The ABC’s newly appointed independent ombudsman, Fiona Cameron, has released her first public report in a bid to create greater transparency with the Australian public, with content complaints regarding editorial concerns falling in the first six months of 2023.
The ABC received 11,440 total complaints in the first six months of 2023, with 13 per cent relating to complaints that concern the broadcaster’s editorial standards, those being the direct focus of the Ombudsman’s Office.
For the first time, the ombudsman does not report to ABC managing director David Anderson or its content-making divisions. Instead, it now reports to ABC chair Ita Buttrose and its board in a bid for increased independence.
Across the three years ending on December 31, 2022, the ABC averaged 23,767 total complaints annually, with 15 per cent (3634) relating to content concerning the broadcaster’s editorial standards, referred to as specific content complaints.
The platform with the most specific content complaints over the three-year period was News Online, due to its reach and online nature, with the 7pm News, 7.30, News Breakfast and Q+A rounding out the top five.
Over the three years, 70 per cent of specific content complaints related to balance, bias and accuracy, with the figures remaining consistent through the first six months of 2023, albeit with a slight rise in complaints relating to bias.
The vast majority of general complaints relates to matters of personal taste or preference, or regarding the ABC more generally, Cameron said, as opposed to specific content, which its editorial standards are applied to.
The ABC has so far received a total of 102 complaints relating to bias or lack of balance in its coverage of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Cameron told ABC Melbourne’s Virginia Trioli on Tuesday morning that 92 per cent of complaints noted a bias towards the Yes vote, but the Ombudsman’s Office did not find any instances where the complaints were upheld.
Despite a slight reduction in total content complaints in the first half of 2023, and the percentage of those investigated, those upheld rose to 8 per cent, as opposed to the three-year average of 5 per cent.
“At the core of the establishment of the Ombudsman’s Office is greater transparency, accountability and visibility and this report endeavours to deliver on all three,” Cameron said.
She told Trioli the aim of the new process was to review and resolve complaints in “real time”, providing greater transparency for the Australian public and its audiences.
“I am separate to the content areas, I don’t answer to the managing director, and I am confidently independent,” she said.
High-profile investigations, including the ABC’s AM report “Alice Springs Town Meeting Angers Aboriginal People” in January, were addressed in the report.
The report was found to have breached the ABC’s due impartiality standards. The broadcaster recast, reproduced and republished the report.
The broadcast of King Charles III’s coronation was a “difficult” report to produce, Cameron said, due the majority of complaints not relating to content, most falling under the category of “scheduling” complaints.
The controversial 5.15pm-6pm coronation broadcast has received 1832 total complaints to date, with 61 relating to ABC editorial standards. Indigenous ABC broadcaster Stan Grant stood down as host of Q+A in May, citing exhaustion from a torrent of racist attacks on social media, particularly after his part in the panel discussion during its coverage of the coronation.
David Anderson later admitted the ABC did not do enough to support Grant, who quit the show entirely in July.
Cameron found the panel was a “newsworthy discussion”, and did not breach the ABC’s editorial standards.
Another investigation included a complaint by this masthead, relating to a Media Watch segment “War with China?”, which the Ombudsman found did not breach standards on both counts made by the mastheads.
Cameron told Trioli on Tuesday morning she would like to see the ABC become less defensive, taking a more open response to upheld complaints.
The Ombudsman said she anticipates publishing a report every six months, with reports on significant investigations and reviews, such as the three listed above, published online simultaneously.
The changes also seek to empower the broadcaster’s separate content divisions to reply directly to complaints from first contact, in a timely manner.
The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.
Source: Thanks smh.com