ABC Ombudsman clears 7:30 over interview complaints

ABC received 52 complaints following an interview between Sarah Feguson and IDF spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

The ABC Ombudsman has cleared 7:30 of 52 complaints received following an interview between host Sarah Feguson and IDF spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

The interview broadcast on April 8th centered on the deaths of 7 World Central Kitchen aid workers. Killed in the air strikes were an Australian team leader, two American-Canadian and Polish relief workers, three British security personnel, and a Palestinian interpreter.

In the interview, Mr Lerner said that “there can be mistakes in the state of war in a condition of war, this is clearly a mistake… we’ve taken responsibility for the mistake.”

The complainants were concerned about Ferguson persisting with questions as to whether the IDF attack on the World Central Kitchen aid convoy amounted to a war crime, not accepting Lerner’s response to questions he had already answered and the presenter’s concluding statement – “Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, I’m not accepting your view that it’s a mistake, there’s a lot further to go on this story, but thank you very much indeed for joining us”.

ABC Ombudsman Fiona Cameron reported the host has a duty to conduct an interview that does not allow the interviewee to use the occasion as a political platform.

“It is her duty to put other points of view to the interviewee and her responsibility to interject and make reasonable efforts to ensure that the questions that were asked are being answered. Posing testing questions and then allowing the interviewee to respond to those questions is a recognised standard of objective journalism,” the report stated.

“Israel has accepted responsibility for the strikes that killed the humanitarian aid workers from the World Central Kitchen, and it is a natural consequence of that action that it be rigorously scrutinised and questioned in the public interest. We observe how the presenter made clear to Lieutenant Colonel Lerner that the Australian government was ‘not at all satisfied’ with the explanation provided by the Israeli government, about its attack on the World Central Kitchen aid convoy.”

7.30 noted:

‘Understanding the sequence of events, the military culture and context around the decision to launch a missile strike on the aid convoy, is a significant journalistic inquiry for 730. We had been pursuing the facts of the story since it broke the preceding week and will continue to do so until the facts are clear. The purpose of the concluding statement, in a live interview where there was no opportunity to ask a further question, was to signal that the characterisations (“mistake”, “tragedy”) were inadequate to the significance of the event, and we would continue to seek further explanation. That explanation would be expected to include the threshold for decisions to launch fatal missile attacks, the quantity and quality of intelligence and consideration of civilian casualties. These decisions are not simple and offering a simple explanation, such as mistake or tragedy, is not enough for the audience considering the death of an innocent Australian aid worker and her colleagues’. ‘The presenter sometimes uses the first person to challenge interviewers who are not answering, the “I” is intended to be the presenter speaking on behalf of the program’.

The ABC Ombudsman concluded there was no ABC’s editorial standards for impartiality.

“We accept that the use of first-person language may have given rise to the impression or perception that the comment was a personal opinion of the presenter but are satisfied that the remarks sought to qualify that concluding the attack was a ‘mistake’ was premature given the ongoing investigation.”