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Tuesday, 03 December 2019 12:31

ABC's ignorance on tech matters on display once again

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Patricia Karvelas and Nick Xenophon during Monday's interview. Patricia Karvelas and Nick Xenophon during Monday's interview.

ABC journalists' ignorance of technology has been on display once again, with senior broadcaster Patricia Karvelas displaying an acute lack of knowledge during an interview with former senator Nick Xenophon, whose legal firm has been hired by Huawei to help correct misconceptions about its operations.

The appointment of Xenophon and former investigative reporter Mark Davis was made public on Monday, with Huawei saying this was in order to "defend our company locally against malicious and false attacks designed to cause us reputational damage".

Xenophon was well-known as a media tart during his days in politics and it was not surprising that he popped up on the ABC on Monday afternoon to begin defending his client. But during the interview, (watch from 23:00) on the Afternoon Briefing program on ABC News, Karvelas showed time and again that she had done no homework, making mistake after mistake as she interrogated the former Centre Alliance senator. 

For one, Karvelas appeared unaware that the same technology can be used for good and bad purposes and grilled Xeonphon on why Huawei equipment was being used in China's Xinjiang province where Uighurs are corralled in prison-like conditions. In her view, this was a black mark for Huawei.

When Xenophon pointed out that Cisco equipment had been used for China's so-called Great Firewall and asked whether that meant Cisco, as American as a company can be, was to be blamed for this, Karvelas had no comeback. She quickly changed topics.

xenophon

The ABC gets its headlines wrong as well.

Though there have been countless stories about the way the Americans have ramped up pressure on Huawei, beginning in 2012, in order to blackball the company, Karvelas appeared to be under the impression that the Australian decision to ban the Chinese firm from Australia's 5G networks was based on warnings from local spooks. A little bit of reading would have helped, no doubt, but then when have ABC broadcasters been so inclined?

She was unaware that some of the most ignorant statements about 5G security have been made by Mike Burgess, the former head of the Australian Signals Directorate, and repeated ad infinitum by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and self-styled cyber security expert Nigel Phair, director of UNSW Canberra Cyber. And thus the matter of separation of the core and edge in 5G networks was never raised.

Another fact that Karvelas was unaware of was that Huawei Australia is a company registered in this country and therefore does not have to sign up as a foreign agent under the new law governing foreign interference. When Xenophon was asked about this, he corrected Karvelas promptly. But she did not even have the grace to apologise for her error.

Karvelas also seemed to be under the impression that 5G security is something altogether different from previous iterations because it can be used for IoT networks, seemingly unaware that the same kind of security present in earlier iterations is being continued.

Another fact that Karvelas appeared to be ignorant of was the fact that only the US and Australia have imposed outright bans on Huawei. Poland and Japan have hinted at bans, but said nothing publicly yet.

And then there was the old turkey of private Chinese companies being subject to Chinese law – with Karvelas apparently forgetting that all Australian companies, private or public, are ultimately subject to the nation's laws. That, incidentally, is the same for every nation on the face of the earth. That Huawei Australia is a private company, subject to Australian law, was lost on Karvelas.

If all this wasn't enough, one of the headlines on-screen during the interview claimed "Xenophon to help overturn Huawei's ban from 5G network" when all that he has been hired for is to counter the spread of false information about the company – of which there has been a deluge.

If as the ABC says, it is the most trusted media organisation in the country, why does it not take some time to educate its staff before they go on air?

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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