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TV & Radio

Dec 11, 2013

Editorial audit: ABC calls in outsiders for news bias probe

ABC chairman James Spigelman says external auditors will vet Aunty for editorial bias, while journalists will be instructed how to report on issues that matter more widely to the general public. But will that satisfy vocal ABC critic Andrew Bolt?

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The ABC has moved to tackle concerns of bias in its news and current affairs programs by calling in external auditors to review coverage of contentious topics such as asylum seekers. The broadcaster will also commission detailed polling to ensure it is covering the stories, such as electricity price rises, that ordinary Australians are interested in.

In his most significant speech since being appointed ABC chairman last year, James Spigelman told the National Press Club today:

“Since my appointment I have naturally been concerned with the frequency of allegations of a lack of impartiality. I do not accept that it is systematic, but I do accept that it sometimes occurs … We are not always as good as our most ardent supporters suggest, nor as bad as our most vocal critics assert.”

As a response to the allegations, Spigelman announced the ABC board has adopted a new initiative:

“The ABC will produce and publish a series of editorial audits on particular program topics, by persons of relevant experience who are not employed by the ABC.”

The first audit — already underway — will probe the impartiality of all interviews on ABC Radio of Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd during the recent election campaign. That audit is being prepared by former BBC journalist Andrea Wills. The second audit will focus on the ABC’s treatment of the asylum seeker debate. Spigelman did not speculate on further areas for review in his speech, but the ABC’s coverage of climate change is a possibility. So is the partnership between the ABC and The Guardian on a recent story about Australian spying in Indonesia.

It will be fascinating to see whether ABC critics, including commentator Andrew Bolt and Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi, welcome the initiative or seize upon its existence as evidence of bias.

In Spigelman’s speech, the former judge also called on journalists to connect with the concerns of the general public rather those of an educated elite:

“The allegations of bias are, I believe, more often a function of the topics chosen for reporting, than of the content. Journalists — all of you, not just those at the ABC — tend to have a social and educational background, perhaps particularly in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, that may make them more interested in, say, gay marriage than, say, electricity prices. As a public broadcaster we must endeavour to engage with those sections of our community who are concerned with the latter.”

To do this the ABC will work with a leading research team to provide systematic briefings to staff on the issues important to Australians. Spigelman also took aim at conservative commentators who are calling for the ABC to be privatised:

“I am bemused when I notice that some of the critics who wish to tear down this long-lived institution call themselves ‘conservative’ … In the case of a ‘privatised’ ABC, the services would be unrecognisable. To use the word ‘privatise’ is an Orwellian corruption of language. A commercial mono-culture in the media will either not deliver the broad range of content that public broadcasters have traditionally delivered, or will not deliver such content to the whole community.”

Matthew Knot —

Matthew Knot

Crikey media editor

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47 thoughts on “Editorial audit: ABC calls in outsiders for news bias probe

  1. Dion Giles

    Tom from Sydney’s line has much in common with that of the libertarians: Big bully government, or nanny state, must not be allowed to limit the freedom of predators to abridge the rights of their prey. Say a very influential predator’s power interests require that the city burn down. Fire-fighters and arsonists would form sides. The predator would buy influence (lobbying, publishing. heavying the networks) to invent a pattern of “facts” favouring arson and reach into every home with a relentless drumbeat of lies. But fire-fighters would insistently broadcast the truth. An infuriating buzzing, using news outlets the fire-fighters don’t even own and control, drat their cheek. The solution: muzzle them. Set up an inquisition, measuring the fire-fighters’ outlet against the criteria set by the predator. Declare that it falls short. Use purchased influence on government to curb it.

    But that’s paranoia. surely. Nobody would want to demonise the vocal fire-fighters and lie the community into burning the city down. No? Think of the role of News Ltd in Britain, America and Australia in lying up a blitzkrieg on Iraq. Think of the demonising of Andrew Wilkie, and the BBC, and the whole French nation, and the “suiciding” of Dr David Kelly, as News Ltd’s torrent of lies flooded relentlessly across the world.

    The state has a responsibility to defend, first and foremost, unfettered community access to the truth. No matter who owns what. End of story

  2. Suzanne Blake


    “The ABC is only deeply biased in the minds of the lunatics that occupy the extreme right wing in Australia. In reality, they are the most trusted news source we have for a reason, for the quality and breadth of coverage that they offer.”

    The ABC does have breadth of coverage – agreed, but is hopelessly filled with lefty wing and some extreme left wing journanlists, editors and script writers. You know that, everyone knows that. The inquiry they are having now is a scam, white wash and broom over, to look like they are investigating.

    Look at how many ABC journalists are ex ALP, ex Union, ex Green and how many LEAVE the ABC to become ALP of GREEN candidates and MP’s. Laughable you dont see that.

    “The public holding a majority opinion is not a reason to do something, ever, we have a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy for a reason, as these people are supposed to do things for the benefit of every member of the public, rather than those privileged enough to be born into the majority.”

    ….next you will be supporting State run media in North Korea or China?

    “Also, this ‘scientists are doing it for the money’ rubbish has to stop, there are order of magnitudes more money in denying climate change than their is in pushing it, even you can do that maths”.

    Incorrect, the bandwagon is with the paid climate change scientists.

    Dont forget, it was Global Warming until that lefty fraud was uncovered. They they quickly adapted to Climate Change.
    Its a fraud, look at how much has been spent and wasted on Green scheme, following lefty Governments using it as an excuse to shift money to their voters!!!.

    “Climate change is real, the ABC is as unbiased as they come, and the current government in power is atrocious. Welcome to reality, enjoy your stay.”

    Live 20 years ago, when Keating was found out and left a $98b deficit and the new Government had to cut back to fund savings, the same will have to happen now, the current Government will be unpopular as it cuts and then Labor will come in again and history will repeat. However, I think now, voters can see the cycle and what is happening.

    Happy New Year

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