ABC Alice Springs report breached guidelines, ombudsman finds

An ABC radio news item on a town hall meeting in Alice Springs breached standards of impartiality and accuracy according to the first report to be handed down by the newly created ABC Ombudsman’s Office.

The radio report, which was first published on the AM program on January 31, claimed a meeting that had been called to discuss issues of violence in the town had been attended by “hundreds” of people, when in fact it had been attended by thousands.

Alice Springs has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Credit:Peter Braig

Given the population of Alice Springs is approximately 32,500, the ombudsman found in its ruling, which was handed to the board on Monday, that the underreported figure “represents a materially different proportion of the population than attendance in the hundreds”.

The radio report also emphasised the racist views of some in attendance at the meeting, and the responses of others to those views, which were characterised as examples of “white supremacy” in action.

The ABC had initially defended that reporting, issuing a statement on February 1 in which a spokesperson said, “one report included interviews with attendees as they left the meeting. Their comments were accurately quoted”.

But just two days later, as the broadcaster came under intense scrutiny from some other media outlets and opposition leader Peter Dutton, it revised its position.

Following a review of the news item, the broadcaster said in a statement on February 3, “we acknowledge that one report on AM was incomplete, and did not adequately cover the full context of the meeting or the range of perspectives expressed at it. ABC News apologises to audiences for providing an incomplete picture of the event in this instance.”

According to the ombudsman’s report, dated February 13, the ABC received 19 complaints about the report.

The ombudsman’s office, which was announced in May last year after an expert review of the broadcaster’s complaints handling system. Fiona Cameron, who started in the position last September, considers complaints about editorial standards and decides on an appropriate response, which may or may not include an investigation. It reports direct to the board of the ABC, with significant findings published online.

The Ombudsman found that the report’s focus on one perspective came at the expense of coverage of the broader views and concerns represented at the meeting.

“The report presented one critical perspective on the event, that it was racist, without identifying the range of other concerns and issues expressed by attendees,” the ombudsman found, adding that it “considers that this had the effect of unduly favouring one perspective over all others”.

The ombudsman noted that subsequent reporting on the meeting during the day on the ABC, including on the PM program, did offer a broader perspective on the meeting, but added “this does not mitigate the AM report unduly favouring one perspective”.

The ombudsman delivered two findings: that the broadcast breached impartiality standard 4.5 by unduly favouring one perspective over another; and that it breached accuracy standard 2.1 by not making reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts were accurately presented in context.

In its report, the ombudsman noted that the original story had been edited to more accurately reflect the events of the meeting, and that in its online version it carried an editor’s note “alerting the audience to other more comprehensive coverage of the event”.

The ombudsman also noted that “ABC News management takes responsibility for the AM story going to air in that form and stands by the reporter, who provided important perspectives on complicated issues”.

It recommended that “the editor’s note and correction to the AM report be updated to reflect the ombudsman’s accuracy and impartiality breach findings”.

Find more of the author’s work here. Email him at [email protected], or follow him on Facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on Twitter @karlkwin.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article