There may be signs the media watchdog is finally reacting to signs that too often it stands accused of slapping networks with a wet lettuce leaf…
Channel Seven has agreed to a court enforceable undertaking around Sunrise following that much-maligned panel discussing the removal of Indigenous children in March 2018.
In September the Australian Communications and Media Authority ruled the segment was inaccurate and in serious contempt on the basis of race, due to strong negative generalisations. But there was no ‘punishment’ given Seven was mulling an appeal in the Federal Court, a move that would have been expensive for the network, without any guarantee of success.
Last week Seven withdrew that application and agreed to provide to a court enforceable undertaking.
That will require Seven to:
commission an independent audit of the production processes for the current affairs content of Sunrise
ensure editorial staff are provided with training in relation to identifying and dealing with such matters.
Too often ACMA is accused of simply requiring networks to better train their staff -always after, never before, mistakes happen (see above).
Enforceable undertakings are fairly rare, even in the ACMA world, and they usually involve the network agreeing to be seen to be doing the right thing.
The first was in 2009 when Nine agreed to a sum, equivalent to ad revenue during Underbelly and Kitchen Nightmares that it would pay if it the shows breached the Code again.
Sam Newman once kept Nine and ACMA so busy that then-CEO David Gyngell offered $200,000 surety for a charity, if Newman were to fall foul of the Code of Practice in the next 2 years.
In 2016 outgoing ACMA chair Chris Chapman recalled, “That was creative because there are mid-tier power gaps that the ACMA wrestles with. Apart from coming up with a mutually agreed outcome we have taken to making recommendations to broadcasters in the event of a breach.
“That was one where we negotiated an outcome I thought was a useful way of resolving.”
Back in 2012 then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy also referred to stronger ACMA outcomes, “….so instead of just having the slap on the wrist or closing down the station there are what you’d call mid-tier powers.
“Fines would fall into that category. I’d give that serious consideration.”
In recent weeks Breaches of the Code in both Television and Radio have drawn comment for their light touch. Free TV Australia has also been critical that Breaches apply to Broadcast but not to the Online sector, which falls under ACMA’s remit (albeit without spectrum involved).
Quite what the independent audit of assembling Sunrise‘s current affairs content entails is unclear.
“The decision to withdraw the application for judicial review is an important acceptance of the ACMA’s findings,” said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin.
“Channel Seven’s response to the ACMA takes account of the high threshold for this breach finding.
“Remedial action must allow for the discussion of matters in the public interest, including extremely sensitive topics. However, these discussions must be done with due care, with editorial framing to ensure compliance with the Code.”
A Seven spokesperson told TV Tonight, “Seven has worked with the ACMA to agree on the appropriate steps that enable both parties to move on and avoid the time and expense of court action.”