The Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ABC News breached the impartiality provisions of the ABC Code of Practice (the Code).
It is the first time since 2011 that the ABC has been found in breach of those impartiality provisions.
The ACMA’s investigation followed a complaint about a segment that aired in Canberra on 19 November 2016 covering historical child sexual abuse allegations against the late Dr Vincent John Adams Flynn.
The ACMA found that the ABC failed to gather and present news and information with due impartiality and thereby breached Standard 4.1 of the Code.
The segment raised several allegations against Dr Flynn. The tone and the language used conveyed the view that those allegations were true. The report contained no mention of Dr Flynn’s earlier and explicit denial of the allegations to the ABC. This omission added to the sense of prejudgment conveyed in the report. The ACMA did not review and made no findings in relation to the substance of the allegations.
The ACMA found that the ABC did not breach Standards 2.1 (in relation to accuracy), 5.3 (in relation to opportunity to respond) and 5.4 (in relation to attribution of information), which were part of the complaint investigated.
In response the ABC has added a statement, that Dr Flynn had denied the allegations, to a similar online report of the matter. This action has been noted on the ABC’s Corrections & Clarifications webpage in relation to the segment. The ABC has also discussed the ACMA’s finding with the reporter involved and circulated the ACMA’s investigation report to senior news management.
For more information please contact: Blake Murdoch, on (02) 9334 7817, 0434 567 391 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Media release 32/2017 - 26 September
Relevant Code provision - accuracy
2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
Relevant Code provision – impartiality
4.1 Gather and present news and information with due impartiality.
Relevant Code provision – fair and honest dealing
5.3 Where allegations are made about a person or organisation, make reasonable efforts in the circumstances to provide a fair opportunity to respond.
5.4 Aim to attribute information to its source.
The regulatory framework – broadcasting content regulation
The ABC Board is required by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 to develop a code of practice relating to its television and radio programming and to notify this code to the ACMA. This is a different process from that established in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 for the development of the commercial broadcasting codes, which entails registration by the ACMA if appropriate community safeguards are provided.
As with other broadcasters, complaints that the ABC has acted contrary to the ABC Code may be made to the ABC first and, if the ABC fails to respond or the complainant considers the response is inadequate, a complaint may then be made to the ACMA. The ACMA must then consider whether the complaint is justified.
Where a breach of the Code is found, the general approach of the ACMA is to accept appropriate remedial action by the ABC. The ACMA’s enforcement powers in regard to the ABC are different from those powers used in respect of other broadcasters. The ACMA can recommend by written notice that the ABC take some specific action in relation to the breach and complaint. If the ABC fails to act on that recommendation within 30 days, the ACMA may report that failure to the Minister and the ACMA’s report is tabled in Parliament.
Additional information about, and copies of, the ACMA’s published broadcasting investigation reports are available here.