The Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that TCN Channel Nine Pty Ltd, General Television Corporation Pty Ltd, and NBN Limited (Nine licensees) breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2010 (the Code).
The ACMA’s investigation concerned a report on A Current Affair broadcast on 11 June 2014. The report was about Access Ministries, an inter-denominational Christian organisation, and its delivery of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) in Victorian public primary schools.
The investigation found the licensees breached the accuracy provision of the Code in relation to two of the five accuracy complaints, by conveying to the viewer that Access Ministries was:
- misleading parents about the nature of the religious instruction it provided
- dishonest and secretive in its use of ‘hidden codes’ to convert children.
There was no material in the broadcast clarifying that instruction in religious beliefs is permitted in the delivery of SRI.
The ACMA found no breaches under the Code with respect to the other accuracy complaints and complaints about religious vilification, creating public panic and negative portrayal of the organisation on the basis of gratuitous emphasis on religion.
Nine, on behalf of the licensees, has indicated it will ensure relevant staff are aware of the results of the investigation and will provide further training in reference to these findings.
For more information please see the Backgrounder below or contact: Blake Murdoch, on (02) 9334 7817, 0434 567 391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media release 42/2015 - 9 Sept
Relevant code provision
Clause 4.3.1 of the Code provides that, in broadcasting news and current affairs programs, ‘licensees must broadcast factual material accurately and represent viewpoints fairly, having regard to the circumstances at the time of preparing and broadcasting the program’. Sub clause 188.8.131.52 also provides that ‘an assessment of whether the factual material is accurate is to be determined in the context of the segment in its entirety’.
In general, the mere failure to state certain facts will not automatically render a broadcast inaccurate and the ACMA considers such matters carefully, on a case by case basis.
In this case, the licensees had no obligation to present in detail, or even in a balanced way, how religion is taught in the Victorian education system. However, if the broadcast had included a direct discussion of the role of SRI in the Victorian education system, and clearly conveyed that instruction in religious beliefs is permitted in the delivery of SRI, the identified problems with the broadcast might well have been avoided.
The regulatory framework: broadcasting content regulation
Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA), Australian radio and television licensees have primary responsibility for ensuring that the material they broadcast reflects community standards. Many aspects of program content are governed by codes of practice developed by industry groups representing the various Australian broadcasting sectors. The ACMA registers codes (other than those of the national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS) once it is satisfied that broadcasters have undertaken public consultation and the codes contain appropriate community safeguards.
The ACMA may investigate in the public interest:
- following a complaint about compliance with the BSA or licence conditions;
- following a complaint about compliance with code obligations, where the complainant has complained to the licensee and is dissatisfied with its response; or
- on its 'own motion' into compliance with the BSA, licence conditions or code obligations.
Additional information about, and copies of, the ACMA’s published broadcasting investigations reports are available here.
Responding to breaches
Where there has been a breach of a code of practice, the ACMA may:
- agree to accept measures offered by the broadcaster to improve compliance (these measures can include educating staff or changing procedures to improve compliance with the rule(s))
- agree to accept an enforceable undertaking offered by the broadcaster for the purpose of securing future compliance with the rule(s)
- impose an additional licence condition.
The ACMA cannot ‘fine’ or ‘prosecute’ a broadcaster for breaching a code, or direct it to do any particular thing (such as broadcast a report of the ACMA’s findings).