The ABC’s Fact Check unit is in the line of fire after a reduction in the tied funding grant used, among other things, to set it up. While the team will keep operating through the election, it’s not clear what will happen afterwards.
On social media, a campaign has started to save the unit. ABC reporter John Barron, who anchors Fact Check’s TV clips, tweeted: “Fact Checking is difficult, nuanced and more expensive than simple opinion.It upsets all sides, so we count on public support.” Cuts to newsrooms, and an increasingly partisan media, mean there’s a need for fact-checking, he added. In comments to Pontyer, Fact Check editor Russell Skelton said that out of 400 checks on factual statements made by politicians and public figures, Fact Check had never been forced to change a verdict.
“It is demoralising for the team to read in rival media about Fact Check being axed,” he is quoted as saying. “The hope remains the reports are wrong. If they are correct, then the hope is management reconsiders.”
The future of Fact Check came up in Senate estimates, but the ABC declined to give definitive answers to senator Nick Xenophon’s queries about what it was planning. “We are reviewing all of the implications of the budget with the news team, and we aim to make some decisions in the next 10 days or so,” new MD Michelle Guthrie said. In further questioning, ABC director of corporate affairs Michael Millett said that while the ABC had received many complaints from politicians about Fact Check, it had not been raised in budget discussions with the government.
Fact Check was one of several new fact-checking operations set up by media outlets in the lead-up to the 2013 election. The other high-profile entry in the genre, Politifact Australia, headed by former SMH editor-in-chief Peter Fray, didn’t last long. Fact-checking outlets, most notably Politifact, are a fairly established part of the American media landscape.