Flat White

#TheirABC, #TheirEthics

1 August 2021

3:23 PM

1 August 2021

3:23 PM

There’s so much going wrong for the ABC it’s hard to keep track. The latest news reveals the broadcaster is bumping up head-count, in spite of claims to the contrary. In another part of Ultimo, taxpayers are funding whopping legal bills in the millions of dollars, tacitly endorsing lacklustre journalism, and the odd personal tweet, or two. But worse are the charges levelled at the ABC by  John Dawkins — a senior minister in both the Hawke and Keating governments — flagging serious breaches of the national broadcaster’s ethical standards.   

The ABC TV program “Ms Represented”, hosted by the likeable Annabel Crabb, is just the latest to allegedly fall short of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s code of conduct which states in section one that you must “Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply”.  

Its accusers say the ABC has not.

This is one of many incidents that have slowly fractured the trust between the ABC and its diminishing audience for the last decade. For many viewers, the tipping point came when Four Corners broadcast surveillance footage obtained from the Don Dale Corrections Centre in the Northern Territory. The confronting material shows a young prisoner restrained with his head covered in a fabric bag. The report left the impression the inmate was undergoing something akin to waterboarding — and bought back memories of Abu Ghraib — but in truth, the head shroud was a “spit-hood”. Its sole purpose is to prevent uncontrollable prisoners “spitting” at prison staff. No mention was made of this during the  Four Corners episode, completely skewing the narrative and unfairly vilifying the prison staff. What makes these continued failures worse is the complete lack of contrition from ABC production staff. Ditto for their deluded Media Watch oversight.

ABC staffers just don’t seem to care about the violation of viewer trust. Because of this, audiences are dwindling and the ABC is spending millions of advertising dollars trying to lure back these alienated viewers. Good luck with that.  

At the core of the ABC’s plight is a dilemma of ethics. A clique of ABC journalists (who enjoyed a Covid salary increase during the pandemic) seize every opportunity to mock those they disagree with ideologically. These influence peddlers use the airwaves as a forum for advocacy and block or omit alternative views. There is no respite from the ABC’s inner-city contempt for conservative voters, churchgoers, or those who chose “no” in the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

There’s not only a growing sense that the ABC consider themselves above legal or ethical standards when pursuing their foes. There’s the ABC’s failure to issue corrections or seldom admit error.   

Will the ABC ever comply with their charter or industry’s ethical obligations? How about just meeting the MEAA’s ethical guidelines? Seriously, ABC management and board?  

Are honesty, fairness, and respect, such lofty aims?  The taxpayer already guarantees and pays for the ABC’s editorial independence. When do they get a payoff? This institutional failure must drive a brave and honest assessment of the corporation’s future. Maybe it’s time to trim the ABC budget a little more and let the remaining staffers protect their editorial independence more frugally.  

The MEAA Ethical Charter is forthright and begs the question: why is it so hard for the ABC to lift their ethical standards? 

 MEAA members engaged in journalism commit themselves to; 

  • Respect for the rights of others  
  • Honesty 
  • Fairness 
  • Independence.



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