The ABA follows the lead of the Press Council over Save Albert Park
complaint on accurate reporting of Grand Prix attendance figures.
To use the language of current US political discourse, it seems that
reporting on Major Events is now either faith-based or reality-based.
We’re sure Crikey appreciates the difference. But do media minders?

A complaint by a Save Albert Park member to the
Australian Broadcasting Authority has had a rejection curiously similar
to the one delivered by the Australian Press Council about items in The Age (see this report for Crikey in August, Judging the Press Council).

The complaint was made about an ABC TV News report of attendance
figures at the 2004 Formula 1 Grand Prix in Albert Park. (Not trivial:
official credibility and millions of dollars of public money are
involved.) It said the figures were inaccurate, and the item implied
they were produced by Save Albert Park. The State Editor of ABC News,
Marco Bass, rejected the complaint, stating there was no prima facie
reason to question the Grand Prix Corporation figures. He added
irrelevantly that the event had long enjoyed bi-partisan political
support.

The complaint was then sent to the ABA. Its investigation report,
No.1140 of 11 October, quotes the ABC¹s own submission, which said that
SAP was a minority, partisan, protest group and therefore not a
reliable source. The ABC had no reason to doubt the official estimates.
Good one: we have now shifted from real figures to estimates. But Marco
Bass knows that the Grand Prix has tickets and gates for patrons, who
are easily counted – not just estimated. And he knows the Corporation
does not call its figures estimates, but unlike SAP refuses to reveal
its methodology.

The ABA accepts the Bass faith-based approach and delivers this bizarre lecture:

The GP attendance figures are estimates, not a fact. Estimates cannot
be verified by an objective test and are likely to be subject to debate
when there are politically motivated considerations at stake. The
journalist stated that there is always debate about the crowd figures
on GP weekend. . . This serves to qualify [sic] that the crowd
attendance figures reported in the segment do not represent a verified
fact.

OK, so it’s really a word game. The ABA says the official figures are
not factual. But the ABC says there’s no reason to doubt them. In
reality, the actual attendance figures can be verified – unless someone
wants to hide the facts. But no: the ABA decided that it is reasonable
for the ABC to rely on the official estimates and so the ABC did not
breach clause 4.1 of its Code of Practice – the one about factual
accuracy.

Sadly, the odds are that a similar complaint to the ABA about Ross
Stapleton’s report on the Gold Coast Indy Carnival (Crikey, 2004/10/26)
would get the same treatment. He said that it drew a record total of
309,000 over the four days to consolidate its reputation – and
presumably justify the millions of public subsidy. Was this a
verifiable count or an estimate? Faith-based or reality-based?
Politically motivated? A videotape by an experienced assessor suggests
no more than 50,000 attended the last, most popular, race day.

But let’s not carp: The Age 150 years’ anniversary supplement
listing 150 things that have made Melbourne Memorable included Save
Albert Park, but not the Albert Park Grand Prix.