Wednesday, February 24, 2010

UPDATE: ABC achieves balance on story about Polar Bear cannibalism

ABC NEWS Watch initially raised concerns about issues with an ABC story covering Polar Bear cannibalism in Canada. The ABC responded to our initial complaint (see HERE) by amending the headline to indicate that the claim that Polar Bear Cannibalism was due to global warming was made by conservationists. 

ABC NEWS WATCH made a follow up complaint that suggested the report lacked balance:

To ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs Sent 24/12/2009
The posted correction is welcome but only addresses part of the issue identified in the original complaint. As source documents for this story  (link below) demonstrate an alternative explanation for cannibalism among polars was put forward but was not reported by the ABC. Please further amend the story to include reference to the alternate explanation, as indicated below:

"However, an Inuit leader in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut said the incidents are non-events and that it's wrong to connect the bear's behaviour with starvation.
"It makes the south - southern people - look so ignorant," said Kivalliq Inuit Association president Jose Kusugak.
"A male polar bear eating a cub becomes a big story and they try to marry it with climate change and so on, it becomes absurd when it's a normal normal occurrence," Kusugak said.
Kusugak admitted some communities are having polar bear problems because warmer than average temperatures means sea ice hasn't yet formed properly.
But he disagrees that their numbers are dwindling or that polar bears are in other danger because of climate change."

Original story
Regards (and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)

We are happy to report that ABC Audience and Consumer affairs have upheld this complaint and have now amended the original story to include alternate views by an Inuit leader who suggested that Polar Bear Cannibalism was not out of the ordinary. We believe our involvement in raising these issues has resulted in a more balanced report.

FROM Audience and Consumer Affairs 24/2/2010
Thank you for your emails of 7 and 24 December, regarding the ABC News online story Climate change drives bears to cannibalism, conservationists say.  I apologise for the significant delay in responding.

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, assessed it against the ABC’s editorial standards and sought and considered material provided by ABC News. 

I have attached a link to the Corporation’s Editorial Policies for your reference.

Audience and Consumer Affairs acknowledges your concern and agrees that the report failed to achieve balance, as required under section 5.2.2(e) of the ABC Editorial Policies.  The report was updated on 9 February to include the perspective of an Inuit spokesman.  The ABC News correction, originally posted on 23 December, was also been updated on 23 February to alert the audience to the nature of the error, and is available at the following link;

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

Yours sincerely
Audience and Consumer Affairs


Polar bears

ABC News Online
On December 5, in an article about the melting of Hudson Bay sea ice in Canada, the ABC used the heading that climate change was “driving polar bears to cannibalism”. The story explained that the sea ice which the bears need to walk across when hunting, was not appearing until weeks later than usual. This means the bears had a shortage of food and there had been cases reported of the bears eating cubs for food. The ABC acknowledges that polar bears are not necessarily driven towards cannibalism because of climate change; this claim should have been attributed to conservationists. The heading has been changed to: “Climate change drives polar bears to cannibalism, conservationists say”. Also, the story did not include sufficient balance and reaction of an Inuit spokesman to the cannibalism claims was added to the story.

The editor's note added the story reads:
Editor's note (December 23): The headline on this story has been changed to make it clear that conservationists are saying climate change is driving polar bears to cannibalism. On February 9, the reaction of an Inuit spokesman to the cannibalism claims was added to the story.

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