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.”