Friday, April 23, 2010

Update: ABC reply to Chinese whispers complaint

COMMENT: ABC Complaints Review Executive have replied to our complaint about ABC reporting on comments made by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director, National Development and Reform Commission in the course of a group press conference held during the National People's Congress.
ABC's report conflicted with reports by other news agencies. The disparity in reporting was highlighted by The Australian's Cut and Paste section HERE.

In the reply (posted in full below) ABC contend that "It is not the responsibility of the ABC to examine the accuracy of other media organisations, their editorial processes or decisions."
Rather than take the complaint further with ABC Independent Complaints Review Panel we will endeavour to obtain comment from the Reuter's reporter whose piece contradicts the ABC article (see "China unsure on warming cause, to stick with CO2 cuts"). If that fails we shall then seek a translation of Xie Zhenhua's comments from the Chinese government. We will post results as they come to hand.

Excerpt from email sent to Reuters 22 April: I am wondering who is right? Reuters or the ABC. Is it possible to provide some proof of what was said at the press conference in question to help clarify how Reuter's reporter arrived at her translation that according to the ABC must be faulty? If so would it be possible to provide me with a copy.


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 11 March 2010 ‐ ABC News Online posted a report – Climate change is a fact, says China; AM included a report – China takes swipe at climate deniers; and Radio Australia’s Connect Asia included a report – Top Chinese official says climate change is a fact.
On 12 March 2010 the complainant wrote that ‘Reporting by the ABC appears to contradict coverage of the same event by Reuters’. He quoted a statement by the reporter –
‘I asked the panel what they thought of the view that climate change had nothing to do with human activity and was in fact a natural phenomenon.’
The complainant wrote that the ABC reported that Xie Zhenhua, Deputy Director, National Development and Reform Commission, stated – ‘Deputy Director Xie answered that he believed that manmade
climate change denial is, at best, a very marginal view.’ The complainant quoted from the Reuters report posted on 10 March ‐ ‘There are still two different viewpoints in the scientific field about
the cause of warming,ʺ Xie told a news conference on the sidelines of the annual session of Chinaʹs largely rubber‐stamp parliament.’
In addition, the complainant wrote that ‘Xie Zhenhua did not use the term “denial”. This term appears to
have been introduced into the report by the ABC reporter…. or at a later stage by ABC editorial staff.’
The complainant asked if the ABC correctly reported statements by Xie Zhenhua and if the reporter ‘selectively’ quoted Xie Zhenhua. He wrote that he believed that, if the Reuters report was correct, the ABC’s various headlines are ‘completely misleading’. Audience & Consumer Affairs (A&CA) responded on 1 April advising that the use of the phrase climate “denial” is not a direct quote, ‘but a paraphrasing of what Mr Xie went on to say – ‘that he believed that man‐made climate change denial is, at best a very marginal view.’ The complainant was advised that the reporter is a fluent Mandarin speaker and certainly had no trouble understanding what Mr Xie was saying. He was also advised that the ABC has no comment to make on the Reuters report as it is not ABC content. On 5 April the complainant requested a review by the CRE. He also emailed his request direct to the CRE.
Basis of Assessment
Stories appearing on ABC News Online, the AM Radio program and Radio Australia’s Connect Asia are categorised as News and Current Affairs content and must meet editorial standards set out in section 5 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies.
The complainant has particularly referred to section 5.2.2 (c), (d) and (e) in his correspondence regarding accuracy, impartiality and balance.
I have considered the relevant content and correspondence between the complainant and Audience and Consumer Affairs, including reference to the ABC’s Editorial Policies. Central to the complainant’s concern is a comparison of coverage with other news organisations The Atlantic, The Times of India, The Wall Street Journal and in particular Reuters:
‘Based on a comparison with the Reuters’ report, these three ABC articles apparently misrepresent statements by Xie Zhenhua.’ And ‘Can the ABC please explain the apparent difference in reporting this press conference between the two news agencies, Reuters and ABC?’
It is not the responsibility of the ABC to examine the accuracy of other media organisations, their editorial processes or decisions.

The complainant sought answers to six questions. Three of these (1, 5 and 6) specifically sought a comparison with Reuters’ coverage. One of the questions quoted from a Reuters’ report (4). These four questions regarding content of another media organisation do not fall under the provisions of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. In examining the other two questions (2 and 3) which referred specifically to ABC content, the complaint’s concerns were about accuracy of reporting and the possibility of selective quoting. Question 2: A&CA have already noted the reporter Stephen McDonnell is a fluent Mandarin speaker and able to accurately translate. Question 3: The first part of this question was ‘did the ABC reporter…. selectively quote the reply to his question?’ It is clear the reporter’s introduction to the reply is not a quote at all, rather a summary to precede the translation. The summary is a consistent and accurate interpretation of the
translation. Regarding the second part of the question, the ABC is not required to investigate what was or wasn’t provided to the Reuters’ correspondent and their subsequent coverage. The complainant has also identified his personal interest in coverage of ABC climate change issues:‐picking‐season‐was-chinese.html
While all ABC coverage may not always accord with his personal perspective this does not necessarily mean this coverage breaches the ABC’s Editorial Policies. (Sir Marc-ed:  It's not my personal perspective that matters-what matters is the unexplained differences between ABC's coverage and that of Reuters. Both can't be right).
Having assessed the content, considered the complainant’s concerns and reviewed the ABC’s response, I consider that ABC editorial requirements were not breached. Therefore the complaint is not upheld.

Date: 19 April 2010

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