ABC Ombudsman clears Four Corners over impartiality complaints

"The documentary was not Russian propaganda," says ABC Ombudsman Fiona Cameron.

ABC Ombudsman Fiona Cameron has cleared the broadcaster over last week’s Four Corners episode.

“Ukraine’s War: The Other Side” was a documentary by British filmmaker Sean Langan ofering a “human perspective on life on the Russian frontline.”

The Ukrainian ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, said the program “unquestioningly repeated and aired countless blatant lies, historical distortions, racist claims and propaganda narratives emanating from the Kremlin” and therefore “completely served the interests of Russia’s dictator, Putin”.

The Ombudsman received 235 content complaints about the broadcast, predominantly claiming that it amounted to Russian propaganda.

The complaints raised concerns that the documentary portrayed only one side of the conflict, failed to detail Russian war crimes and human rights violations, and sought to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by presenting the perspective of Russian soldiers who made offensive and inaccurate claims as a rationale for its aggression.

But the Obudsman found the immersive-style doco took a questioning tone including noting how the UN had documented at least 73 cases of unlawful killings and executions in Bucha.

“The documentary was not Russian propaganda,” said the report. “It presented the Russians at the front line looking at times shambolic, in one instance attempting to resuscitate a clapped­ out tank, with dispirited soldiers situated in muddy trenches fearful of mortar fire and drone attacks. The perspectives of the Russian soldiers in the report who justified the invasion and its objectives, are clearly their own and are in no way endorsed or supported by the reporter or the ABC. The documentary ends with the reporter stating – ‘Putin has cast this war as a re-run of the great patriotic war; but now Russia is the aggressor and the invader.'”

The report noted the episode was just one aspect of Four Comers‘ recent coverage of issues related to the ongoing war.

“The Ombudsman acknowledges the nature of the report, and some of the sentiments expressed by Russian soldiers in it, would be confronting and offensive for some of the program’s audience, particularly those who are Ukrainian or who have family in the region impacted by the war. Any offence caused by the broadcast, while, regrettable, is justified by the editorial context of the documentary.”