The ABC has been particularly aggressive in the latest spat with Sky News, and the pay television channel is crying foul. It is all about the ABC’s claim that Sky News refused to provide a clean feed of the political leaders’ event at the Rooty Hill RSL on Wednesday night.
On Tuesday ABC director of news Kate Torney accused Sky News of being lax with its democratic responsibilities by keeping the event to itself, rather than providing a clean feed.
But in fact, claims Sky News CEO Angelos Frangopoulos, he provided the ABC with a clean feed at 6pm, on the sole condition that it not be broadcast until 7pm. Sky News wanted to air it first and live, but he was, he says “shocked” that the ABC chose not to run it at all.
Frangopoulos rang me after Crikey published this story yesterday, saying that the ABC was being economical with the truth. (I had tried to contact Frangopoulos earlier in the day, but he did not collect my message in time for deadline).
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Both sides in this debate seem to be caught up in semantics and internal contradictions, but there is no escaping the fact that we would not be talking about it at all if the ABC had not issued a media release accusing Sky News of falling down on its responsibilities.
It all comes down to the difference between a program and an event. Sky News claimed that the Rooty Hill show was a program, not a public event (and therefore should not necessarily be provided free to other channels). The ABC claimed it was an important public event, not a program, and therefore should be available to all.
Yet Sky News is now full of umbrage that the ABC treated it like a program, and aired only news highlights, rather than running it in full.
And having missed out on screening it live, the ABC now doesn’t seem to think it was so important after all — or at least not enough to broadcast after the event. This means that free-to-air viewers missed out.
Torney told me this morning she had no regrets about putting out the media release in question and claimed to be “bemused” by Frangopoulos’ criticism of Auntie for not screening it.
“There is not much logic in their argument,” she said. But aren’t there also holes in the ABC’s logic? Not at all, she says. The ABC screened “substantial chunks” in news coverage and reported the key elements, as well as providing comment and analysis on its news and current events programs.
Frangopoulos claims that he offered the ABC a deal whereby both stations could broadcast Rooty Hill live, in return for the ABC allowing Sky News to broadcast next Monday’s Q&A, with Tony Abbott, live as well. No deal, said Auntie.
And he also said that he had told the ABC if the event turned in to a debate, with Gillard and Abbott actually encountering each other, then Sky News would inform the ABC and would be happy for the national broadcaster to run it live as well.
But there ain’t no friendly play in this sandpit, it seems.