Here's ABC CRE's reply (received 28 June 2010). Note we stall await a comment from the Resources Minister.
A request for review was received by the ABC on 4 June 2010 and referred to the Complaints Review Executive (CRE) on 7 June 2010. The complainant was advised that the CRE would aim to complete the review by 5 July 2010.
On 3 May 2010 ABC News Online posted a report – “Australian uranium dust found in Antarctic ice”.
On 3 May 2010 the complainant wrote that: “The headline overstates the certainty of the proposition made by the researcher. It also fails to take into account alternate sources of the uranium mines and new uranium discoveries in Chile and Argentina. As such the report lacks balance and contains factual errors”.
Audience & Consumer Affairs (A&CA) responded on 4 June 2010 and advised the complainant that ABC News accepted that the headline to the report “overstated the certainty that uranium dust found in Antarctica came from Australia”. Accordingly the headline was changed to “Uranium in Antarctic ice may be from Australia” with an Editor’s note appended to the story. A&CA noted the headline did not meet the ABC’s standards for accuracy in news and current affairs content. However AC&A were satisfied that the story was in keeping with the ABC’s standards for balance. The brief story reported the views of Dr Ricardo Jana based on the findings of scientists and therefore AC&A did not believe that further perspectives were required in order to meet the requirements of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. On 4 June 2010 the complainant requested a review by the CRE.
Basis of Assessment
Stories appearing on ABC News Online are categorised as News and Current Affairs content and must meet editorial standards set out in section 5 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies.Given the nature of the concerns raised I have assessed the complaint with a focus on the following sections:
Section 5.2.2 (c) Be accurate
(i) Every reasonable effort, in the circumstances, must be made to ensure that the factual content of news and current affairs is accurate and in context
(ii) The ABC will not hesitate to admit and correct a significant error when it has been established that one has been made
Section 5.2.2 (e) Be balanced
Balance will be sought but may not always be achieved within a single program or publication; it will be achieved as soon as reasonably practicable and in an appropriate manner. It is not essential to give all sides equal time. As far as possible, present principle relevant views on matters of importance.
I have reviewed the material specified by the complainant, read the correspondence with A&CA and investigated the use of Agency copy, in this case AFP, by ABC News. As noted by A&CA ABC News has corrected the headline which concerned the complainant, with an Editor’s note dated 18 May:
“The headline on this story was amended to make it clear that the traces of uranium found in Antarctica may have been from Australia, rather than presenting it as a fact.”
Accordingly in relation to the headline, the requirement of Section 5.2.2 (c)(ii) has been met.
However the complaint is still concerned about the substance of the story, copy for which had been provided by the independent international news service AFP. The context of the story was a summary of opinion by a Chilean researcher, and as such it accurately reported his theories, but without stating they were
undisputed facts. The ABC’s Editorial Policies note that balance may not always be achieved within a single program or publication, rather as soon as reasonably practicable, and it is not essential to give all sides equal time.In this case the Chilean researcher represented the findings of scientists for whom he provided the “principle relevant viewpoint” at that time, and his credentials were noted in the story. The substance of the story was based on the news value of the theories being put forward at that time. My enquiries with ABC News indicated that further enquiries have been made about the story. Accordingly it is still open for other viewpoints to be represented in future reports, in the context of appropriate news values and ongoing
scientific research and commentary.
Having assessed the content and the concerns of the complainant I consider that the requirements of the ABC’s Editorial Policies were met. Therefore the complaint is not upheld.
COMPLAINTS REVIEW EXECUTIVE
28 June 2010
ABC News Online, 3 May 2010
Summary published: Tuesday 29, June 2010
Complaint: An online reader complained that a report ‘Australian uranium dust found in Antarctic ice’ contained factual errors and lacked balance.
Finding: Upheld against 5.2.2 (c) ABC Editorial Policies (revised 1 March 2009)
Audience and Consumer Affairs response: The headline to the report did not meet the ABC’s standards for accuracy in news and current affairs content as it overstated the certainty that uranium dust found in Antarctica came from Australia. The headline was changed to ‘Uranium in Antarctic ice may be from Australia’ and an Editor’s Note was appended to the story to clarify the amendment. The complainant’s concerns about balance were not upheld.