ABC chairman Maurice Newman is to lead a very quick examination of the ABC’s “self regulation framework”, including the setting of editorial standards. It’s been done quietly, with low key ads and a document hidden away on its website. News of the review is a surprise, it wasn’t mentioned in the 2008 ABC annual report released in late October.

The review was revealed in small ads in national papers on Saturday, and an issues paper posted (buried more like it) on the ABC’s website on Friday. In Sydney, the ad was hidden in public notices in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday on Page 51, which was hardly designed to get a flood of interest in the review. Submissions close by December 23 and a report is due to be made by late February.

More intriguing was the wording of the explanation: the broadcaster isn’t using external consultants, its “…the Chairman, assisted by the Director Editorial Policies” (Paul Chadwick), who “review the current framework for the self-regulation of the ABC‘s content and report by 27 February 2009 on any necessary or desirable changes.”

The review will examine the processes through which the ABC:

  1. Sets standards for itself in its Editorial Policies and the Code of Practice derived from them;
  2. Trains staff and relevant independent service providers about the standards and the interpretation and enforcement of the standards;
  3. Deals with audience responses (other than complaints) that have a bearing on the standards;
  4. Handles complaints alleging breach of standards (including the handling of appeals);
  5. Provides just and practical remedies/penalties for breach;
  6. Records, circulates and publishes data about audience responses and complaints;
  7. Feeds the results of audience responses and complaints back into standards-setting, training and day-to-day content-making with the aim of continuous improvement.

A series of questions for each of the above topics is included in the issues document.

These include: What should the Code of Practice contain, compared with what is contained in the Editorial Policies? Do you think the Code should apply to broadcasting content only, or to all of the ABC‘s content (including magazines and online content)?

What are the relevant differences between training ABC staff and training independent service providers? How can corporate-wide consistency be ensured, where that is necessary or desirable? How can diversity be preserved, where that is necessary or desirable?

How should complaints be sorted so that the more serious get proportionate attention in investigation, appeal, remedy/penalty, and statistical reportingHow should the ABC distinguish editorial complaints from all others types of complaint? What are the essential powers and duties of complaints handlers, including independence within a self-regulatory framework?

What types of remedies should be available for complainants where a complaint is upheld? In what kinds of cases is it sufficient to provide an apology for or acknowledgement of the breach and take some corrective actions (such as publish a correction or clarification, or provide an opportunity to reply)? What types of penalties should be imposed on staff or independent service providers for breach, and in what circumstances? Should the data be made more accessible, to whom, how, why, and at what cost?

How can audience feedback, complaints statistics, and decided complaints best be used as a means of continuous improvement in setting standards (when, e.g., Editorial Policies are reviewed), training (of content makers, managers and others), and day-to-day content making?

These are only some of the questions.

This seems to have been the only mention of this process in the report:

“Work continued throughout the year on strengthening consistency with and clarity of understanding of the ABC’s Editorial Policies, including a series of educational seminars for ABC journalists on core issues affecting media and the practice of journalism. As well, quality assurance projects on corrective actions and accuracy have been undertaken and further reviews on impartiality of ABC content are in progress. The purpose of these quality assurance reviews is to provide additional, important information so that the Board might comprehensively assess the standards and integrity of ABC news and information content. Arising from the Sources and Conflicts review of editorial policies relating to sources and journalists’ reporting of events in which they are participants, both the ABC Editorial Policies and ABC Code of Practice were amended. Similarly, the Board has maintained an active oversight role across ABC operations and accountabilities, to ensure the ABC performs efficiently and with maximum benefit to the people of Australia as required under Section 8 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983.” You would have thought that any review would have been flagged in this section of the report. Presumably the question of access for outsiders through Freedom of Information requests will be included in the review. — Glenn Dyer

Battle of the block busters. Guess we’ll have to wait until box office receipts are in but in the meantime our Australia has easily managed to see off the challenge of the Brits’ top spy, media coverage wise. Items specifically about the films Australia and Quantum of Solace, November 17 -November 24th:

Melbourne commander in chief Fairfax speaks. From the newspaper that brought you Earth Hour, a new environmental order:

Times cuts dividend in a move to save cash. The New York Times Company sharply reduced its dividend on Thursday, just a year and a half after a major increase, as the company seeks to conserve cash after reporting a steep decline in earnings last month. Directors cut the quarterly dividend to 6 cents from 23 cents, a move that would save the company $97.8 million over a full year. The cut reverses a years-long pattern of regular increases, even as the share price fell. In the spring of 2007, the board raised the dividend to 23 cents, from 17.5 cents, a move that many analysts said was unwise in light of the sharp downturn in the newspaper industry. — New York Times

Is Six Apart’s “typePad journalist bailout program” a gimmick? One advertising and blogging company is seeing opportunity in the storm of bad news, devising a method to “bail out” some newly sacked journalists and use their skills for profit. Anil Dash, vice president of Six Apart, owner of blogging platforms Moveable Type and TypePad, has watched this ticker-tape of layoff announcements with growing concern. A few weeks ago, Dash and others within Six Apart began talking about what they could do to help fellow journalists fallen on hard times. On a lark, Dash posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek item called, “The TypePad Journalist Bailout Program” on the TypePad site. — MediaShift

Holiday parties scale back To respect poverty of others. We feel desperately sympathetic towards still-employed members of the media who will have no holiday party to celebrate not being fired at this Christmas. Newsweek moved their party to April, and Hearst, Conde Nast, Viacom and ABC News have cancelled their celebrations altogether. But for those richheads who haven’t been touched by the grim finger of the recession, it’s important to cut back a bit on private parties, writes the Wall Street Journal. This way, the little people know you’re feeling the pinch, too. — Gawker

Post election news slump hitting pPolitico, TheAtlantic.com thriving. There’s been plenty of talk the last few weeks about a post-election viewer slump both online and on television. Over at 538.com Nate Silver has taken his pollster powers and applied them to politically-oriented websites to see how these sites are faring now that the election has concluded. The results are interesting. Turns out that TheAtlantic.com, which recently redesigned both its magazine and website, has experienced an upswing in traffic (retaining 125% of its pre-election traffic), so has Drudge and to a lesser extent The Huffington Post. Meanwhile the NYT.com is more or less breaking even while sites such as Slate and Politico have dropped and are only retaining 50-60% of their traffic. — Fishbowl NY

Peter Fray

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