ACMA dismisses complaints against ABC’s Q&A Israel/Hamas program

April 19, 2022 by J-Wire News Service
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On May 21 last year, the believed disparity of the panel on a Q&A debating the Hamas/Israel conflict resulted in Jewish leadership registering complaints to the ABC but the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has eventually dismissed them.

The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council said the program featured a 12-minute discussion of the recently concluded conflict between Israel and Hamas, with a five-person panel comprising Palestinian activist Randa Abdel-Fattah, Labor MP Ed Husic, human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson, who has participated in legal action against Israel, Liberal MP Dave Sharma, a former Australian Ambassador to Israel, and singer Ed Tambo.

Complainants were not satisfied by the ABC’s response and the matters were sent to ACMA for review.

AIJAC Executive Dr Colin Rubenstein said: “To any objective observer, the program was clearly unbalanced, with two anti-Israel activists on the panel as against no pro-Israel activist, and four of the five panellists taking positions critical of Israel. Yet ACMA found that the ABC did not breach its Code of Conduct requirements to provide impartiality, to not disproportionately represent any perspective and to not unduly favour one perspective over another.

AIJAC has long been calling for the ABC to have an independent external complaints procedure rather than the current system where the ABC judges itself. We have often noted that the only appeal from such decisions is to ACMA, which is not fit for the purpose.

ACMA absurdly accepted the ABC’s contention that Dave Sharma represented an ‘Israeli perspective’ on the conflict, despite his presence on the program being to put the Government’s position on a range of issues, not as an advocate for Israel.

This determination simply proves that the current system is not satisfactory and that no-one can have confidence that the ABC will be held to the standards of balance and fairness that the taxpayers who fund it have every right to expect.

We are also concerned that it took nearly 11 months from the airing of the program to the publication of the ACMA decision, and approximately seven months since our appeal to ACMA – further evidence that ACMA is not up to the job of reviewing complaints to the ABC.

We note that the ABC is currently undertaking a board-commissioned review of its complaints procedure, and once again call for an independent, external process that can hold the ABC to its Code of Conduct. This is the only way to restore community confidence in the impartiality and objectivity of ABC News and Current Affairs,” Dr Rubenstein concluded.

Peter Wertheim is the co-CEO of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He told J-Wire: “The Q + A program in question featured four panellists with a critical view of Israel against one defender of Israel, gave four times as much airtime to anti-Israel views than to a moderate good faith analysis, and censored all pro-Israel tweeted comments.

It is beyond belief that such a program could be found not to have unduly favoured one view over another.  This outcome only confirms the futility of appealing to the ACMA about the ABC’s demonstrable bias against Israel, and emphasises the need for an external, specialist and genuinely independent body to be created to assess complaints about the ABC’s news and current affairs coverage.”

ZFA President Jeremy Leibler said, “While we’re disappointed that the ACMA accepted the ABC’s arguments that tokenistic airings of a pro-Israel perspective amount to ‘balance’, what is particularly concerning is that the ACMA chose not to investigate whether the ABC concealing Jennifer Robinson’s professional engagement in the Palestinian cause breached its commitment to fair and honest dealings.”

In its submission to the ACMA, the ZFA argued that the ABC breached its obligations of fair and honest dealings by presenting Ms Robinson as a ‘human rights lawyer’, rather than someone who is professionally involved in the Palestinian cause. Thus, the panel had two professional Palestine activists and no Israel activists but was presented to the public as having one Palestine activist and one supposedly neutral ‘human rights lawyer’ (who, having come out so strongly for the Palestinian side on the panel, appeared more convincing to the general public).

Mr Leibler continued, “The panel was stacked in a way that ensured a one-sided outcome. That the ABC argued that two audience questions, which were sympathetic to Israel, balanced the panel is insulting. We are surprised that the ACMA accepted this argument.”

Further, the ZFA rejects the ABC’s argument that Liberal MP Dave Sharma effectively balanced the panel by providing a voice that was sympathetic to Israel. Mr Leibler said, “Mr Sharma balanced Ed Husic, the Labor MP on the panel. No one balanced Randa Abdel-Fattah or Ms Robinson.”

In its findings, ACMA stated: “An Israel advocate was invited to participate in the program but declined, and a representative of a mainstream Australian Jewish organisation did not respond to an invitation to participate. Notwithstanding this, both of the relevant questions discussed on the program were framed from the Israeli perspective. Dave Sharma gave voice to Israel’s perspective in the program. Through the contributions of panel members, the selection of audience questions, and the presentation of a range of opinions in tweets, the program demonstrably presented a diversity of perspectives. It contributed to the range of perspectives the ABC has presented, over time, about the long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as well as the recent outbreak of hostilities. Whether or not Q+A has featured ‘an Israel advocate’ or ‘anyone representing a mainstream Australian Jewish organisation’ over the past five years is immaterial to an assessment of compliance with this standard.”

The stated: This panel was carefully composed with a view to providing a rich conversation and a diversity of perspectives across the full range of subjects that were to be discussed.

Panellist Dave Sharma MP played a key role in the program across many of the subjects, including the discussion of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. As noted on his profile, his four-year stint as Australia’s Ambassador to Israel focused on ‘helping strengthen the relationship in the defence and technology sectors and ensuring strong Australian support for Israel in international forums’. He is deeply familiar with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and is sympathetic to the Israeli perspective. His selection ensured that the Israeli perspective would be strongly represented in the program and he demonstrably provided an articulate, informed perspective on Israel’s actions and decisions. Importantly, the program team’s expectation was that he would equally be able to contribute to the range of other important issues discussed in the program, representing the government’s perspective on issues such as COVID vaccinations and reconciliation.


4 Responses to “ACMA dismisses complaints against ABC’s Q&A Israel/Hamas program”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    The Australian Broadcasting Corporation) (ABC) Is my favourite TV service (as well as SBS TV) and Wireless (Radio) service. I never listen to commercial Radio and may watch commercial TV if there is a good film or documentary on it. I have no social media by choice nor pay TV. There is plenty of choice on free to air TV and AM radio. Australians, our Pacific and Asia neighbours and international listeners are served well by the ABC and SBS. The ABC is 90 years old this year too starting in Radio in 1932. ABC Radio was an invaluable service during WW2 as well, I understand, as I was only born in 1952.

  2. Liat Kirby says:

    Malvina, the ABC has an obligation to present ANY news from anywhere to the Australian people with as much truth as can be obtained in as objective a way as possible. The Australian public trusts the ABC’s ethics and professionalism in this regard. So, you can see the problem, when in fact the ABC allows biased perspectives to air without countering them with contrasting views.

    Of course, it’s up to us to keep informing and lobbying with our facts and our narratives, however we might have to find a different way to do it, because thus far they’re not interested in Jewish perspective unless it coincides with their own. They soon put any Jewish person on air who has negative comments to make on Israel. That programme was a travesty. Even an insult, using good air time to allow someone to talk about their dog affected by Gaza rockets, thereby deflecting the issue to infer that in the main Israelis were not particularly affected. The whole programme was orchestrated, right down to the tweeted comments shown at bottom of screen, to favour the Palestinians. No amount of lobbying our facts is going to stop this kind of devious production effort.

    It was a disgraceful programme and is a disgraceful outcome.

  3. Ester Steingiesser says:

    Excellent article and comments. In my opinion this article must be sent to Ita Buttrose, to the Prime Minister, to the Leader of the opposition and to the Human rights Commission.

  4. Malvina Malinek says:

    I agree with everyhing that AIJAC and our community complained about re that particular program. However I am more disappointed in our comunity not having adequately prepared for it. Unfortunately our question and qiestioner was emvaeeassingly weak! I believe the only obligation the ABC has is to the Australian government and about Australian politids which it has to be wven handed. With overseas issues I doubt it has any obligations at all. It is up to all of our communities to try to keep informing and lobbying with our facts and our narrative.

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