It hasn’t been a good week for TV current affairs, as two shows have fallen foul of the industry’s toothless regulator.

First it was channel seven in trouble, as reported in our second 7 February subscriber email:

Today Tonight glosses over the facts

Imagine buying a dream home only to discover you have been tricked and the house you thought was perfect was in fact under a demolition order. That’s what happened to one devastated family….

So said Today Tonight’s Naomi Robson at the beginning of a segment in April 2004.

The devastated real estate agent who was the subject of the “Homeshock” story, however, complained to Today Tonight about his representation and then to the ABA when he didn’t get any satisfaction from the network.

The complainant claimed that:

  • the segment implied that the misrepresentation was deliberate on the part of the principal of Ray White’s real estate franchise in Altona, Mr D, despite a finding made by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that the misrepresentation was unintentional;
  • the segment erroneously suggested that Mr D had direct conduct of the sale of the property and had personally made the misrepresentation to the purchasers;
  • the segment portrayed the couple who purchased the property as being unaware of the demolition order, despite the fact that the contract for sale included relevant Council letters relating to outstanding works; and
  • the reporter suggested that Mr D had only paid the outstanding compensation monies after Tonight Tonight’s involvement in the matter.

Last Friday the ABA found that Today Tonight did indeed fail to present factual material accurately and that Channel Seven breached the commercial television code of practice.

And what action was taken by the ABA? The ABA’s media release on the decision says:

Once the ABA has issued its final investigation report regarding this matter, it will provide a copy of the decision to key personnel involved in news and current affairs, along with an explanation of the decision and directions to ensure that future programs are consistent with the ABA’s findings in this matter.

In light of the licensee’s undertakings, the ABA does not propose to take any enforcement action in relation to the breach on this occasion.

Read the ABA Investigation Report into the Today Tonight “Homeshock” episode here.

Then it was the ABC’s turn – from Crikey’s second 9 February subscriber email:

ABA finds 4 Corners guilty over Tassie trees

Ticky Fullerton’s controversial Four Corners report on the forest industry in Tasmania, “Lords of the Forest”, was found guilty of failing to present factual content accurately according to an investigation by the ABA.

Among the issues raised in Fullerton’s report, which aired last February on the ABC, were allegations that:

  • 80% of trees harvested in Tasmania end up as woodchips;
  • the Tasmanian forestry industry is wood-chipping at a rate never seen before;
  • wood-chipping, as the dominant use of logging in Tasmania, was unduly influencing forest policy;
  • forestry policy may be having a detrimental effect on water supply; and
  • the culture of the Tasmanian forest industry and regulatory bodies is one of intimidation and lacks transparency.

The ABA’s complainant considered that the program exhibited “blatant bias” throughout, however, stated that he wished to confine his complaint to the subject of the location and size of reserves that are “off-limits to loggers”.

In his submission the complainant said:

Early in the presentation the reporter standing in a particular coupe of less than 150 ha, described it as a “vast area”. Shortly afterwards a map was displayed in the program accompanied by audio statements that “outside the reserve Tasmania was open for business” (Wood chipping) and “since then clear felling of native forest has geared up across the island East-West and South”.

National Parks and State Reserves not shown on the map displayed by the ABC total some 1.14 million ha. In addition there are large areas of formal Forest Reserves situated in State Forests which are not open for logging.

The ABC in their letter to me state that “The map was over simplified during production to the point that it was misleading to viewers”. Their explanation is certainly a quaint way of avoiding an admission that the map displayed in the program showed only one reserve in the southwest and that it is not the only area closed to logging.

The ABC’s response to the ABA said:

While acknowledging that the map itself was inaccurate, the ABC does not agree that the accompanying narration was incorrect. The narration referred to the fact that under the Regional Forestry Agreement, the Tasmanian Government had created a reserve. Outside that reserve, logging was allowed.

Four Corners has published corrections to the Lords of the Forest report on its website and the ABC has also acknowledged the errors in the program in its most recent Public Report on Audience Comments and Complaints.

What action was taken by the ABA when they found the ABC guilty? The ABA’s media release on the decision says:

In light of the ABC’s actions in correcting the inaccuracy, the ABA does not propose to take any enforcement action in relation to the breach on this occasion.

A report of the ABA investigation is available on the ABA’s website, and includes pictures of the contentious map of Tasmania forest reserves.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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