ABC News breaches code over impartiality

ABC News has been found to have breached its own Code of Practice after the media watchdog found it failed to present a story with impartiality.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority investigation followed a complaint about a segment that aired in Canberra on 19 November 2016, covering historical child sexual abuse allegations against the late Dr Vincent John Adams Flynn.

Dr. Flynn, who was a Tattersall’s heir, was described as a philanthropist whose wealth hid a more sinister life. ABC claimed he was suspected or alleged to be a serial paedophile, and that he brought up to 60 young boys to Australia from Fiji, India and Sri Lanka.

Flynn’s case was pursued by former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery to the High Court, but was lost because of the statute of limitations.

ACMA found the tone and the language used conveyed the view that allegations were true, making no mention of Dr Flynn’s earlier denial of the allegations, adding to a sense of prejudgment.

The ABC accepted, in response to an initial complaint, that the ABC did not take reasonable steps to ensure its statement was accurate and presented in context.  

The ACMA found that the ABC failed to gather and present news and information with due impartiality and thereby breached Standard 4.1 of the Code.

But ACMA did not review and made no findings in relation to the substance of the allegations.

ABC has since added a statement to its Corrections & Clarifications page, that Dr Flynn had denied the allegations, and discussed ACMA’s finding with the reporter involved and circulated the ACMA’s investigation report to senior news management.

It is the first time since 2011 that the ABC has been found in breach of impartiality provisions.

ABC was cleared over other complaints in relation to accuracy, opportunity to respond and attribution of information.

A death notice for Flynn was posted in May 2016.


  1. You refer to Section 3.4.1 (more likely subsection 3.4.1 – 3 will be the section, but 3.4.1 will almost certainly be a subsection of section 3), but unfortunately you have overlooked mentioning which Act of Parliament you are referring to.

    • Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2016.

      Sorry, I thought it was obvious from context – the whole article is discussing a breach of the ABC’s own Code of Practice, after all – & I did mention it by name at the end of my comment.

        • Yes, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

          ABC hasn’t been found to have breached impartiality for 6 years prior to this incident. Compare that with the record of it’s competitors.

          • Easy. There’s nothing to compare to, because the commercial TV requirements for “impartiality’ are a joke that may as well not exist. 1 section – section 3.4.1 – of 3 short paragraphs, that can be summarised as:

            1: Present news impartially & separate fact from analysis
            2: You don’t have to appear impartial
            3: Paragraph 1 doesn’t apply to current affairs programmes.

            Section 3.4.1 is literally the only one where the word “impartial” is mentioned. It’s also the only one where the word “fair” is used. The word “balance” doesn’t appear at all in the Commercial TV Code of Practice. Neither does “honest”…

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