ABC defends Four Corners report

"I am confident that the journalism was of the highest quality ," says ABC boss David Anderson.

ABC received around 100 complaints around last November’s Four Corners episode, “Inside the Canberra Bubble.”

45 of those were Editorially based and investigated but no breaches were found, it was revealed yesterday.

There were also 17 complaints made against the recent follow-up episode “Bursting the Canberra Bubble,” 4 of which are still under investigation.

Managing Director David Anderson told the Senate Estimates Committee given that the Attorney General Christian Porter has now commenced proceedings against the ABC, he was limited in what he could answer.

But ABC stood by its reporting.

“At all times I believe the ABC has acted in accordance with its statutory obligations of impartiality and its Charter in its reporting,” he said.

“The Attorney-General continues to be entitled to the presumption of innocence and the public broadcaster has reflected this in its reporting.

“The ABC broke the story about a letter concerning the historical rape allegation sent to senior federal politicians with an online piece on February 26, reporting the existence of the anonymous letter and who had been sent it. All the recipients referred the letter to the federal police.

“No reputable media organisation could have ignored the existence of the letter or the fact that politicians on both sides of the despatch box had referred it to police.

“We did not name or identify the cabinet minister mentioned in the material. Forty-eight hours passed before the Prime Minister publicly defended the unnamed minister and two days later the Attorney-General revealed the allegation was about him.

Four Corners revisited the story in its ‘Bursting the Canberra Bubble’ episode on March 8, which placed equal emphasis on the Attorney-General’s categorical denial and the untested historical allegation. It also featured an interview with Arthur Moses SC, the former president of the Law Council of Australia, saying that without a sworn statement or a witness there is no criminal case.

“The program also described how the woman had reported to NSW police, but her plan to make a formal statement was thwarted by the COVID shutdown. She became depressed, was struggling with mental health issues, told police she did not want to proceed and tragically took her own life.

“The ABC chose never to identify her. No unpixellated image has been used; her voice has not been heard. Her story has been told through her friends who cared deeply about her. Many of the details of her account of the alleged rape have not been reported on ABC platforms. As editorial standards require, the ABC sought to minimise the distress to her bereaved family.

“A legal affairs commentator in The Australian said last week that he hopes the case will ‘expose Milligan and her supervisors to the scrutiny they deserve’. The ABC has also been accused of selectively quoting from the material sent to the politicians. The Statement of Claim filed includes alleged aggravated damages particulars that echo those kinds of allegations.

“As I said earlier: it is not appropriate that I be drawn on those issues now because many of them may be discussed in open court proceedings.

“But I will say this: those allegations are denied and I am confident that the journalism was of the highest quality and that this will be borne out in the court proceedings.

“We will defend the case and our reporting which we believe is in the public interest.”

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