ABC and its complaints handling

December 17, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council and the Zionist Federation of Australia have sent their submissions for the Independent Review of the ABC’s editorial self-regulatory system and complaints handling.

The ABC board appointed Professor John McMillan and Jim Carroll as two independent reviewers The findings of this review will be released after the ABC Board receives the report at the end of March 2022. Today is the last day for submissions.

The ZFA believes that the ABC complaints mechanism is currently not fit for its purpose.

The absence of transparency and independence leads to a lack of accountability within the ABC, which undermines the raison d’être of the complaints mechanism. The ZFA has made four recommendations. These include a call for all complaints and responses to be published, in the name of transparency.

The ZFA also calls for an external public media compliance office to be established, which will respond to complaints independently and will conduct ‘performance audits’ on ABC editorial decision-making. Importantly, when assessing allegations of bias, the public media compliance office would pay attention to how each side of a story is aired, not merely that they are aired.

“Avoiding bias in reporting (and, relevant to this review, determining allegations of bias raised in complaints) requires more than merely presenting ‘both sides of the argument’ in a program or over time. The ZFA believes that the ABC has often displayed significant bias despite being careful to air both sides of an argument…

“The ABC has a statutory duty to “present news and information with due impartiality” and to “not unduly favour one perspective over another”. It is possible to air both sides of a story and still unduly favour one of those sides. It appears that [Audience and Consumer Affairs] is either not aware of this or chooses to ignore it. ABC presentation of a contested issue should provide a fair and balanced presentation not merely of facts, but of narrative, including in the way that narrative is presented. It is up to the audience to come to their own conclusions on an issue, not for the ABC to guide them to a pre-determined conclusion though the sophisticated use of soundtrack, imagery and other narrative techniques. If, in an ABC program or article, the way differing perspectives are presented to an audience influences that audience to side with one narrative over another, then that represents a failure to abide by the ABC’s editorial standards.”

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) today welcomed the opportunity to make a submission to what is a serious inquiry under the auspices of Professor John McMillan, who is a former Commonwealth and NSW Ombudsman, and Jim Carroll, who has a wealth of experience as former director of news at SBS, as well as similar roles at Seven and Ten,” AIJAC’s Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein said.

The submission is the distillation of AIJAC’s experience gained over many years of lodging complaints against biased and one-sided media coverage of Israel on the ABC. The ABC claims its existing complaints process operates independently from its content makers, but it is in fact run in house, Dr Rubenstein explained.

“There is widespread dissatisfaction with the current ABC complaints handling system which is tilted too far in favour of the ABC.  AIJAC has argued for a long time that a genuinely independent, external complaints system is needed. Accordingly, our submission to this independent review makes broad recommendations outlining those principles that are vital for an effective external, independent complaints process. AIJAC proposes a model that will be fair and balanced for those wishing to make a complaint, as well as those who might be the subject of a complaint,” Dr Rubenstein added.

Dr Rubenstein stressed that “AIJAC is strongly committed to the essential role that public broadcasters play in the Australian media landscape”, adding that “a genuinely independent complaints process where ABC consumers can receive a fair hearing has the potential to improve the standards of news reporting and current affairs across the board and would be a sensible outcome that everyone could support.”

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