COMMENT: ABC Complaints Review Executive (CRE) have provided a response to our complaint regarding factual errors in a story featuring interviews with climate change Minister Penny Wong and Macquarie University's Tim Flannery.
The report transcript included the following statement from Minister Penny Wong:
"We've got around 85 per cent of the world's economies signed up to the Copenhagen Accord."
and the following statement from Professor Flannery:
"I think he's done a pretty good job overall and the Copenhagen Accord shows that.
We've got something like 80 countries now signed up to that."The UNFCC indicate that currently 40 Annex I countries and 30 non-Annex I countries have provided targets under the Copenhagen Accord (see UNFCC website HERE). Number of countries in the UN: 192, Number of countries listed by UNFCC as providing emission targets under the Copenhagen Accord: 70: or 36%.
We requested that ABC append the report with a statement indicating the number of countries that have provided targets under the Copenhagen Accord to this report to clarify Minister Wong's apparently misleading statement. ABC have refused to do so, thus helping to promulgate factual inaccuracies. The ABC's Complaint Review Executive report is posted in full below:
Received 23 April, 2010
REVIEW OF COMPLAINT
A request for review was received on 6 April 2010. It was acknowledged on 6 April and the complainant was advised that the Complaints Review Executive would aim to complete the review by 4 May 2010.
On 19 February 2010 The World Today included a report – Head of UN climate change team calls it quits.
The complainant wrote on 21 February 2010 regarding a report on The World Today. He stated that that the ‘UNFCC (sic) indicate that currently 40 Annex I countries and 30 non‐Annex I countries have provided targets under the Copenhagen Accord.’ He believed that –
‘In light of this both Minister Wong and Prof Tim Flannery’s statements are in‐correct. Although Prof Flannery’s is acceptable in context. The ABC reporter should have had these facts at hand and questioned Minister Wong on her stated figures. Instead factual errors were allowed to be reported.’
He also considered that ‘Knowledge of the number of countries that provided emission targets would have allowed the reporter to pick up errors made by the interviewees.’
ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs (A&CA) responded on 29 March advising that the ‘views of Senator Wong and Tim Flannery are their own, they are not the views of the ABC’. A&CA advised that ‘For the purposes of section 5 of Editorial Policies, the comments of contributors are not considered factual content.’ A&CA wrote that they ‘believe the interviews were suitably questioning, on the issue that was the focus of the report; the continuity of negotiations over a global climate treaty following the departure of the top UN official on climate change.’
Following a further exchange of emails on 29 March about the relevant section of ABC Editorial Policies the complainant requested a review by the CRE. On 5 April he also emailed his request direct to the CRE.
Basis of Assessment
Stories on The World Today are categorised as News and Current Affairs content and must meet editorial standards set out in section 5 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. Section 5.2.2(d) of the Editorial Policies says: Editorial judgements are based on news values, not for example on political, commercial or sectional interests or personal values.
In addition the ABC’s Code of Practice Section 3 ‘News and current affairs content’ notes:
3.2 Every reasonable effort, in the circumstances, must be made to ensure the factual content of news and current affairs is accurate and in context
3.4 Editorial judgments will be based on news values
The context of the story was a follow up to the announcement the day before of the resignation of Mr Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):
The interviewer was seeking responses to the announcement by interviewing the Federal Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, and the Chair of the Coasts and Climate Change Council, Professor Tim Flannery. While the focus of the interview was not about the numbers of countries who had signed up to the Copenhagen Accord, both interviewees referred to this as part of their responses. The references were not precise:
‘We’ve got around eighty five percent of the world’s economies signed up’ (Minister Penny Wong)
‘We’ve got something like 80 countries now signed up..’ (Professor Tim Flannery)
Professor Flannery also referred to Mr Todd Stern, the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change who he said was predicting ‘we’ll be at 100 countries within the next few weeks’.
The complainant has provided this link to challenge the figures expressed, with an expectation that the interviewer would choose to pursue this issue: http://unfccc.int/home/items/5262.php
The story heading was ‘Head of UN climate change team call it quits’ and the clear line of questioning concerned the impact of the resignation, the qualities required by a new chief negotiator and the likely impact of a new appointment.
While it was open to the interviewer to challenge the particular references, the particular angle and substance of the news story was the resignation of Mr Yvo de Boer, and what the change to such an important position would mean.
The resignation is the heart of the brief story, the essential news value. In previous determinations by the CRE regarding the interpretation of ‘factual content’ provided by third parties, it has been considered that the comments of contributors are not subject to the same requirements for accuracy as ABC staff who are required to meet the standards of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. In this case, the program’s decision to seek comment from two credible and recognised speakers was sufficient to satisfy the ABC’s requirement that every reasonable effort be made to ensure accuracy (Ed: Sir Marc: ACCURACY?-both "credible" speakers got their figures astoundingly wrong!).
Having assessed the content, considered the listener’s concerns and reviewed the ABC’s response, I consider that ABC editorial requirements were not breached. Therefore the complaint is not upheld.
COMPLAINTS REVIEW EXECUTIVE
19 April 2010