TV & Radio

Nov 14, 2016

Uhlmann survives avalanche of complaints about blackout coverage unscathed

The ABC has dismissed complaints about Chris Uhlmann's coverage of the South Australian blackout.

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

ABC News journalist Chris Uhlmann
ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann has survived the "pitchfork crowd" (his characterisation) baying for his blood, coming out unscathed after numerous complaints about his coverage of the South Australian power blackout. The ABC's Audience & Consumer Affairs division on Friday dismissed at least two of the complaints against Uhlmann filed in late September and early October. The complaints focused on the ABC's coverage of South Australia's blackout, with Uhlmann speculating on the role of renewable energy (particularly wind power) in causing blackouts at a time when others (including SA Premier Jay Weatherill) blamed infrastructure failures as a result of a storm. The ABC has said it received about 180 complaints about its coverage of the blackout -- we've asked the ABC what's become of the rest. The public broadcaster publishes summaries of upheld complaints on its website, and there are currently none relating to Uhlmann published online. Any complaint not upheld can be appealed to the Australian Communications and Media Authority -- one of the complainants tells Crikey he intends to appeal to the external agency. [Chris Uhlmann joins Barnaby in blaming wind energy for SA’s blackout. They are dead wrong.] Uhlmann was pivotal in driving the ABC's coverage. But the ABC's Audience and Consumer Affairs division -- which operates separately from the content-creation parts of the ABC -- said Uhlmann had never claimed renewable energy had caused the blackout, instead providing context around the state's energy mix, which includes a high reliance on wind turbines. In light of this, the Audience and Consumer Affairs division determined that Uhlmann had not breached editorial standard 2.1, which requires the ABC to "make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context". One of the complaints dismissed on Friday focused on Uhlmann's live interview with SA Senator Nick Xenophon on the afternoon of the blackout, during which both discussed the role of wind power in the state's electricity mix. A response to the complaint states:
"Through the course of the interview, Mr Uhlmann indicated that limited information was available about what was occurring in South Australia. He therefore explained that he was necessarily speculating about the nature, extent and cause of the electricity outage. Mr Uhlmann and Senator Xenophon discussed a range of issues including South Australia’s power generation mix and its operational status at the time; some of the complexities associated with South Australia’s power grid; the political decision making that lead to South Australia’s energy mix; together with information about the operation of the national electricity market. Mr Uhlmann did not state that renewable energy, particularly wind power, was the cause of the blackout. Rather, he raised a series of newsworthy questions about the State’s energy mix, including about the possibilities of how the power could be out when the wind was blowing, and 40% of South Australia’s power is wind generated."
The issues covered in the interview, the report says, were "all highly relevant and newsworthy":
"Given the unique nature of South Australia’s power generation mix, it was appropriate for Mr Uhlmann to question whether the State’s heavy reliance on wind turbines might have increased the risk of a state-wide blackout."
Another complaint, filed by journalist and academic Ben Eltham, focused on a follow-up analysis piece filed by Uhlmann about the role of wind energy in the state, which "might have increased the risk of a state-wide blackout". The response from the complaints division states:
"Given what had occurred in the preceding 24 hours and the unique nature of South Australia’s power generation mix, these issues were all highly relevant and newsworthy. It was therefore appropriate for Mr Uhlmann to address these issues in the manner he did."
The Audience and Consumer Affairs division says in both letters that while it has not upheld the complaints, it has brought them to the attention of ABC News.

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19 thoughts on “Uhlmann survives avalanche of complaints about blackout coverage unscathed

  1. shea mcduff

    That’s par for the ABC course.

  2. mike westerman

    Uhlmann’s ignorant speculations took the focus off the most obvious villain in the piece: the regulator. When the rest of the community was taking seriously the warnings of almost unprecedented storms, they took none of the steps available to them to reduce the risk to the grid. They were ignorant of the likely response of a large proportion of the generation capacity on line because of their in action.

    But instead of demanding answers of the bureaucrats, Uhlmann babbled on about subjects where clearly his knowledge and understanding was scantly visible.

    1. Interrobanging On

      Yes, as the BOM now reports they got at least 3 warnings on destructive weather, and did not set up a defensive position. They are not too overt about it, but are doing some blame-shifting to the wind generators to divert from why they did nothing in the face of severe weather warnings.

  3. Lee Tinson

    I watched that coverage, and I saw Uhlmann editorialising about wind power generation, about which he clearly has no idea. He may well have asked some questions, but he also gave us the benefit of his own asinine opinion. My impression was that he blamed the wind farms for the blackout. I thought at the time that he was off with the fairies, but no … he apparently really believes this nonsense.

    I try to avoid Uhlmann where I can, because he’s always been far too full of his own self-worth to be a decent journalist, but now I will forgo the news rather than put up with this fool.

    1. zut alors

      Likewise, when Uhlmann appears on screen, I reach for my pitchfork & leave the room pronto.

    2. Bill Hilliger

      Some say Chris Uhlman, Barnyard Joyce and Bosh Freidenburg were correct, they knew that renewable energy was the culprit for the SA power blackout. It was due to their knowledge that during high wind and storm conditions wind turbines automatically turn off thus more wind passes and becomes stronger, thus the electricity pylons blew over.

  4. Dog's Breakfast

    Such bollocks ABC. Uhlmann was wrong, dead wrong, as Crikey noted in a previous article. The mix of energy generation in SA is different, but it wasn’t about, nor was it relevant to the story. It was just bollocks.

  5. Mr Denmore

    If Uhlmann had opined the other way – “our reliance on coal caused this disaster” – the News Corp chorus would have spent the next six months calling for his head. That he questioned renewables was a nice safe call given the control of our media by the climate denial industry.

  6. Roger Clifton

    Blame the regulator, eh? The regulator might well be responsible if there was a failure of handling the “market”, whereby the different generators bid to supply power at a certain quality, in five minute blocks. However, wind is given an ideologically priority – it is injected into the grid on a “must take” basis, while the regulator struggles to balance its rapid variations of voltage and frequency against the more honest providers of power.

    It would be technically straightforward to create a separate entity that owned or bought gas power to balance wind power to the reliability and quality required to bid to supply quality power in five minute blocks. Given an adequate carbon price, they might even make a profit. Now that really would vindicate renewables, with no recourse to ideology required.

    Thanks, Aunty, for bringing wind power under scrutiny.

    1. mike westerman

      AEMO has a clear and unequivocal obligation to make a declaration of credible contingency where it is likely that the system voltage, frequency or reliable is at risk. It then can take steps to mitigate that risk, by calling up reserve capacity, curtailing load and limiting output from any vulnerable generation (see in particular Non-Market Ancillary Services on the AEMO site). They failed to do so, with the result that black system services were not ready, the Heywood Interconnect was not able to take contingency loads, and they were ignorant of the programmed behaviour of wind generator protection systems. Uhlmann didn’t elucidate any of this: his inept reporting simply triggered ill-informed media noise, capped off the pathetic comment of the PM.

  7. Alan

    Lawd, another right wing martyr, time to go to Skynews mate.

  8. Alan

    Another problem may be the relentless trivia factory that is ABC News 24, which makes overblown headlines and useless conjecture, on a par with the equally vapid Twitter.
    The over-reporting and the shallow, breathless coverage of every little useless story, and lazy, self indulgent attitude of the reporters need to be reigned in.

  9. colin skene

    I think he’s an idiot. While ever he fronts as an informed, reasoned political commentator, then the more I switch to greyhound racing at 7.30pm. Sad, really.

  10. DanBIllin

    What shits me is the blase dismissal of fair and accurate criticism of media persons as political bias or some such shit like “pitchfork brigade”. If an apology is too much to ask, how about a retraction or at least some form of introspection just one fookin’ time.

    1. mike westerman

      Indeed – given he has zero qualifications in power system design, reliability, wind turbine operation etc that is, has zero qualifications in anything to do with the subject, you would have kept to informed comments like “fuck that wind was strong, so strong it blew important things over”. He could then speculate from an informed position as to whether such winds were a precursor to political change or judgement on the iniquity of the sons of the earth.

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