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Broadcasters breach rules in COVID and climate coverage


Foxtel will tighten its controls over third-party content on its service following breaches of industry codes of practice found by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) on both the Outsiders program and on its Daystar channel.

The ACMA found that a number of Outsiders programs broadcast on Foxtel between October and December 2021 breached the requirements in the subscription TV code of practice around accuracy and clearly distinguishing factual material from commentary and analysis in relation to climate-related coverage.

The ACMA considered 80 allegations across 10 Outsiders episodes and selected a sample of program content in its investigation to assess against the relevant code of practice.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the Australian community expects factual material to be accurate and for commentary to be clearly distinguishable from the reporting of factual material.

“The program has an obligation to its audience to clearly separate fact from comment. Across a number of its episodes Outsiders failed to do so and did not present news content either accurately or fairly,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

In a separate investigation, the ACMA found broadcasts of the Ministry Now and Joni Table Talk programs aired on the Daystar channel on Foxtel in September 2021 included comments which breached accuracy rules for news and current affairs programs under the Subscription Narrowcast Television Codes of Practice 2013.

The ACMA found the Joni Table Talk and Ministry Now programs included inaccurate statements relating to COVID-19 vaccines including about the regulatory approval process, the use of alternative COVID-19 treatments, the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, and that vaccines may cause infertility and miscarriage.

In relation to both Outsiders and the content on the Daystar channel, Foxtel submitted that it had limited control over the broadcasts as they are distributed by third-party providers under agreements which require all content to comply with Australian laws and regulations.

Ms O’Loughlin said broadcast licensees are ultimately responsible for what goes to air, including content that is supplied or purchased from another provider.

“Broadcasters cannot outsource their compliance responsibilities to a third party. It is important that Australian audiences are able to trust that the information presented in current affairs programs is accurate and factual, particularly when national health issues are concerned,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

As a result of the ACMA’s findings in both the Outsiders and Daystar matters, Foxtel has expressly acknowledged to the ACMA that as licensee it is responsible for meeting its code and statutory obligations with respect to all material that is broadcast, even if it is material supplied by a third-party provider.

Foxtel will also review the systems it has in place to ensure that content sourced from third-party providers is compliant with the code. Foxtel will report back to the ACMA within four months on the outcome of this system review, including the staff training, processes and arrangements it has undertaken to ensure future compliance with the code.

The ACMA also found that the same Outsiders programs aired on regional commercial broadcasters WIN and SCA breached the requirements in the commercial TV code of practice around accuracy and the representation of viewpoints.

WIN and SCA will report to the ACMA within four months on the measures they are taking in response to this investigation to comply with the relevant parts of the commercial TV code of practice in relation to programs supplied by third parties.

MR 11/2023

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