The Age‘s editor-at-large Mark Baker says ABC broadcaster Jon Faine doesn’t owe him an apology for a feisty interview that the ABC’s complaints department has found to be biased and overly argumentative.

The ABC 774 Mornings host is ropeable the ABC has reprimanded him for back-to-back interviews conducted with Baker and ex-2UE host Michael Smith last year about the Australian Workers Union slush fund affair. The ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs agency issued an apology on Wednesday and described the interviews (which can be heard here) as a “lapse in standards”.

Faine, who addressed the issue on air this morning, told Crikey: “I’m not happy with the result and I’m asking for it to be taken further.”

Baker, who has led his paper’s coverage of the AWU story, told Crikey: “I don’t have a quarrel with his interview.

“I think it’s a storm in a teacup. He was pretty aggressive in the interview with me but I wasn’t fazed by that. It was no big deal.”

Baker added: “I thought he was a bit silly with the way he handled the interview with Michael. He gave the impression he had a closed mind on the subject which surprised me because he’s usually a tough and even-handed interviewer. I don’t believe I need an apology.”

In the interviews, conducted at the height of the AWU slush fund story last November, Faine made clear he believes the 17-year old saga is a non-story. The ex-lawyer’s interview with Smith, who lost his job with 2UE for attempting to pursue the story, was particularly prickly. At one point he told Smith: “You’d better give it your best shot; we’re not going to spend hours on this … This either has to go away or it’s got to stack up and so far it’s a house of cards.”

The ABC Code of Practice instructs: “Gather and present news and information with due impartiality.”

Smith believes Faine overstepped the line and should apologise on air: “He oversimplified the issue by restating his opinion the PM did nothing wrong. He was hectoring. He didn’t have me on to hear what I had to say; he had me on to act as a lightening rod to his own commentary. In certain mediums that’s all grist to the mill but the ABC is taxpayer funded.”

Former ABC Sydney Mornings host Deborah Cameron says Faine’s listeners are familiar with his adversarial approach to interviews.

“You can’t have robots on the radio; no one would listen,” Cameron, who was regularly accused of left-wing bias by conservative commentators, told Crikey. “The audience understands the way to spice things up is often to ask a provocative question. Jon’s duty is to have a show that’s lively and interesting. I’m sure his listeners were riveted by the conversation.”

Cameron did not hear the original interview, but said: “Jon’s the most experienced ABC mornings presenter going around. People who listen to him regularly know his style.”

7.30 political editor Chris Uhlmann has described the ABC’s finding as “absurd” and called on Aunty management to defend Faine. Uhlmann posted on Twitter yesterday : “Jon challenged two journalists to defend claims that the Prime Minister acted improperly in her former career as a lawyer.  Jon believes that, based on the publicly available evidence, the Prime Minister did no wrong. To date, the facts support that view.”

The ABC issued an apology to opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison last year after economics reporter Stephen Long accused him of pandering to racist attitudes towards asylum seekers.

Peter Fray

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