was influenced by the news agency model and beliefs about the "neutrality" of agencies and their "value-free news." Journalists were not permitted to broadcast themselves and were not supposed to intervene in any way between the "facts" supplied by sources and the news consumer. Although both organizations had promoted the use of war correspondents in World War II as "eye-witnesses," these techniques were largely abandoned in 1946 for news purposes.1 CBC relied on news agencies while the ABC was required to collect its own news as a result of legislation by the Labor Government in 1946. It, however, followed news agency procedures of collecting authenticated news at recognized outlets. No analysis or further investigation was permitted by either organization. This was justified by professional codes which placed heavy emphasis on "facts" and rejected contextual material as "opinion." ABC and CBC news also relied on authorities to signal, in most instances, which occurrences were news and what interpretation to place on them. It was considered politically dangerous to go outside such a framework.

The advent of television in the mid-1950s threatened traditional news values. The ABC was nervous about television and, in particular, the possibility that the availability of pictures might prove to be a major determinant of what was "news." The Commission insisted that film in news bulletins be severely limited and that television news should be subject to radio-determined news priorities and choices. In keeping with news practice, no reporters were assigned to television, and no on-camera or voice-over reporting was allowed. News values and loyalties were linked to the 1946 enabling legislation, which, in the eyes of journalists, set News apart from others in the organization in having the product endorsed as nationally significant by the government and giving it a higher purpose. Its radio-oriented output in the 1950s represented the establishment of mutual trust between ABC journalists and their sources, and the establishment of a national reputation for the ABC as a news provider apparently impervious to political influence. This agreed-upon formula symbolized to News the parameters of security for themselves and the organization. As a corollary, the values of the entertainment-driven professionals of television represented dangerous waters.

When television began in Canada, it was not long before the news service operated largely independently of radio news. Radio news attempted to exert control in the first two years, 1952-54, but it was apparent that the wire services on which radio relied were useless for television except as guides. Because television had to organize its own cover, it was a totally different approach to radio. By the mid-1950s, television reporters were working with film crews. CBC's radio news was so restrictive in these days that "rather than it influencing television, television influenced radio tremendously" (Macdonald interview). By 1960 radio reporters were working with portable tape recorders and providing voicepieces, and thereby mediating between sources and the audience, in stark contrast to earlier years.2 CBC TV news reporters were admitted to the Ottawa Press Gallery in 1959 and began to cover all news from the capital, a move considered "very daring" (Earle 1982).

There were signs in the late 1950s and early 1960s of concerted staff opposition to the conservative values represented by management and in particular its failure to respond to what were perceived to be increasing demands for television to become a major resource of knowledge. There was a need, in the view of staff, to popularize informational programs and be concerned about the consequences of and public reaction to official policies. The outcome of this struggle differed in each organization.

Urged by the Canadian government to take action against the producers of a radio Talks program, Preview Commentary, CBC management reviewed the scripts and decided to cancel the program in June 1959. The scripts were provided by outside contributors, normally well-known newspaper figures. It was alleged there was a lack of balance, and there was also official annoyance with the obvious resentment within Talks at having its judgment queried. Management's decision was followed by a radio and television producer walkout on the day a parliamentary subcommittee had chosen to visit CBC's facilities in Toronto. The next day the CBC board reversed the decision (Stursberg 1971, 194-200).

In contrast, in September 1963, 19 members of ABC's Talks staff sent a petition to the general manager expressing concern at the removal of the producer of the television current affairs program Four Corners after conservative political criticism of its program on the Returned Servicemen's League (RSL) (Commission minutes, October 3-4, 1963, AA [Australian Archives] C1869/2 Box 7). The staff were concerned that this outside pressure had been responsible. News of the petition was leaked to the press. The following day the general manager, Charles Moses, called all signatories into his office and accused them of being disloyal. As well he inferred that Four Corners had imitated "the yellow press." The producer was not reinstated. In the CBC case institutional culture permitted dissent within certain parameters while in the ABC there was a strong tradition of strong and centralized bureaucratic control along public service lines which did not permit staff to act jointly in expressing concerns.

Both the CBC and ABC moved heavily into current affairs reporting on television in the early 1960s, a move which resulted in the recruiting of people with different backgrounds to those in News and conflicting views about what constituted organizational purpose. Those working on ABC's Four Corners program, which began in 1961, were driven by the perception that ABC news had failed to provide interpretation and was largely based on official statements. ABC News had been "so cautious and colourless and dreary" (Raymond interview). Four Corners quickly began to cover social issues, such as Aboriginal questions and housing and poverty, subjects considered off-limits to ABC news. It rapidly became contentious in the Australian government's eyes, particularly when it began to insist on accountability by ministers and ran items critical of government policy.

Four Corners was, however, not allowed to collect material overseas which might in any way be considered controversial. The government rigidly controlled overseas travel by the ABC through a Cabinet subcommittee which prevented Four Corners from visiting Malaysia and West Irian in the early 1960s. When the program was eventually permitted to send a reporter and crew to Vietnam in 1964, no alternative version of events or questioning of the American position was attempted (Shaw interview). The reporter and producers had been briefed by the Department of External Affairs before leaving.

The Australian government's interventionist line is best illustrated by the case of the ABC's attempts to produce documentaries as a member of Intertel, a venture of the ABC, CBC, Westinghouse-NET of the United States, and Rediffusion of Britain. In 1961 the government intervened to prevent the ABC from producing a documentary for Intertel on Canadian-U.S. relations (Living with a Giant) on the grounds that it could be regarded as an expression of opinion by one Commonwealth country on the domestic affairs of another (Commission minutes, May 4-5, 1961, AA C1869/2 Box 7). ABC membership of Intertel was made subject to clearance of, and the provision of guidance on, further subjects by the Department of External Affairs. CBC's own Intertel documentary, One More River (1963), which revealed in harrowing detail the existing degree of white racism in America's southern states, was shown in Australia with an ABC disclaimer, dictated by the Commission, stating that the film did not fully reflect or explain the segregation issue (Commission minutes, June 13-14, 1963, AA C1869/2 Box 7).

While the ABC had journalists based in Southeast Asia from 1957 and in Saigon from 1962 these were men (there were no women) trained only in the essentials of reporting by cable and telex. They went in the knowledge that Foreign Affairs had stressed that the ABC must not offend friendly governments and were to look for positive news of the countries who were threatened by communism. This accorded with the consensus in Australia in the early 1960s.3 They had no training in broadcasting and did not work with cameramen, an indicator of the extent to which the ABC's News Division was still based on radio news requirements and values. Although weekly spoken-word outlets were introduced by News from 1963 to handle voice reports, this was kept quite discrete from reporting for news bulletins which still did not use voice. The escalation of the Vietnam conflict, and the involvement of Australian forces from 1965, meant the ABC had to deploy in that country correspondents untrained in television but asked to do pieces from time to time using cameramen, with out-of-date and heavy equipment unsuitable for the climate, for fast-moving stories (Ferguson interview).

In contrast to the ABC, the CBC had a relatively long-established tradition of sending specialist news reporters on assignment to foreign countries for television purposes, beginning with the program Newsmagazine in 1952 (Nash 1987, 229). These included visits to Vietnam and Laos. There was, by all accounts, no tradition of Canadian government concern at these ventures, nor an internal culture which embraced the domino theory of Southeast Asia.

Seven Days and Vietnam

The challenge to the American view of the war predictably came not from news, generally regarded by the young Turks coming into the organization as "fairly stuffy, old fashioned, and taking pride in this" (Hargreaves interview; Herrndorf interview), but from the new current-affairs program, This Hour Has Seven Days, which first went to air in August 1964. Called officially "one of the most exciting experiments ever conducted in public affairs programmes" (CBC 1964-65, 32), the controversial program deliberately contrasted itself with News involving itself in investigative reporting; using hidden cameras; satirizing the Queen, the Pope, and politicians; and questioning authority and family values. It took a deliberately anti-Vietnam stance, making no attempt to be objective (Koch 1986, 95). In the words of one of its presenters, it "did the most to change the attitude of Canadians and Americans to Vietnam" and "it caught the 60s mood of the country, that it was time to question where we were going" (LaPierre interview).4

While there were reports critical of American involvement in Vietnam every two or three weeks, many of them seen by Americans across the border, and some re-broadcast by American stations, This Hour Has Seven Days made its biggest impact by showing in December 1965 a specially commissioned hour-long documentary on Vietnam, Mills of the Gods, produced by Beryl Fox. The film stunned critics with its images of the brutality of war, its most memorable sequence being shot in an American bomber. The pilot is jubilant about the effect of his napalm and rockets on the villagers below (Koch 1986, 100). The film was shown by the BBC and NET in the United States and widely distributed to North American universities.

There was intense criticism of these reports from Canadian parliamentarians, particularly in the parliamentary hearings into the program in 1966, from the CBC administration, and, according to LaPierre, from the Canadian government itself. CBC's Washington correspondent Knowlton Nash felt the full brunt of U.S. Administration displeasure about the program. An interview with McGeorge Bundy, U.S. foreign policy adviser, about the bombing of North Vietnam, edited so as to emphasize his hawkishness, was followed by the banning of the CBC from Washington briefings and a policy of non-co-operation (Nash 1984, 334-35).

CBC Board and management now discerned distinct danger signals for the organization if This Hour Has Seven Days continued. The following year, 1966, CBC management denounced the program for conflicting with corporation policies, using impermissible journalistic methods, and exceeding its authority: its "continuing challenge to essential supervision, culminating in the unprecedented behaviour of its principals in publicly disputing with Corporation" (CBC 1966-67, 54). There is no doubt that the program's subjective approach to the Vietnam question, and in particular its satirizing of the war, was involved in this decision. Lobbying by the program's producers with the government and Parliament resulted in the matter being referred to the Standing Committee on Broadcasting in April 1966. But CBC management remained firm and the program was taken off air in the autumn of that year.

While the perceived political threat to CBC over This Hour Has Seven Days had ended, the program had far-reaching consequences. While news traditionalists deplored the "irresponsibility" of the program, its tabloid values, and its coverage of events they felt should have been left to them, there was also admiration. News was henceforth heavily influenced by the staff of This Hour Has Seven Days, who "broke ground and were part of that whole change in society, in all societies" (Macdonald interview). News now became "more likely to do stories that we might have turned away from before." It paid greater attention to production and presentation values, new ways of presenting stories, and made more use of portable camera equipment (Hargreaves interview). In addition, senior news executives went very close to joining This Hour Has Seven Days in 1966, in its fight against management for greater autonomy. It was a battle "to get more resources, to do a proper job" (Macdonald interview; Cunningham interview; Nash 1987, 38-39).

This push by News for greater resources and a higher profile within CBC was successful within a few years, leading to the news expanding and the major bulletin, The National, moving into prime time. The entry by News into more controversial areas was also responsible for ground-breaking reports by newsman Mike Maclear from North Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first Western television reporter to be invited into the country, Maclear showed for the first time the bomb damage to civilian areas caused by American raids, and on a subsequent trip interviewed American prisoners-of-war. He broke the news of Ho Chi Minh's death (to the world).

There is no space here to detail the internal and external impact of Maclear's reports beyond stating that he was bitterly disappointed with the nervousness shown by the CBC in handling them, and by the heavy editing some of his reports were subject to. This attitude he traces back to the CBC's reaction to This Hour Has Seven Days, the feeling within CBC management that "reporters given too much head might become too combative, might embarrass the Corporation," to the point where it was, in his mind, "censoring itself" (Maclear interview). U.S. networks showed longer versions of Maclear's reports than were seen in Canada. One senior newsman remembers Maclear's feeds were "very heavily scrutinized and cut and hacked because it was quite different from the conventional wisdom that was being reported at the time" (Cunningham interview).

ABC News and Vietnam

In May 1965, the Labor Opposition in Australia attacked the decision of the Menzies Government to send an infantry battalion to Vietnam (House of Representatives 1965, 1102). Henceforth the Australian public was increasingly divided about the merits of Australian involvement. Yet ABC journalists both at home and in Vietnam were under increasing management pressure to provide positive stories of the war. W. S. Hamilton, Controller of News and later Assistant General Manager, to whom ABC News reported, was well known for his anti-communist views (Chapman interview; Barnett interview). He intervened at critical moments to make his views clear. He prohibited the use of reports of the bombing by the Americans of non-military targets in North Vietnam, on the grounds that they were communist propaganda, until long after other media outlets had accepted and used them (J. G. [Gil] Oakley, former controller of News for the Australian Broadcasting Commission [October 1965-February 1968], personal communication, July 20, 1976). He told the head of TV News, Jack Gulley, "we are involved in a war in Vietnam and in a war we cannot be objective" (Gulley interview). Gulley found there was continuous pressure to scale down TV coverage of anti-Vietnam demonstrations. ABC General Manager Tal Duckmanton instructed News to ask one correspondent to provide a positive story on the Australian Army's pacification program, to balance adverse reports (Koch interview). An interview filmed in Cambodia by an ABC correspondent with the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, who covered the war from the communist side, was destroyed on management instructions as soon as it arrived in Sydney.

Within News, a significant number of journalists became angry and frustrated at what they regarded as a one-sided portrayal of events in Vietnam. Leaks to newspapers and journals from news staff regularly portrayed news managers as right-wing and pro-war (e.g., Sunday Review, April 4, 1971; The Review, July 2, 1972). The ABC's overseas cable editor found ABC journalists in Vietnam restricted themselves too much to the official daily briefings given by the Americans. She said later "the material that came in was so obviously one sided that I used to fume and grit my teeth" (Ringwood interview). ABC journalists in Vietnam felt let down by lack of access to film crews and insistence from Sydney that they concentrate on the activities of Australian troops. They regularly watched the output of American television crews which was packaged in Saigon and "had this depressing feeling" that they were "just biting around the edge of the story" (Koch interview).

Adding to their frustration was the knowledge that the ABC's new current-affairs program, This Day Tonight (TDT), had begun presenting alternative views through interviews with student draft-dodgers and members of the Communist Party. TDT was satirical and uninhibited in the mode of This Hour Has Seven Days, though not perhaps as daring in its choice of subject matter. Its coverage of anti-Vietnam protests brought accusations that it was promoting dissent (Peach 1992, 65). When Postmaster-General Hulme attempted to use his financial powers to force the ABC to reduce its TV current affairs budget in 1970 (Commission minutes, May 14-15, 1970, June 22-23, 1970, AA C1869/2 Box 20), it was widely seen as a reaction to the program's insistence on political accountability and its stance on Vietnam. The action by Hulme, leaked to the press, resulted in an unprecedented display of ABC staff anger, with a submission demanding freedom from internal as well as external pressures. The Commission rejected this. Unfortunately TDT did not obtain its own coverage of Vietnam until the early 1970s when American and Australian disengagement had begun. Direct government pressure failed to contain the program in the short term but in the longer term the pressure succeeded. Within two years the satirical component of the program was abandoned. Its more serious political mode did not mean the end of controversy, but its edge was blunted (Watts interview).

News and TDT disagreed constantly about news priorities and access to equipment and files, as CBC News and This Hour Has Seven Days had done, particularly as TDT had a radical philosophy of "breaking down all the standards that the ABC had at that time" (Chown interview). Yet news staff saw graphically every night the use of new production and reporting techniques and new methods of evaluating events as news outside the framework of official sources. Young reporters began to try their hand at investigative interviews but floundered without the necessary training (Watts interview) and there began to be demands to be allowed to use voicepieces in news bulletins and for senior reporters to appear in television reports. In 1969, at last News sent a staff cameraman to Vietnam. A TDT legacy was the confrontationist approach to news management taken by journalists at a staff symposium in 1975 at which they demanded greater personal involvement in stories on radio and television, as well as training and equipment which would allow them to compete as equals with TDT.5

On at least two occasions journalists defied instructions on the coverage of Vietnam, remarkable occurrences because of the very tight discipline associated with the News Division. Tony Ferguson, one of the most senior correspondents, became convinced that lives were sometimes being sacrificed needlessly. He sent a cable from Vietnam which described one American military action as futile. The assistant general manager, Hamilton, immediately sent him a cable saying that such a comment would not be tolerated and that all that was wanted was "straight reporting" (Ferguson interview). This was the first time that an ABC correspondent had questioned the official version of events.

The second occasion resulted in a message actually going to air which would have disturbed those who saw the war as unproblematical. On February 26, 1968, just after the Vietcong's Tet Offensive and while they still held Hue, Australian cameraman Neil Davis, working for NBC, filmed the deliberate murder by American troops of an unarmed Vietnamese civilian fleeing the city. The white shirt he was waving as a symbol of surrender was ignored. On his tape recorder Davis recorded the voice of the American sergeant being told that he had a white flag but ordering his men "to cut him down" (Bowden 1987, 157). Then followed the sound of automatic weapon fire. Davis's film was shipped out for syndication but for reasons unknown to him disappeared. The sound tape, just as damning, was released by him to several correspondents resulting in official demands that he surrender the tape or be expelled from the country (Bowden 1987, 158).

Davis had been in the practice of sending some taped material to Sydney for use, and this tape, or a copy of it, was dispatched to ABC news in this way. The tape was heard by Hamilton, who in the cable subeditor's words "was very cross," saying, "Neil Davis is not a journalist, he's a photographer" (Ringwood interview). Therefore he was unqualified to send news reports. The tape was banned from being used in news bulletins, but the subeditor, Anne Ringwood, who produced a weekly program of voice dispatches from Asian correspondents, The Week in Asia, used it a few days later without seeking permission. She heard nothing more about it. It is perhaps worth noting that management became significantly less interested in vetting news from Vietnam after the U.S. withdrawal was announced in 1969.

This incident represented the first challenge by ABC journalists since 1948 to management definitions of news that accorded with "the national interest." It is also indicative of the organization's many missed opportunities for greater explication and interpretation of events in that country. The ABC, alone of the Western industrialized countries, had maintained a sizable staff of journalists operating in Southeast Asia for eight years at the time of the commitment of American and Australian troops. At the heart of the ABC's difficulties with Vietnam was perhaps its overarching reluctance to promote news images of violence on television as representing "reality" in a largely peaceful world.6


It will be seen that key organizational factors affected coverage of Vietnam. In the CBC, a culture that accepted film and reporter mediation as professional norms was far more sensitive than the ABC to the use of film to explain and interpret events for which the politicians had failed to provide any rationale. CBC program-makers had successfully and very publicly contested some of management's values, laying the framework for the challenge by This Hour Has Seven Days to the Corporation's own view of society and its organizational purpose. A News department which had already moved fully into the television field and embraced it professionally was better able to respond quickly and positively to the challenges of current affairs.

The ABC took longer to evolve any critique of Vietnam due to the lack of any successful internal challenge to management priorities until the late 1960s, heavy government pressure, and a pusillanimous Commission. In the climate of the early 1960s it would have been impossible to consider broadcasting a satirical current affairs program. In the late 1960s, News was protected from TDT's challenge to its methods by management support for traditional news values, in the belief that "responsible," "authoritative" news enhanced chances of ABC political survival, even if it was also dull. Some News staff were influenced by TDT's new dynamism and its questioning of the ABC's direction but unfamiliarity with the journalistic practices and technology of current affairs, and a stolid refusal by news managers to change, left them in a position where they were frustrated and essentially unable to report meaningfully for the duration of the conflict.

In some respects the greater flexibility gained by broadcast journalists, particularly those in current affairs, in the coverage of Vietnam can be seen within a wider journalistic context. What Hallin (1994) has described as the period of "high modernism" in journalism was ending. No longer did journalists necessarily believe that they would be acclaimed as disinterested, public spirited, and trusted while remaining close to politicians in power. Public confidence in political authorities declined, particularly as a result of the Vietnam War, and political consensus broke down, forcing journalists to make more value judgments of their own and to access a wider range of sources. More accountability was demanded.

Certainly the new wave of journalists who moved into Current Affairs brought something of this philosophy with them and for brief periods were in the ascendancy in both the ABC and CBC. Their coverage of Vietnam radically contrasted with that of News. They forced News to rethink their own attitudes to what was a largely derivative and passive approach to reporting. The mode of operation used by broadcast news to this time involved relying too much on bureaucracies to define news through formal action or announcements and acceptance of their views and interpretations as legitimate, routines which Fishman (1980) identified as remaining in sections of the press and television news in the 1970s.

Although organizational constraints remained pervasive at the end of the Vietnam War, there is no doubt that journalists in both the ABC and CBC had become at its end more self-assertive and that news values had undergone a marked shift. The research so far supports the contention that we need to pay much more critical attention to the ways structures and values in news organizations are shaped by internal processes of negotiation and conflict. In fact, conflict and contention seem linked to the degree of freedom possessed by journalists, a point implied by Ericson, Baranek, and Chan (1987, 10).

CBC had clearly played a more distinctive role than the ABC in that some of its reports contributed to the growing journalistic consensus that Vietnam exposed a credibility gap between the media and officials (Hallin 1986). Yet while relations with governments and sources became strained in this period with the greater initiative shown by some reporters, routines for gathering news remained largely in place, a factor which reinforces the ideological nature of the product (Fishman 1980).

Even as dissent grew within their organizations, the governing bodies of both the ABC and CBC were in the early 1970s still determined to intervene in news whenever they thought it necessary in the interest of avoiding any conflict with the powerful political forces which ultimately determined the shape of broadcasting. As Anthony Smith observed, in this period news was "the internalisation of the broadcasting organisation's or editorial office's sense of political realities" (1973, 98).


CBC's News Roundup, in which the voices of foreign correspondents were heard, continued after the war and gave that organization some grounding in voice production skills. However, the techniques were not extended to standard news bulletins or domestic reporters.
See minutes of news editors' conferences in the 1950s for evidence of the speed of this dramatic transformation in CBC radio news techniques and values (NAC [National Archives of Canada] RG 41 Vol. 174 11-17-10).
Any consensus began to crumble within days of the announcement by Prime Minister Menzies on April 29, 1965 of the dispatch to Vietnam of Australian troops. The Labour Leader of the Opposition, Arthur Calwell, attacked the policy on May 4, which signalled the beginning of the protest movement in Australia. See Edwards (1997).
The program is said to have been the catalyst for CBC's highly successful Sixty Minutes (Nash 1987, 36).
The report of this symposium, The Future of the ABC News Service, by journalists of the News Division, is in the writer's possession.
This philosophical approach to television is best explained in the 30th Arthur Norman Smith Memorial Lecture on Journalism, given at Melbourne University in 1968 by W. S. Hamilton, Assistant General Manager of the ABC and formerly Controller of News Services.


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Ettema, James, D. Charles Whitney, and Daniel Wackman. 1987. "Professional Mass Communicators." In Handbook of Communication Science, edited by Charles Berger and Stephen H. Chaffee, 747-80. Beverly Hills: Sage.

Fishman, Mark. 1980. Manufacturing the News. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Gitlin, Todd. 1994. "Prime Time Ideology: The Hegemonic Process in Television Entertainment." In Television: The Critical View, edited by Horace Newcomb, 516-36. 5th ed. New York: Oxford.

Hall, Stuart. 1979. "Culture, the Media and the Ideological Effect." In Mass Communication and Society, edited by James Curran et al., 314-48. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Hall, Stuart, T. Critcher, J. J. Clarke, and B. Roberts. 1978. Policing the Crisis. London: Macmillan.

Hallin, Daniel. 1986. The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

. 1994. We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere. London: Routledge.

House of Representatives. 1965. Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Debates, May 4.

Koch, Eric. 1986. Inside Seven Days. Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall.

Nash, Knowlton. 1984. History on the Run: The Trenchcoat Memoirs of a Foreign Correspondent. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

. 1987. Prime Time at Ten: Behind-the-Camera Battles of Canadian TV Journalism. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

Peach, Bill. 1992. This Day Tonight: How Australian Current Affairs TV Came of Age. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Schlesinger, Philip. 1987. Putting "Reality" Together: BBC News. London: Methuen. Originally published in 1978.

. 1990. "Rethinking the Sociology of Journalism: Source Strategies and the Limits of Media-Centrism." In Public Communication: The New Imperatives, edited by Marjorie Ferguson, 61-83. London: Sage.

Schudson, Michael. 1996. "The Sociology of News Production Revisited." In Mass Media and Society, edited by James Curran and Michael Gurevitch, 141-59. London: Arnold.

Smith, Anthony. 1973. The Shadow in the Cave: The Broadcaster, the Audience and the State. London: Allen & Unwin.

Stursberg, Peter. 1971. Mister Broadcasting: The Ernie Bushnell Story. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates.

Tracey, Michael. 1977. The Production of Political Television. London: Routledge.

Tuchman, Gay. 1978. Making News. New York: Free Press.


Oral history interviews were recorded with the following persons. Tapes and transcripts are in the possession of the writer.
(a) ABC Barnett, Peter, April 7, 1983. Chapman, Ivan, October 9, 1976. Chown, Ken, July 16, 1982. Ferguson, Tony, August 5, 1982. Gulley, Jack, July 28, 1982, August 10, 1982, January 24, 1984. Koch, Philip, August 24, 1984. Raymond, Bob, August 6, 1982. Ringwood, Anne, July 28, 1982. Shaw, Lachie, August 10, 1982. Watts, Ken, February 25, 1983.
(b) CBC Cunningham, Bill, September 30, 1992. Hargreaves, Terry, September 28, 1992. Herrndorf, Peter, October 5, 1992. LaPierre, Laurier, October 6, 1992. Macdonald, Don, October 3, 1992. Maclear, Michael, October 5, 1992.

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