It has long been argued by conservatives that the ABC is a gang of lefties out to get them and ruin the glorious revolution that was being wrought by the Howard Government in all things political, economic and especially cultural.

One of the battlegrounds has been Senate Estimates where the likes of the Liberal Party’s Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, her mentor Senator Santo Santoro, and their cohorts put ABC executives through the hoops on a wide range of issues from stylebook, to the use of the phrase “our troops” to more mundane matters of harassment and staff morale.

But this week it was quite different: Santo Santoro is in Brisbane still in the doghouse over a few share trades he forgot and Senator Fierravanti-Wells was conspicuous by her absence as she preferred other committees. So it was left to the likes of Senator Kemp from Victoria to battle with his old adversary, the new Minister in the communications area, Senator Stephen Conroy.

So ABC Managing Director, Mark Scott was left like a shag on a rock for minutes at a time while Senators Kemp and others from the now opposition attempted to bait Senator Conroy, just like Senator Conroy and others from the now Government had baited his predecessor, Senator Helen Coonan when in opposition.

Mr Scott and the ABC had their easiest appearance at Senate Estimates for years, with only the questions of a new committee to appoint board members and executive pay restraint providing any spark. But one Senator remembered where they were and managed to elicit an interesting update on the ABC’s coverage of the 24 November election campaign.

Since 1998, the ABC has “monitored’ the amount of time or share each political party has during campaigns. It was something introduced to meet the strong suggestion from the conservatives that they were not getting a fair go. So the ABC again monitored the share and Mr Scott had the rough results at his fingertips, in case he was quizzed. Mark Scott:

We will shortly be reporting on our election coverage. Paul Chadwick is the head of our election committee and is completing a report that will be available shortly. We did engage an external company to monitor and report on share of voice on ABC radio and television and online sites. It is important in looking at the headline data on it to realise that this is a measure but it is not the only measure when it comes to our election broadcasting. As we look to our performance for fairness, balance and impartiality there is a range of things that we are looking towards. The share of voice metric does not capture the content of what was said, the tone or context of what was said, the effectiveness of speaker concerned and it also does not capture times when someone was unavailable, even though we attempted to contact them.

Finally, the data collected across all platforms showed that the coalition had the greatest share of voice, with 45.4 per cent; Labor’s share was 38 per cent; the Greens recorded 7.1 per cent; the independents, 4.4; the Democrats, 2.8; and Families First, 1.3. Our program producers during the campaign took detailed notes in the construction of their programs, and they indicate that the difference in share of voice between the coalition and Labor was largely due to the greater availability of coalition members when they were requested to come on programs. Implicit in that is the unavailability of some Labor candidates to come on programs. This is to do with the state of the campaign, campaigning techniques and the like. Staff were requested to keep notes of their efforts to offer election campaign participants opportunities for coverage.

Peter Fray

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