Independant review shows Tony Abbott gets it wrong, again!
The Shrinkinglobe Wednesday 12th March 2014 16:15
Calling the ABC ‘unaustralian and not batting for the home team’ Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, once again is proved inept with his off the cuff public commenting.
Two independent audits of ABC news and current affairs stories and political interviews have found the public broadcaster overwhelmingly meets its professional standards and is fair and impartial.
More than 95% of the content examined attracted no criticism or concerns from the two non-ABC reviewers: author and journalist Gerald Stone and former BBC journalist Andrea Wills.
However, out of 97 stories about asylum seekers there were some issues identified by Stone as “raising concerns about the standard of coverage and requiring further investigation”, one on 7:30 and four on Lateline.
Stone said a story on Lateline “appeared to have only one apparent purpose: evoking sympathy for crew members of people-smuggling vessels”.
“It portrayed them – without any semblance of proof — as frequently misled as to their real mission and too naïve to understand why they are offered more money for one voyage than the average Indonesian fisherman makes in a year. The program agrees that more scrutiny should have been applied to the lawyer’s claims that her client was innocent of any purposeful misconduct.”
But Wills gave a sample of ABC interviews with Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott during the 2013 federal election campaign a clean bill of health.
“In my professional judgment the ABC did achieve due impartiality across this sample of items,” she said.
“It did so by ensuring due weight was given to hearing the views and examining and challenging the policies of both the then prime minister and leader of the opposition; by generally asking well-informed and relevant questions that its audiences would reasonably expect to hear and by normally being robust and consistent in its dealings with the prime minister and leader of the opposition.”
The audits were announced by the chairman of the ABC Jim Spigelman at the National Press Club in December in response to accusations from the Coalition and News Corp that the ABC was biased.
“Since my appointment I have naturally been concerned with the frequency of allegations of a lack of impartiality,” Spigelman said last year. “I do not accept that it is systematic but I do accept that it sometimes occurs.”
The announcement was widely interpreted as a pre-emptive move by the ABC board to be seen to be addressing concerns raised by the new Coalition government and to ward off any reasons to cut the ABC’s funding.
But, like all the regular reviews of ABC content, the audit of radio interviews with Rudd and Abbott and the stories broadcast by Lateline and 7:30 last year found very little evidence of bias.
Spigelman said on Wednesday: “Consistent with other processes, these reviews have once again demonstrated that against the background of thousands of stories produced over the period reviewed, the error rate is small.
“The first review, by Andrea Wills, found no breaches of editorial policy but made a range of suggestions about ways to improve our content.”
Wills looked at 23 interviews with then leader of the opposition Abbott and prime minister Rudd between Sunday, 4 August 2013 to Saturday, 7 September 2013 on AM, Radio National Breakfast, Hack triplej, and local radio metro stations in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney.
The interviews dealt with contentious subjects, including nationwide internet access, carbon tax and other policy responses to climate change, education reforms, same sex marriage and economic forecasts.
Wills said: “I did not identify any examples where I felt the language of the ABC interviewers could be described as emotive, hyperbolic, inflammatory or derogatory in the 23 items analysed.
“I considered that both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition were treated with appropriate civility and respect by the ABC’s interviewers and ‘listener interviewers’ in the sample analysed for this editorial audit.
“I found that the ABC interviewers normally asked well-informed and relevant questions. I did, though, note the odd occasion when the interviewees were asked to predict or speculate about future events or respond to unattributed allegations.”
Spigelman said the Stone review identified four items out of almost 100 separate pieces of content that raised concerns.
“Well over 95% of the content examined attracted no criticism or concerns,” Spigelman said.
“However, the criticisms that were made are welcome and have received proper consideration by content divisions and the relevant journalists and program teams.”
The reviews were detailed in their analysis, examining everything from the technical issues which may have occurred on a shoot, to background research to the questions that were not asked by the interviewer.
In one case examined by Wills, the words the 702 Sydney Breakfast program used to address the political leaders became a point of contention.
An interview with Rudd concluded: “Mr Rudd, best of luck in the rest of the campaign”: while an interview with the opposition leader concluded: “have a great day and travel safely”.
In response to the report, the ABC said: “In normal circumstances [they would] be seen as fairly equivalent good wishes for both leaders, but we accept that in the middle of an election campaign there should have been a more careful and neutral choice of words.”
The ABC’s director of news, Kate Torney, said ABC News would attach an editor’s note to the online transcripts of the four stories Stone raised concerns about.
The editor’s note will read: “This story was one of a number of asylum seeker stories critiqued in detail in a recent editorial review.
“We believe all the stories reviewed by Stone were matters of public debate and were in the public interest. Stone’s comments throughout strongly tend to endorse this view, while indicating some clear areas for improvement.”
The ABC is already planning its next review, which will examine the range of subject matters covered by some daily radio programs, to assess how well they reflect the issues and subjects that matter most to our audiences.
Spigelman also announced a review of the ABC’s guidelines on impartiality in response to the audits.
theguardian.com, Wednesday 12 March 2014 12.41 AEST