Q+A draws most ABC complaints in 2023

There were 5,220 individual content complaints received by ABC in 2023, dominated by war and voice to parliament, but there were also targeted campaigns.

Q+A was the most-complained about show on ABC in 2023 due to target complaint campaigns according to the ABC Ombudsman.

Q+A attracted 2100 complaints according to Ombudsman Fiona Cameron.

The campaign about an episode of Q+A raised 1,974 issues. The complaints largely went to concerns of impartiality (that it was pro-Israel) and harm and offence (not challenging alleged Islamophobic and racist comments by a panellist).

A substantial number of  Q+A complaints were identically worded as a result of a campaign calling on people to contact the ABC and outlining how to structure complaints.

The Ombudsman noted the program did raise opinions, perspectives and positions that were contentious and would have caused offence to many viewers. However, Ms. Cameron found that the program was justified given the editorial context and posed appropriate questions and challenges. It was also considered that the program did not favour any perspective with the host explicitly stating its objective to “de-escalate tensions and restore respect”.

From 24,533 complaints, 79% were categorised as general complaints about matters of personal taste or program schedule times and not the business of the Ombudsman’s Office.

Amongst the remaining 5,220 individual content complaints received there were 6,539 separate issues identified, the highest number in the last 5 years. 51% of all issues raised, related to the Israel / Gaza war and 11% concerned the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

72% of issues raised across the top ten programs (including Radio) in 2023 related to coverage of the war (3,022) and the voice (469) with complaints about ABC News Online covering a wide range of stories and themes reflecting its broad remit and reach.

47 issues were received about the ABC’s coverage of the explosion at al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza on various programs and platforms. 35 issues alleged an anti-Israel bias, and that the coverage was inaccurate as it either explicitly or implicitly attributed the explosion to an Israeli airstrike. 12 issues alleged a pro-Israel bias because it reported the responsibility for the explosion as disputed.

The Ombudsman’s Office assessed 725 issues related to a range of interviews on 7:30 across the year. 69% (500) claimed bias or lack of balance. The majority, 68%, were about coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict, 14% related to the voice and 10% were about an interview with Russia’s Ambassador to Australia (alleging that it displayed anti-Russian bias). The Ombudsman reviewed numerous interviews about the war, and was satisfied that every interview had been suitably rigorous and informative, testing the interviewee’s positions and claims.

There were also 97 issues raised about the Four Corners episode ‘Blocked: The Battle over Youth Gender Care’ and a related online article and social media video, but no breach of editorial standards was found.

Most of the 92 Upheld Complaints related to Radio.

The Ombudsman concluded 2023 was dominated with complaints about the Israel/Gaza conflict. Apart from upholding impartiality complaints on a triple j music show, the Ombudsman found the ABC’s coverage to be professional, wide-ranging and reflective of newsworthy events.

Ms Cameron’s report noted, “Reporting from an international warzone on developing situations is challenging, so assessing the accuracy of what is broadcast at a specific time means considering what information was available at that time. Coverage should be transparent about what the ABC knows and does not know; be explicit about what information can be or has been verified; attribute accusations of responsibility and include relevant perspectives on contentious matters. Particular care must be taken where there is a risk of losing context, for example, with headlines and photo captions.

“Audience complaints form part of a public exchange with the ABC from which all parties can benefit. The Ombudsman’s Office provides a link between audiences and content makers and we aim to ensure reasonable complaints are heard across the ABC. Our primary objective is to resolve complaints in a timely fashion and to support the ABC to uphold the high standards it sets for itself including independence, integrity, impartiality and accuracy.”