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EXCLUSIVE: Information Commissioner to investigate SBS over deleted bushfires article

31 July 2020

5:00 AM

31 July 2020

5:00 AM

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has looked at the Institute of Public Affairs’ submission and decided to commence a review into the rejection of the IPA’s Freedom of Information request seeking information from SBS as to why they deleted an old Australian Associated Press article from their website titled: “Fired not due to climate change: expert — covered here back in March.

The 2013 article resurfaced in November 2019 and was shared around social media by many Australians in the wake of opportunistic alarmism from the green politicians and left wing media that the bushfires at the time were the result of climate change. But on November 12, it was inexplicably taken down from the SBS website. 

The article featured the considered opinion of retired Monash University researcher and former CSIRO scientist David Packham OAM, who said linking bushfires to climate change is “absolute nonsense” and reducing fuel loads in the Australian bush is urgently needed to reduce the intensity of bushfires.  

A day or two later, after media scrutiny as to why it was deleted, the SBS put the article back online but featured a new preamble. The substance of the new paragraphs was to confirm that Packham still held the same views then as he did in 2013. In response, Packham said “The most important (factor) is the dryness of the fuel, which comes from hot dry weather… the theory is as solid as the universal theory of gravitation.” 

One could be mistaken for thinking that the SBS felt that the link between climate change and bushfires was now unimpeachable and that this update would discredit Packham.  

A manual search conducted by the IPA found that SBS had never before updated old AAP articles on its website. 

Public broadcasters have an extra duty of care to be impartial. Taking down an old article, not even authored by them, because it doesn’t fit the established groupthink, appears to be an act of bias worth investigating.

It is interesting to note the SBS is a member of the ‘Your Right to Know’ campaign, which argues for “A suite of changes to FOI law to reduce and restrict the significant delays, obstacles, cost and exemptions that allow government agencies to prevent disclosure.” 

These are the very tools the SBS has been employing to avoid oversight in regards to this issue. It advocates for the very kind of transparency and accountability in areas of government that it will not accept for itself.

A detailed legal reasoning behind the IPA’s appeal to the OAIC is available here 

Evan Mulholland is Director of Communications at the Institute of Public Affairs. Join as a member at www.ipa.org.au.

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