ABC defends impartiality after review goes public

Panels on The Drum & Insiders were found to favour Labour, but ABC cleared on impartiality.

ABC has defended its impartiality following the release of an independent review which found five episodes of The Drum and four episodes of Insiders broadcast during the 2019 election campaign were more positive for the ALP than the Coalition.

The review by British journalist Kerry Blackburn, commissioned by the ABC Board,ABC’s coverage overall was impartial analysed: 5 editions of The Drum; 4 editions of the weekly Insiders program (across the campaign); 65 digital articles; 23 items on AM; 43 items on RN Breakfast; 18 items on 7pm ABC News (Victoria); 9 items on 7.30.

It found ABC’s coverage overall to be impartial, with journalists and presenters found to have been fair and accurate in their writing, interviewing and presenting.

One episode of The Drum “reflected too narrow a range of viewpoints” and “more conservative voices and perspectives should have been included” and “the disparity impacted the program’s impartiality”.

“There appeared to be a substantial shortfall in positive reflection of the Coalition’s prospects, policies or performance compared to Labor,” Blackburn said of two Insiders shows. “This was not related to the expression of opinions but the weight of analysis, where the positive impression for Labor across all contributions in two episodes far outweighed that for the Coalition.”

But Blackburn found that overall, the Insiders panellists’ contributions were “evidence-based and constituted professional judgment”.

She recommended a review of the composition of panels on The Drum and further analysis of the panels on Insiders.

While the review was commissioned for internal use by ABC teams, intended to give ABC editorial managers starting points for discussion, a motion passed in the Senate on Wednesday forced the publication of the report on Thursday evening.

Guardian reports ABC Chair Ita Buttrose and the managing director, David Anderson, wrote to the president of the Senate, Scott Ryan, to express serious reservations about the use of the powers of the upper house to force publication of the internal report.

“There is a public interest in the ABC being able to deliberate on and develop ideas for its program material in a confidential way,” Buttrose wrote to Ryan on Thursday.

“Public discussion on its internal deliberations on program material will hinder the free exchange of ideas about program material, and this is to the detriment of the public interest.”

“The review did not identify any impartiality issue with the conduct of presenters on The Drum or identify any issues of bias in their interviews. The issue identified by the reviewer in relation to The Drum was relatively minor and related primarily to one aspect of one episode. Overwhelmingly, this was outweighed by the evidence of thoughtful and impartial analysis and discussion produced by the program team across the election period,” ABC said in a statement.

“ABC News is proud of the achievements of The Drum and supports the entire team in its efforts to expand the range of voices and perspectives discussing topical issues on Australian television.

“In the intervening 18 months the pool of contributors on The Drum has continued to grow in political and geographic diversity and there have been changes to the pool of political journalists and expert commentators used on Insiders.”

Ms Blackburn also noted in her review, “This has not been designed to be a pass / fail review of the ABC’s election coverage because it is only a sampling of one week of some of the content and is not an analysis of the whole of the five-week campaign across all platforms and genres.

“The findings are intended to assist the ABC’s thinking on potential improvements to its editorial processes at election time and more generally, and to inform its approach to achieving impartiality.

“The reviewer is confident that her findings for individual editions of programs or items of content can be relied on. But it is not suggested that a negative finding for one edition of one program could be reliably extrapolated as applicable to all of the ABC’s coverage of the 2019 Federal Election, or even to other editions of the same or similar programs.”

11 Responses

  1. The quotes of most concern and that are bizarre are the intentions to not have public deliberations and remain confidential. It’s not necessary for a public broadcaster to do that unless they are hiding or covering up something. It should be transparent or it’s open to bias and the independent reviews would just be for semblance.

  2. Glad to see this. The ABC sets the standard in Australia for sticking to it’s charter and publicly dealing with issues that emerge. The culture there is sufficiently healthy that this kind of report is essentially routine. The follow up with individuals and teams is, as I understanding, critical to ensuring any adjustments are reasonable and are taken as such.

    As with the war crimes report, criticism inevitably comes from those who can’t understand what a good, healthy system looks like. In the best of systems with the best built-up cultures, humans will make errors at times. They’re mostly due to unintentional slips that are either one-offs or are found to be influenced by more systemic factors. Sometimes they are intentional, by individuals who had or who have developed hazardous thought processes or attitudes. Either way, to be overly critical of such reports or their…

  3. To anyone that consumes murdoch media the ABC should seem left leaning. If the murdoch people found ABC impartial then there would be a problem. Every time i watch Q&A or insiders they seem to have balanced numbers and Leigh sales on 7:30 has definitely been critical towards both parties and their members this year.

    That said, The Drum does have stacked panels a lot, not necessarily towards labor, but towards social leftists. They make a good attempt at diverse representation on race, religion, ability and orientation but rarely is there more than one conservative.

  4. It’s obvious the ABC are going to continue to pretend conservatives don’t exist or if they do they are there to be mocked and publicly “shamed” on Q&A

    For $20m a week of taxpayer money I think they can do a bit better than “oh but we got David Speers and he was from Sky”

    An hour a week is a good start, how about filling a few more so it’s not almost 100% of programs hosted by Labor Greens cheerleaders

  5. It’s not surprising why ABC didn’t want this released in Senate. I find The Drum, Insiders and Q+A skew left with The Drum seeming to have strong bias going into far-left and hardly having any right of center voices. There are also not any, or very nominal Indigenous and minority ethnic conservative voices either, like there are on other channels and press, as if they are not allowed on ABC.

    It also observes the notions that the ABC television news bulletins, 7.30 Report and election coverages tend to be impartial and without bias.

    1. Well you must be watching completely different shows to me. I have found The Drum, 7.30 & Insiders skewed right more & more. Especially since Speers took over Insiders. Leigh Sales barely hides her contempt when she interviews Labor people whereas with the Libs it’s a friendly chat rather than an interview.

      1. I disagree with The Drum. I agree with Insiders as it’s not as overly left-leaning and biased since Barrie Cassidy farewelled as host. Leigh Sales I find does ask tough questions to Liberal politicians and doesn’t back down when they try the old answer avoidance tactics, but receives bitterness from left-leaning viewers because she isn’t soft on Labor politicians either with questioning.

    1. Yet, “It found ABC’s coverage overall to be impartial, with journalists and presenters found to have been fair and accurate in their writing, interviewing and presenting”.

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