Saturday, July 24, 2010

World Today: two versus one

ABC HEADLINE: ABC's World Today program broadcast "Political veterans chew the campaign fat" on Friday 23 July.
ABC REPORTED: The report featured commentary on the election campaign by Former ALP politician Cheryl Kernot, retiring South Australian Liberal Senator Nick Minchin, and retiring ALP member for Fraser and Parliamentary Secretary for Development Assistance Bob McMullan.
Looking at the transcript, we count a total 2227 words spoken by the two Labor party commentators versus 1213 words from the one Liberal party commentator. Program host ELEANOR HALL is credited with 1467 words. 
THE COMPLAINT: Not only was the program biased in favour of the number of ALP commentators, the amount of time given to ALP politicians outweighed the Coalition by almost 2:1. Can ABC please explain how this program meets editorial policy in regard to balance and lack of political bias?
Received 10/9/2010
I refer to your email of 24 July 2010 alleging a lack of balance in a discussion broadcast on The World Today the previous day.
The ABC's editorial standards for balance and impartiality focus on the content of programs.  Compliance with these standards is not determined by counting the number of contributors who participate, or the number of words uttered by each party.
The relevant editorial standards are found in clauses 3.4 and 3.5 of the ABC's Code of Practice (and their equivalent clauses in the ABC's Editorial Policies):
3.4     Content will be impartial.  Editorial judgements will be based on news values.  One perspective will not be unduly favoured over others.
3.5     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, principal relevant views on matters of importance will be presented.
In response to your email, ABC News has commented: "It is not possible to use a word count to establish whether balance has been achieved in a particular interview or discussion. What one person can say in ten words, it may take another 100 words to say. The news value of those ten words could be ten times more influential on an audience than 100 words.  In pre-recorded or packaged interviews, comments are used on the basis of their news value , not their length, and to a certain extent this applies in live interview situations as well but in a live panel discussion  there are too many variables to expect that absolute equality of words spoken, or time allotted will be achieved."
Having reviewed the broadcast, I see no basis for concluding that it lacked news value, unduly favoured a particular perspective, or failed to present a range of principal relevant views on matters of importance.
For your reference, the Code of Practice is available here -
Yours sincerely,
Head, Audience and Consumer Affairs

COMMENT:"The ABC has always publicly defined itself as balanced. It does so, because that's what its editorial guidelines demand of reporters and broadcasters. The reality is different. ABC newsrooms get very nervous when the Liberal Party looks a winning chance and they get angry when Liberal governments retain power." Former ABC employee Kevin Naughton quoted in The Australian 24/7/2010

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