Media

Apr 11, 2018

ABC admits it ignored ‘thousands of pages’ from the Cabinet Files

The ABC is still struggling to get its story straight on why it handed thousands of pages of internal government documents back to bureaucrats rather than share the contents with Australians.

Bernard Keane ā€” Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The extraordinary nature of the ABC's journalistic failure on the so-called "Cabinet Files" cache of sensitive documents has been revealed in answers to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice. The broadcaster has admitted the files totalled "hundreds of documents consisting of thousands of individual pages".

The ABC claims to have obtained the documents from a rural New South Wales resident who accidentally acquired the documents when he bought locked cabinets from a Canberra ex-government furniture store, and subsequently contacted journalist Michael McKinnon. The broadcaster handed the documents back to the government after publishing only a small number of stories about them, including stories riddled with errors and misinterpretation. One of them, about Kevin Rudd and the Housing Insulation Program, had to be retracted and was the subject of an apology to the former prime minister.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’sĀ terms and conditions

22 comments

Leave a comment

22 thoughts on “ABC admits it ignored ‘thousands of pages’ from the Cabinet Files

  1. Dog's Breakfast

    The gold they could have dug out of those files could have been earth shattering, and were likely at least to be damned embarrassing.

    Giving them up like that just showed what a whipped beast the ABC has become, caught between trying to look more commercial in their news delivery, and never saying anything that might cause sleepness nights in Canberra. May as well wind them up now, or better still, give all their money to SBS, the only free to air news I will watch these days.

  2. Nudiefish

    To all future whistle-blowers out there – the ABC has been fatally compromised. You know that now.

    Send your info to Crikey.com instead.

    1. Yclept

      and keep multiple copies…

  3. zut alors

    The tidbit about not recalling senior journalists from the summer break is illuminating. We viewers are used to several ABC programmes finishing in early November & not returning until late February (nice work if you can get it) but can a healthy newsroom operate effectively while experienced journalists are not available to chase leads…or to scrutinise a treasure trove of files?

    Interesting that McKinnon & McGhee chose to recycle (inaccurately) a stale story on Rudd while a wealth of other options went unpublished. Options we taxpayers will now not hear or see.

    1. Arky

      To me it sounds like a pretty third-rate excuse for a political decision by Guthrie to have the files handed back and avoid blowback from government.

  4. Mr B Barry

    It’s quite apparent the ABC caved into threats from the government.
    The management of the ABC are renowned for their gutless stance whenever the government sends in their storm troopers threatening financial retaliation.

  5. paddy

    I’m sure I remember Alan Sunderland as a journalist who once had some integrity.
    Perhaps I’ve “misremembered”, or perhaps he’s secretly related to Phillip Ruddock.
    Such a dismal and shameful thing, to see our beloved ABC being so utterly trashed.
    It’s been a while coming, but today in Senate Estimates, it felt like the lowest point yet.
    Not sure how or if we can get Aunty back. šŸ™

    1. Rais

      Might be time to start setting up a community based public affairs network using material from volunteer journalists and whistle blowers. This kind of operation wouldn’t be what the ABC should be but it could supplement the weakened national broadcaster.

  6. graybul

    The credibility shortfall now beyond dispute. Independent journalism a fading cornerstone. I, like Dog’s Breakfast, now seldom watch ABC Channel 2 News. Consequentially, am picking and choosing whereas previously would more often than not; stayed loyal. Quality beats loyalty hands down.

    Rest easy Guthrie and Sunderland. Your erosion of a once valued institution of excellence continues to slide under government/corporate influence.

  7. RL

    Gutless ABC management serving their current masters and not the people of Australia.
    It’s a pity the guy who purchased the cabinets didn’t instead contact an experienced journo with courage and integrity.
    They still exist even in the ABC.

  8. terryg

    I believe the ABC did the right thing by returning these documents. If I had been in the position of accidentally obtaining these I would just have taken them back to PMC. There is a need for confidentiality as at times people need to speak frankly without their comments being released to the world.
    Sometimes the public interest is served by release especially if a government is lying about a situation or covering up corruption. But often it is not about public interest but only the ego of journalists and the profits of media companies.

    1. Bob the builder

      How do you know the government is not “lying about a situation or covering up corruption”?

      What beggars belief is that no-one, anywhere, made copies. Assuming the journoes had any sense of their craft, they should have been aware management might misuse these documents (i.e. return them). Anyone with sense would have made copies before doing anything else.

      1. Salamander

        Copying that amount of material is a lengthy chore. ABC being starved of funds and all.

        1. Bob the builder

          Feed it into the top of a standard printer/copier/scanner 50-100 pages at a time, shouldn’t take too long. You’d at least salvage some of it and be able to share it easily (not to mention hide it / move it).

          Stupid carelessness on the part of those involved not to have done so.

          What made them think they could trust management? Surely, if nothing else, the fact that more experienced journoes weren’t being brought in should have run alarm bells.

          1. Salamander

            But you’re the practical man, BtB. Potentially eight drawers of staples, clips and binders with sundry clamps and spikes to be delicately dismantled. Paper jams.
            So first they’d have to be culled by…..?
            Ellsberg wasn’t copying assorted office files.

  9. AR

    If this is the journalistic standard the ABC intends to follow in future then the mudorc has won.

  10. brian crooks

    under guthrie the ABC has just another branch of newscorp ,and murdochs take over of independent journalism is almost complete and SBS must be next in line to be subjugated, and julie bishop has the hypocrisy to come out on national television and warn of the dangers of media suppression in foreign countries while her own government and its real leader rupert murdoch stifle any dissent against the coalition trickle down turnbull government, the gall of these neo cons is astounding.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details

Sending...