ABC’s perfect record for blowing off complaints about balance continues

The ABC’s imperviousness to any suggestion that they are politically biased or unbalanced remains. On the 13th of August, Radio National’s The World Today program interviewed Prof. James Fallows regarding the Republican Party’s selection of Paul Ryan as the candidate for Vice President.

They introduced as the national correspondent for The Atlantic and chair of US Media at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. What they didn’t mention was that he was Jimmy Carter’s speechwriter for two years, which one would think would be a pretty good indicator of his political position. In the discussion, he called Paul Ryan a ‘extreme conservative’ and made numerous judgements on him.

So, for a lark, I thought it would be interesting to see if we could get the ABC to uphold a complaint of a pretty obvious breach of transparency on its part.

This is what my initial email looks like:

Despite my complete lack of faith in this process, I would like to make a complaint about an interview conducted about the US Presidential race today. The topic of discussion was the soundness of Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidental candidate. Eleanor Hall interviewed James Fallows, who amongst other things, was former President Jimmy Carter’s speechwriter. However this was not disclosed at the time, meaning that people were not told that a prominent Democrat was being interviewed about the actions of the Republican candidate for President.

Given that Prof. Fallows called Ryan ‘extreme conservative’ and made several judgements on Ryan’s political positions and his suggested budget, this is a serious oversight of transparency, as well as an example of a lack of balance.

Pretty straightforward, right? Here is the ABC’s response:

Dear Lee

Thank you for your email regarding The World Todayinterview with Professor James Fallows.

Your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC. We have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and impartiality.

Professor James Fallows was introduced to the program’s audience as the national correspondent for The Atlanticand chair of US Media at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. These are his current positions from which he comments on contemporary US politics and it was therefore relevant to note them in the introduction. We cannot agree that there was any editorial requirement for the program to note that he worked for President Carter more than 30 years ago. While his role as a speechwriter for President Carter is well known, he has also worked in a diverse range of roles since that time, including as a recognised and distinguished journalist.

Professor Fallows is a semi-regular contributor to a range of ABC programs and I am advised by ABC News management that this is the standard way that he is introduced to audiences. He has a vast understanding and experience of US politics and we are satisfied that he is well placed to provide context and analysis on the Republican choice for Vice President.

We have assessed the manner in which Professor Fallows was introduced on the program against the ABC editorial standards for accuracy in section 2 of the ABC Code of Practice state;

2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.

2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.

As noted in standard 2.2, there are occasions when appropriate labels or explanatory information should be included to alert the audience to a relevant piece of context. However, if inappropriately or unnecessarily applied, labels can also be seen as subjective, over simplistic or stereotypical. Given it is more than 3 decades since Professor Fallows worked for President Carter, we cannot agree that there was any editorial requirement to note that fact and we have concluded that his introduction is in keeping with the accuracy standards in section 2 of the Code of Practice.

We have assessed your concerns regarding balance against the impartiality requirements of section 4 of the ABC Code of practice, which state;

4.2 Present a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented.

The World Today and its fellow radio current affairs programs AM and PMhave presented a broad and diverse range of perspectives on the US Presidential elections over time, and we cannot agree that any one perspective or side of politics has been unduly favoured over another. The perspective of Professor Fallows was just one of a number presented by the program and we are satisfied that this approach is in keeping with the impartiality requirements in section 4 of the Code of Practice.

The ABC Code of Practice is available online at the attached link;

Should you be dissatisfied with this response to your complaint, you may be able to pursue the matter with the Australian Communications and Media Authority

Yours sincerely

Kieran Doyle

Audience and Consumer Affairs

So basically, working for the other guys isn’t a relevant fact when commenting on politics. Considering what lengths that the ABC went to, to highlight what one woman alleged Tony Abbott did over 30 years ago (with voluminous coverage of Ms Ramjan’s claims and irrelevant to his current job), it is a bit rich to then turn around and say that Prof. Fallows past and presumably current political affiliations (very relevant to his current job) are materially relevant.


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