Broadcasting and the enemy within: ASIO's political surveillance of the ABC
In May 1965 the Director General of Security, Sir Charles Spry ,and the newly appointed General Manager of the ABC, Talbot Duckmanton, sat down to dinner in Sydney. At the dinner, which had been arranged two months earlier, the two men discussed matters of security affecting the ABC including ASIO's regular liaison with the ABC at state leve
All this and more we know, thanks to newly released archival files of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).
Earlier, in March, Duckmanton had met both Spry's deputy chief and the head of the Counter-Subversion branch of ASIO. The two senior ASIO officers expressed concern about the forthcoming National Television Congress, an early initiative promoting Australian content and highbrow television whose supporters included left wing figures, some in the ABC. The officers also brought with them a list of 'certain personnel' in the ABC with potted biographies and information about their left wing connections. The listed people ranged from a secretary, a set finisher to journalists, TV producers and editors who were past or present members of the Communist Party of Australia or 'sympathisers' with that party. Also discussed was Radio Australia, the Indonesian crisis and the Department of External Affairs. The meeting ended with Duckmanton confirming that ABC assistant general manger, Arthur Finlay, would remain as ASIO's 'liaison contact' but that Duckmanton 'would appreciate being kept informed personally on major matters, e.g. the list of personnel in the organization'.
A second meeting in April 1965 between Duckmanton and ASIO officers again discussed this list of ABC personnel, which included film editor, Rod Adamson, play editor, Leslie Rees, Talks supervisor, Allan Ashbolt and TV presenter, Bob Sanders, producer Bob Allnutt, senior broadcaster John Thompson and journalists Kevon Kemp and Gary Scully. The meeting ended with the arrangement being made for the dinner between Spry and Duckmanton in May.
Just a few months later, Sir Charles Spry wrote to Attorney General, Billy Snedden. Spry sent Snedden lists of names of news commentators who had spoken on ABC radio and TV about whom ASIO held 'adverse information' of 'a substantial nature'. They included academics Ted Wheelwright, Dr Peter Russo and Professor Oscar Spate, the eccentric churchman, Francis James, and a Melbourne businessman, Paul Morawetz.
Unlike the ABC, ASIO's impact on the cultural and intellectual life of Australia has been scantily and imperfectly recorded. Perhaps this is not only because ASIO's role was secret but also because it was just one of the raft of prevailing influences of conservative Australia, expressed variously through government ministers, Establishment artists and academics. Certainly, ASIO was no rogue elephant but a body whose actions were approved of by the Prime Minister in strict accordance to the conventions of the Westminster system. But ASIO's activities had some special characteristics. It was a body of some 500 full time staff armed with a vast filing system and substantial powers of inquiry whose total energy was devoted to identifying left wing influence in Australia and planning operations against it. ASIO was the powerful, sharp sword of Cold War Australia aimed at skewering the communist-influenced Left whose activities (apart from the more traditional trade unionism) ranged broadly across the visual arts, theatre, filmmaking, journalism, academia, radio and television. In this respect, there are similarities with operations of the American FBI in relation the mass media. Like the FBI, ASIO was broadly concerned with 'communist propaganda' in public debate, including in the media.
In this article I will examine the ASIO's role in relation to the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) where many of the cultural and intellectual strands in Australian life intersected. Particularly after the coming of television to all capital cities (1956-60) the ABC was subject to close surveillance by ASIO, fearful that radical ideas might be broadcast by this new medium which they regarded as extraordinarily powerful. In part this article describes the bureaucratic mechanisms which operated to ensure conservatism within public broadcasting; in part it is an example of the hegemonic struggle to maintain an official culture of anti-communism in all public institutions during the Cold War. The latter included the targeting of nascent 'anti-British' nationalism ranging from plays and programs on bushrangers and convicts to a more independent foreign policy stance.
My analysis relies on a series of files recently released under the the Archives Act. These internal files, never intended to be released, are a window into the bureaucratic and often humdrum business of internal security procedures of the Commonwealth of Australia during the Cold War. The classification by ASIO of its files into two broad categories (Personal and Subject) has meant that in order to understand political surveillance of the ABC it is necessary to reconstruct a narrative using a large number of files in combination with broader histories of the ABC, such as Ken Inglis' This is the ABC and with contemporary press coverage. As with all studies which rely on secret files it is important to guard against what might be called a 'a file-centred' point of view which exaggerates the power of covert actions and covert agencies. The literature discussed below gives some indication of overt government pressure on the ABC although this was largely unnecessary until the mid-1960s because of a conservative hegemony within ABC management and its government-appointed board.
Given this institutional conservatism of the ABC it is difficult to unpick the influence of ASIO from a tangled strand of influences. One clear point of ASIO intervention, however, was through its power to withold the all-important security clearance to existing or potential ABC employees. This process, colloquially known as vetting, (or more bluntly, blacklisting) applied to all white collar Commonwealth employees. As we shall see, ASIO influence grew from this basis so that from the late 1950s ASIO began to systematically monitor ABC radio and TV broadcasts. When 'matters of security interest' appeared they discussed their concerns with senior ABC personnel such as Assistant General Manager Arthur Finlay and Director of Talks, Alan Carmichael At the state level local ASIO officers took up vetting and security concerns with state ABC managers. The effect of such a security presence making itself felt can only have been to reinforce a politically conservative agenda and to have a chilling effect on cultural and political innovation. ASIO helped shape a cautious and conservative ABC which was ill-equipped to face the upheavals as the political and cultural revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Origins and background
In May 1951 the Director General of Security Spry informed his staff that arrangements had been made 'with the Headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for co-operation with ASIO in matters of security affecting the Commission'. The month before he had written to the ABC's general manager, Charles Moses, outlining a system of security clearances for checking three types of staff: new appointments to key positions, 'personnel who could be a risk from a sabotage or propaganda aspect' and 'any employee about whom doubt may exist'.
Shortly afterwards, the ABC began to submit to ASIO long lists of prospective employees and ABC workers seeking promotion. This system of security clearances covered not only the entire federal public service, (including bodies like the CSIRO and ABC) but also the entry of migrants and those who wished to become Australian citizens. The vetting of people in 'key points' (a defence term denoting installations ranging from the BHP steelworks to major dams) meant that vetting extended to the state public services and even to private enterprise.
Perhaps because of the enormity of its national vetting tasks, ASIO was surprised when the ABC assistant General Manager, Arthur Finlay, insisted that ASIO widen its vetting to include ABC typists, commissionaires, messengers etc. Finlay told an ASIO officer who interviewed him that 'the Organisation and physical layout of Broadcasting Stations allowed more persons than would be expected to have access to places where sabotage is possible or written material which could be distorted into propaganda was present.'
Initially at least, ASIO resisted such suggestions. Later, with the coming of television, Finlay requested that ASIO again widen its vetting of ABC staff to all new employees. Finlay argued that staff movement was fluid. 'A dispatch assistant can be switched overnight to a broadcasting job. A typist might be required as Secretary to a senior executive.' His concerns were summarised in 1957 by ASIO thus: 'ABC already has a fair proportion of staff with adverse security records found as a result of our vetting (...) They want to check everybody to avoid getting any more staff with adverse records.' In the interests of its own bureaucratic efficiency (its delays were notorious) ASIO resisted wider vetting and continued to focus on journalists, producers, editorial and senior staff. Liaison was carried out through Arthur Finlay, recruited by Moses in 1934 from his position as master at Sydney Grammar School. His main function in this role was to discuss cases of individuals raised by ASIO's checking of the security records of prospective and present ABC employees.
One example of the way in which the vetting system worked can be seen in the case of journalist Jack Child who was a active trade union member of the Australian Journalists Association and who had had contact and possibly membership, of the Communist Party of Australia at some time. In July 1959 the ABC's Superintendent (Administration) passed Jack Child's name to ASIO for vetting along with 26 others. At that time Childs was working as a photographic artist on the Television News Times (later TV Times) and had applied for the position of 'Temporary Creative Artist' within the ABC.
ASIO's investigation resulted in a closely typed five page report. The report noted that Childs' name had been found in papers seized from the raid on the CPA's Marx House in July 1949 which showed him and his father as artists on the Sun newspaper. Another report showed his name on one of the Communist Party's own lists of members of its Journalists Branch and later both Jack and his wife Marie were reported to be members of the CPA's Mosman Branch. Sources at the ABC commented that he 'gives the impression that he is a rat bag' while another person opined that he was 'not a communist and that all artists were 'queer people'.' But most damaging of all, in view of what later happened, was that one informant reported that Child 'has been overheard to make derogatory remarks about Royalty'. During the visit of Princess Alexandra 'he made a few scathing comments on the utility of the visit.'
These reported sentiments then became the basis for denial of a security clearance. The compiler of the report noted that the 'adverse attitude to the Royal Family on the part of the Subject suggest that there has not been a material change in Subject's sentiments.' When a senior figure in ASIO suggested Child be cleared, he was overruled by ASIO's chief, Brigadier Charles Spry who noted:
'I do not hold that a person who does not accept the principle of royalty is necessarily a communist, or disloyal to his country for any other reason, but I do feel that when a person has been known to be a Communist or near-Communist in the past, the fact that he holds such views now indicates that he has Communist sympathies still. That is to say, I cannot conceive of him making a definite break with Communism, but still retaining his Communist strong feelings about the Royal family.
The upshot of Child's application for a promotion and transfer was that in May 1960 the ABC sacked him.
Surveillance of ABC programs
While staff vetting was ASIO's initial concern, from the mid 1950s onward, ASIO began to see a role for itself in surveillance of the content of ABC programs. In 1955 one alert ASIO officer reported on 'A Hero has been Slain' a radio feature presented by the writer-poets, Douglas Stewart and Nancy Keesing. The title was from a ballad on Australian bushranger, Ben Hall. 'The tone of the feature,' the ASIO man recorded, 'was that the bushrangers were noble and brave and the police brutal, callous and cowardly. Anyone holding a contrary opinion was referred to as 'Mr Respectable Opinion'.'
The rich and resonant voice reading those poems was that of actor Leonard Teale, (later of Homicide fame). Teale had been singled out by Finlay in an interview with ASIO in 1955 when, once again, Finlay requested wider vetting, this time of the Children's Session, including the Argonauts. An ASIO officer reported that Finlay worried about persons,
who were clever enough to cloak their subversive political views, to be appointed and gradually exert their influence to change the tenor of the Session. Mr Finlay remarked that he was very glad to see the last of Leonard Thiele [sic] (known as 'Chris' on the session) who has recently resigned, as it was only after he was contracted for the work that he had heard that Thiele was 'quite pink'.
ASIO already had a file on Teale and after Finlay's request, prospective staff for the Argonauts session were subject to security clearance. Such a craven and conservative attitude expressed by the public broadcaster undoubtedly laid the groundwork for closer surveillance of the ABC, especially its drama and current affairs programs.
Another ABC staff member who received early ASIO treatment was Federal Play Editor, Leslie Rees. An ASIO officer in 1957 heard Dymphna Cusack's play 'Pacific Paradise' and concluded 'it could be offensive to the United States of America' because of its anti-atomic bomb message. Spry then authorised the NSW ASIO director to approach a senior officer of the ABC to inform them of ASIO's suspicions that the CPA was using the ABC for propaganda. Spry's memo noted disingenuously that ASIO was 'merely advising the ABC and are not in any sense bringing pressure to bear'. Rees survived and worked at the ABC until he retired.
In January 1958, Spry began to broaden the ambit of security intervention into the ABC. Reports had been received, he told his regional directors, that 'undue opportunities have been given to Communist speakers, authors and producers to propagate their views' through the ABC. Spry asked them to survey the previous twelve months and provide reports on the extent of Communist influence. The 1958 survey turned some ASIO officers into putative censors based on extraordinarily meagre indications of left wing influence. Two weeks after Spry's memo, the NSW region advised that the first of a series of 12 weekly telecasts aimed at schools would deal with bushfires, New Guinea, and the Eureka Stockade.' The NSW ASIO director noted 'These subjects, of course, are topical sources of propaganda by the Communist Party of Australia.' A later and fuller response by NSW observed that a number of Australian writers and actors had appeared including Leonard Teale in the serial 'Commander Brady' and that Dr Stephen Macindoe had given a talk on 'Wheat in NSW'; the compere of Kindergarten of the Air, Joyce Hutchison, who had sympathies with the peace movement, was also noted.
In Canberra ASIO noted that six people known to ASIO had made broadcasts. They included academic Lord Lindsay who arranged a program of Asian music; Professor Geoffrey Sawer, who spoke 22 times in 'Notes on the News' and Professor A. D. Hope who reviewed books three times. The Victorian office of ASIO provided a copy of names the panel used by the ABC to draw speakers for programs such as 'News Commentary', and 'Australia and the World'. It noted lamely that 'persons of 'Left Wing sympathies' usually made themselves available to speak at any time whereas some difficulty was encountered in obtaining the services of the more conservative members of the panel'. The SA branch noted seven people had spoken who were adversely recorded, including Max Harris, who was described as 'Associate of Communist Party members.'
According to a national report drawn up for the Director of ASIO's Counter-Subversion section, the 1958 survey showed that only one known CPA member, writer Stephen Murray-Smith, had spoken on the ABC. Nevertheless, 'persons on record in all states, except Tasmania, have been given opportunities to broadcast by the ABC, in some cases, regularly and repeatedly'. The report, however, concluded that the 1958 survey was 'quite inconclusive'. ASIO officers had to work from months-old printed program notes which often did not mention speakers' names or topics. The only real way to determine the extent of propaganda was to actually listen to the broadcasts and, it noted, when this was done sometimes broadcasts by people on record were actually 'quite innocuous'.
Eighteen months after its first sortie, ASIO broadened its media operations. On 18 June 1959 ASIO's Director General of Security, Brigadier Charles Spry informed his regional directors of a second, wider operation which would assess 'the degree of communist penetration and/or influence' in commercial and ABC television and radio and non-communist newspaper and periodicals. Essentially, this first meant identifying 'individuals who are adversely recorded' who are employed in press radio or TV and secondly, identifying any media outlet 'pursuing a communist line'. Television had not yet come to Tasmania, South Australia, Canberra or West Australia and the survey in these states was largely of press and radio.
The most thorough analysis of leftwing influence on press, radio and TV was done by the Victorian Regional Office of ASIO in late 1959. It noted weekly talks by left wing writer Alan Marshall on ABC TV although 'So far ... no Communist slant has been detected.' One communist sympathiser, Norman Rothfield, had given a talk on China, and other sympathisers were detected working as drama producer (who was, interestingly, said to be 'in no position to influence ABC policy') and another as a set painter. On HSV 7, ASIO noted the presence of Shirley Broadway (McDonald) who was described as 'a TV star' who had come out of the radical New Theatre and whose husband was a CPA member. An artist, Hyman Slade, also worked for HSV 7. On GTV 9 was a journalist, Malcolm Bryning, of whom ASIO had a 'trace' as a member of the Eureka Youth League. In ABC radio ASIO found six journalists (including writer John Hepworth) had security records. Many were casuals and most were 'communist sympathisers' rather than confirmed CPA members. The most dangerous was John Scott Nelson, a permanent ABC officer and acting chief of staff who, in staccato ASIO-speak, was described as 'Highly regarded. Could influence ABC policy.'
The Victorian report also outlined left wing influence in the press which was clearly more pronounced that in radio and TV. The biggest concentration of left wing journalists was on the Herald and Weekly Times group, publishing the Melbourne Herald and the Sun.
The investigation by the Sydney office in response to the 1959 memo also offers an interesting insight into the early days of commercial television. The new television industry was clearly was clearly drawing on the existing theatre and film culture and personnel. The main channel into commercial TV for subversive ideas was believed to be the Left-influenced union, Actors Equity. But Sydney advised ASIO headquarters that they had little to fear:
We are advised that in the Commercial Stations, unless there is co-operation between the sponsor, the script reader and the station management, there is little likelihood of any script writer, actor or announcer being able to influence the programme with any propaganda. The procedure appears to be that 'a show' is usually prepared by a free lance producer or script writer, who then sells the show to a sponsor who, of course, checks the script. The producer then contracts with the Broadcasting or Television Company to put the show on and he arranges for musicians, actors, announcers, as necessary. The script is carefully checked, an if necessary, censored by the script reader, and subsequently by station management.
In NSW ASIO identified five CPA members or sympathisers in the ABC. They were film editor, Rod Adamson, floor manager Rob Allnutt, journalist Christopher O'Sullivan, play editor Leslie Rees and the secretary to the news editor, Norma Saunders.
ASIO was alarmed at the case of film editor Rod Adamson and advised the ABC that he should be sacked. Their inquiries suggested that he could have been trained in espionage after he lived in eastern Europe between 1947-49 and noted that he later had contact with the Soviet embassy in Australia. In this case, the ABC resisted. '[We] were informed that the ABC Executive considered the matter and decided that as Adamson was doing such a good job and would be hard to replace he should be kept on but that the situation should be watched... Adamson is not permanent and could be dismissed at a week's notice 'if there were grounds for such action'.''
The government's sanctioning of ASIO surveillance of the ABC and Spry's 1959 memo gave a licence for security intervention to prevent programs being broadcast. In his memoirs, Pictures on the Margin, Clement Semmler relates a telling incident. Semmler was an admirer and friend of author and CPA member Frank Hardy who had been tried for criminal defamation over his controversial book Power without Glory in 1950. In the 1960s Semmler had commissioned a series of TV scripts on an Australian theme which became Hardy's Yarns of Billy Borker. He was surprised to receive an agitated phone call from General Manager, Sir Charles Moses who asked him about Hardy's CPA affiliations and whether the project could be stopped. Semmler refused unless he received written instructions which never came. Semmler recalled:, 'Some years later I was told by one of Moses' secretaries (though I could not verify it) that the complaint had come because of an approach to Moses from the Australian security service.' At one point in the early 1960s ASIO opened a file on Semmler which contains very little but includes the following short report: 'It is reported that Semmler, described as a strange, highly strung temperamental person, is a close friend of Frank Hardy, a CPA member and author and that Hardy has often called to see Semmler at the ABC.'
Many smaller instances exist where ASIO officers reported any and every programme or news item which they suspected could be communist inspired. In October 1959 an ASIO officer noted 'good propaganda for the communists' in an item on the 7pm TV news bulletin which showed 'the facilities enjoyed by the workers at a Black Sea resort where the home of a former landowner had been made available'. That same month another ASIO officer noted that the ABC radio's News Review included a recording of a Czech orchestra's performance to Sydney waterside workers. Wharfies' comments (''Where they come from, of course, the workers get this sort of thing every lunch hour,') were also broadcast to the chagrin of ASIO's watchdogs. In September 1959, an item on the 7pm news on schools in Hungary which showed the issue of free text books and school satchels and new desks and chairs was 'of value as propaganda for the Communist countries'. On this basis ASIO's Victorian director made inquiries about the origin of such items.
A similar inquiry was made when far-right Liberal MP, Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes, criticised an ABC radio serial whose story line mentioned the Czech capital Prague in a neutral way. Other criticism surrounded a report on the program, 'Window on Asia' which dealt with life on a Chinese rural commune. Following the public controversy, ASIO officer Phillip Bailhache contacted Talks Director, Alan Carmichael and asked for the scripts and discussed Kent-Hughes outburst. Carmichael was able to reassure the ASIO officer that the Prague reference was simply a passing mention in a travel serial. The report on the Chinese commune was simply factual.
Four Corners and the early 1960s
The early 1960s saw several conflicts involving the ABC and the Federal Government. Inglis suggests that this may have arisen because of a realisation by Menzies that television had a greater power to stir people up than radio. Certainly, from the early 1960s onwards, ABC TV became something of a battle ground between the federal government and the younger, more innovative program makers, on the new Four Corners program and, especially after 1967, on such programs as This Day Tonight. In 1960 federal cabinet directly intervened to stop the ABC making a series of documentaries with broadcasters in the US, Canada and the UK. In March 1963 the Postmaster-General instructed the ABC not to broadcast an interview with former French Prime Minister, Georges Bidault.
Given this level of overt interference, ASIO's eagerness to inquire into the ABC whenever a government backbencher complained is not surprising. In April 1963, Senator Hannan attacked the ABC panel show 'Any Questions?' over 'insulting references' to the Queen. ASIO quickly checked the security records of the participants. They included journalist Cyril Pearl ('a particularly biting tongue and has some early trace of communist sympathy') Francis James (member of Australia-China Society, Australia Soviet Friendship Society) Mungo Macallum (member of Committee for Nuclear Disarmament). All this was done 'as the matter may be subject of Ministerial inquiry', said ASIO in anticipation. (Hannan was appointed to the Broadcasting Control Board a few years later.)
In May Minister for Housing Senator Spooner bullied a 'right of reply' out of Four Corners on which he had, the week before, refused to appear. His interviewer was Bob Sanders, who had the previous week run a critical discussion on housing policy to which Spooner had declined to appear. Sanders had earlier attracted ASIO notice through his interview of a Russian visitor, Nelia Naslova, on his program 'People'. Something Naslova said aroused ASIO interest and later an ASIO officer ended up interviewing Sanders by phone. After a few minutes Sanders objected. The incident later became public in TV Week and Spry was forced to write to Menzies explaining the incident. ASIO discovered that Sanders had been a member of the Adelaide University Socialist Club and had joined the ALP. On 'People' he had interviewed left wing supporters of the peace movement although by then his own views had changed. Meanwhile, in an intercepted telephone call, the editor of Tribune, Alec Robertson, was heard to praise Sanders and this was noted on his file. Thenceforward Sanders was placed on a 'Watch' list of ABC employees against whom no connection with the CPA was found but who nevertheless were of interest to security.
But it was Four Corners under Allan Ashbolt that detonated major controversies and galvanised ASIO to examine subversion in the ABC more closely. Ashbolt was already something of a controversial figure when he became editor of Four Corners. His first edition in August 1963 on Hiroshima Day 'could encourage public support for the Communist 'peace' front,' according to one ASIO officer. But it was his program on the culture and politics of Returned Soldiers League (RSL) which caused nation-wide controversy, with Menzies calling for the script of this program and several others for 'review'. At ASIO Spry dictated an urgent memo to an unknown underling:
Would you therefore ascertain most discreetly [original emphasis] who were the people who appeared on the programme, and provide me with details of any who may have adverse traces. This is urgent.
In the weeks that followed ASIO investigated individuals associated with Four Corners. They re-examined known leftwing employees of the ABC who, they speculated, might have formed 'a secret Party branch' in the ABC. The former included the urbane Four Corners presenter, Michael Charlton, who had left the program before Ashbolt arrived. ASIO found that Charlton had never been security checked but it found that he had had contact with the Czech and Polish consuls when he had tried to arrange visits of an ABC team to eastern Europe. It probably also received information from MI 5 on Charlton. About Ashbolt ASIO found that he had 'worked with a large number of persons of security interest in the entertainment field' and had tried to start a theatre with actor Peter Finch and others after the war. Ashbolt was also observed and 'overheard' [phone-tapped] talking to the Soviet diplomat Ivan Skripov but apart from a friendship with Judah Waten there was no a trace on file of any real connection between Ashbolt and the CPA.
After an investigation by Headquarters, Spry ordered his NSW branch to conduct a wider survey. He summarised the Headquarters findings thus: that 'we have nothing reflecting on Charlton; Bob Sanders is of interest through his communist associations of 1949-52 (which are known to the CPA); Ashbolt's connection with [Soviet] diplomatic personnel are of interest;'. A year later, Ashbolt was removed as editor of Four Corners over a different series of issues although there is nothing to suggest ASIO had a direct hand in this.
The newly released archival files of ASIO (which only cover the years to 1966) clearly reveal a significant aspect of the history of ABC which has not so far been known or understood. They need to be read in context of the more broad ranging history such as Ken Inglis' This is the ABC. They show the regular and 'normal' ASIO contact with the highest levels of ABC management. Sir Charles Moses had regular contact with ASIO and did his successor, Talbot Duckmanton. For vetting and administrative matters ASIO frequently dealt with assistant general manager, Arthur Finlay. ASIO's routine requests for scripts of radio and TV programs 'of security interest' were filled by Talks Director, Alan Carmichael, who also answered ASIO's queries about programs. We have already seen ASIO's interest in assistant general manager Clement Semmler. At a lower level. mundane matters were handled through contact between ASIO regional offices and ABC state managers. Overall, at least throughout the 1950s and 60s, a security watchdog was peering over the shoulder of the ABC and regularly querying employees' background and program content.
ASIO's surveillance also had a significant role in the bolstering the ABC's cultural conservatism. Part of ASIO's alertness to communist influence in ABC television, for example, was based on the fact that the CPA-influenced Left had successfully cultivated, from the late 1930s, a radical nationalist perspective on culture (Russel Ward's pathbreaking The Australian Legend was associated with this). By the late 1950s and early 1960s a desire to look for Australian (as opposed to British) traditions began to express itself in the ABC, especially through television. Thus, for example, ASIO began to notice long-time targets like writer Alan Marshall had begun to contribute to ABC TV series like 'Off the Beaten Track'. Many other artists and writers with who shared a 'soft nationalist' position and left wing values also set off alarm bells when they or their work appeared on ABC radio and TV.
To what degree did this secret political surveillance strengthen political and intellectual conservatism in the ABC? Apart from instances like Moses' attempt to quash the Frank Hardy series it is not easy to find direct and unequivocal examples. Yet ASIO's continuous surveillance, its requests for transcripts, its continuous vetting of staff, its letters to Ministers listing subversives who had spoken on the ABC must have had a substantial effect in setting boundaries for acceptable debate and issues.
The problem here is separating the influence of ASIO from other influences which surrounded the ABC and which fashioned it as part of a conservative political and cultural establishment. While ASIO was the eyes and ears of Menzies, the Prime Minister also had personal contact with the ABC's general manager Sir Charles Moses. Various chairmen of the ABC board were selected from among a conservative Establishment after the usual lobbying. Part of the conservative ethos involved other factors such as the ABC's deference to the most conservative aspects of BBC practice. Then there is the self-censorship and internalised caution by ABC managers about controversy which was undoubtedly fuelled by the ASIO presence. Some eager ABC officials saw matters of security as self-evidently important and regarded ASIO with an awe which seems bizarre to our eyes.
Yet in spite of this many sided political surveillance, the ABC opened up in the late 1960s and early 1970s and its conservatism slowly began to crumble. (For example Bill Peach's This Day Tonight gives a lively insight into some key battles, as does Inglis' history.) Part of the reason must lie in the fact that the challenge presented by younger journalists and producers was in no way linked to a formal left wing position. These younger forces, such as Peach, Peter Luck, Mike Willessee, Mike Carlton, Peter Manning and others were unassailable in the terms of the Cold War -- in spite of accusations of communism. The machinery of political surveillance therefore failed in its ultimate purpose. However, for the definitive picture of ASIO surveillance at the ABC on the all-important period from 1968-1975 we will have to wait while the 30 year delay prescribed by the Archives Act unrolls.