Ideas for action on ABC news bias

By Barry Tucker @btckr                   February 7, 2013

There appears to be a growing perception of bias against the federal government in the news and current affairs programs of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

This page has been set up to collect IDEAS on how this problem can be arrested and corrected. THE PAGE CALLS FOR WORKABLE IDEAS, NOT NEGATIVE COMMENT, RUDENESS, INSULTS AND OTHER USELESS CONTRIBUTIONS. IDEAS only. The post is moderated and unhelpful remarks will be trashed.

A former Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, appointed certain members to the board of the ABC to redress a perception of a Left-leaning bias in the organisation. Some of these board members are now in their second term. The board elected one of them, Mark Scott, to be its chairman Managing Director [corrected, Feb 9, 2013]. Mr Scott had previously served as a chief-of-staff and a political advisor to two Liberal NSW government education ministers and is a former Editor-in-Chief of the conservative newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). The anti-Left bias of the current ABC has followed on from Mr Scott’s former PM Howard’s appointments to the board [rephrased, Feb 9, 2013].

The situation is not clear cut. The federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, recently said Mr Scott still had work to do to correct Left-wing bias in the ABC. The Australian newspaper (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, an active campaigner against the federal Labor government), occasionally criticises the ABC for being too Left wing. It seems to be that if you are not 100% behind us, you must be biased.

Most board members are appointed by the federal government. At least one is appointed from the ranks of ABC employees. The federal government funds the ABC to ensure its independence; in return it expects impartiality. The organisation manages itself and the responsible minister, at present Senator Stephen Conroy, cannot intervene (as far as I know). Please contribute your ideas below, on the single topic of how to stop and correct any bias in the news and current affairs reporting of the ABC.

On February 8, 2013, I received the Tweet below from Jonathan Holmes, presenter of the ABC’s Media Watch:

@btckr Newman replaced as chairman by Spigelman, hardly a conservative. Yr premise is bonkers.


My premise is based on the appointment of Mark Scott, not James (Jim) Spigelman. Mr Scott this week announced the appointment of ABC critic and Right-wing journalist Janet Albrechtsen to the panel of The Drum, to correct what he said was a Left-leaning imbalance. Most of the people who follow me on Twitter would say The Drum had a Right-wing imbalance.

ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs Investigations recently reprimanded its radio interviewer Jon Faine for breaching ABC impartiality requirements. The ABC apologised for a lapse in standards. The ABC has not apologised for the “Juliar” insult to the Prime Minister.

It seems the ABC is inconsistent when it comes to impartiality and applying its  Code of Practice, Editorial Policies and the Guidance Note, Corrective Policies, issued by the MD himself.

PS: The ABC’s inconsistency was evident again today (February 11) when ABC News tweeted an error in the spelling of Gotye’s name. Twenty minutes later it tweeted an apology, an explanation, a correct spelling and a hope of forgiveness by Gotye. A quick apology for a pop star, a lame excuse and no apology for a Prime Minister. See: Outrageous slur story in the ABC Radio & TV menu above, or the link below.


I received this yesterday (for a post on which comments had been closed), but I reproduce it here because it is relevant:


Please consider posting the contact details for Minister Conroy – phone, email, fax, snail mail – and put out the call for people to bombard his office with requests for the removal of Scott, a shake-up of the Board and institution of strict impartiality requirements.


Contact details for Senator Conroy can be found here:

A Wikipedia entry on the ABC board can be found here:


22 thoughts on “Ideas for action on ABC news bias

  1. I think a good start would be for ABC people like Chris Uhlmann, Barrie Cassidy, Latika Bourke, Leigh Sales, etc, to openly declare which party, if any, they support. This would make it a bit more obvious to viewers what sort of bias they can expect in the interview. [Edited, to remove personal reference. Sentiment remains.] You can’t really expect [a journalist] to ask hard and persistent questions from a member of a party [they] so obviously support.

  2. It would be a great start to give equal time on TV.
    To call MPs by their correct titles.
    To not have recurring visits continually by old school politicians.
    Instead of three people discussing policies equality of four should be required.
    More in-depth discussions with sufficient time is really required. This “we are out of time” comment should be got rid of.
    Selective sections of text read out taking it out of context are abominable and should stop.
    Thank you for allowing me to express some criticism’s of the abc.

  3. [Edited, to remove irrelevance]
    However, and it’s a big however, ABC on-air presenters should be compelled to commit to objectivity at all times. So called bias really is in the ear of the beholder.

    [Edited the remainder, consisting of examples. I asked for IDEAS, not EXAMPLES.]

  4. Hi Barry. I believe all that is required is for the ABC to report on matters as in accordance with their Code of Practice and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act. They must remember that the ABC is a taxpayer funded entity by the Federal Government and any political bias will offend many taxpayers. The ABC Board should be held to account for any infraction of their Code of Practice and/or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act.

  5. I suggest a good sit down meeting with all involved in ABC Political News is in order and some of the following points discussed (I’d like to see some outside observation in there too, independent + someone from the government).
    * Cut emotive words in political headlines, eg Labor Chaos.
    * Remove ‘accidental’ bias in stories, eg Ex Labor MP Craig Thomson and [but] NOT Ex Lib MP Peter Slipper. [Edited]: Sub-editor training, bias?
    * Don’t allow MPs to lie and obfuscate in interviews. The questions they answer provide our country with its knowledge and political direction.
    * I hear the ‘there goes Labor again’ tone in some Newsreaders’ voices, which isn’t deserved. Lose it.

  6. Great ideas. I would like to see less emotion in reporting. Also state clearly if article is an opinion, commentary or facts. People should have their correct titles. Facts should be backed up with data. Responsible reporting should be responsible. [Edited: References to newspapers & magazines deleted.]

  7. If interviewers are aware of a lie being told they have an obligation to ask follow up questions till the lie is exposed, not just let it pass after one question. Current interviewing techniques are either too aggressive, to the point of bullying, or too wishy washy, allowing obfuscation.

  8. I think collation of examples is necessary to convince the people with the power to do something that it’s necessary. Where there are clear-cut instances, as many people as possible should lodge complaints.

  9. Really wish ABC journalists would get to the bottom of real questions. Keep at it until they answer. Bring them back to the question. Don’t let them deflect or go off on political advertisements. Or say “so you are refusing to answer that question, lets move on”. Not let them get away with not answering.

    Also, if a political story breaks, report it. If the other side choose not to get back within 1 hour of being asked, report ” the xyz chose not to provide a comment at this time.” Stop waiting for 1-2 days to get a “balanced” viewpoint. Otherwise the heat goes out and they have more time to concoct their spin.

    Also +1 for lose the emotional adjectives in titles/stories etc. The ABC should just report FACTS and leave opinions up to the reader.

    • Really wish ABC journalists would get to the bottom of real questions. Keep at it until they answer. Bring them back to the question. Don’t let them deflect or go off on political advertisements. Or say “so you are refusing to answer that question, lets move on”. Not let them get away with not answering.
      This is the crux. Hit it in one. They obfuscate at the least opportunity.

      • The problem with the ABC is they badger and heckle Green and Labour T. Jones interview with Kate Lundy, yet give Liberals platform to lambaste Govt without asking relevant questions, eg outline their IR policy agenda, they don’t need fiscal outcomes to detail this.

      • The idea is contained within the comment, which is why I have allowed Robert’s contribution. I agree that the ABC needs to be more even-handed in its questioning of those it interviews.

        Very few reporters and hosts seem capable of handling an interview, in any medium. When they do try to focus the interviewee and get a clear-cut answer they are often criticised for being rude and aggressive. That looks like a no-win situation, but I suspect it’s more of a problem related to training and experience.

  10. Over at my ABC they need to stop taking the Limited-News position as the default starting point to any news item. This would automatically remove `some` bias and improve their content.
    They also need to give-up the games of `gotcha`, `never-ever` and leading interviews into `tired` subjects like `leadership-speculation`.
    Use the Rob Oakeshott interview on LatelineLand during the `tax-forum` on a Wednesday with Tony Jones as an example. (aprox Oct 2011)

  11. I think the solution is to make journalists, editors, and managers aware that they are not in a petty battle for propaganda rights anymore. What they are doing now determines whether their job will even exist in the near future. They need to understand that people are increasingly turning away from conventional media because of the widespread perception that it is too biased. News and current affairs especially are losing audience at a great rate. People are turning to the internet instead.

    Some time back I would have been an extreme example, but no longer: big media disgusts me to the point where I no longer have a TV, don’t turn on the radio any more and the only newspaper I read is New Scientist.

    Maintaining bias is not just immoral, it is counterproductive; it is killing the media. Perhaps if the people involved are shown this then they will protect their existence by behaving sensibly. (Sadly, I doubt it though.)

    • Miriam,
      I switch on the news only occasionally and then only SBS or ABC. I find the ABC keen to find fault and negatives in the Labor government at every chance. It’s seems obvious it’s an internal directive. Why? Are Mark Scott & the ABC board LNP minded? Is the ‘real’ story of how well Australia is doing under Labor not as interesting as making controversy? Are they looking for big money jobs outside the ABC if abbot gets in? Are they taking money from the IPA? Is murdoch blackmailing someone high up in the ABC?
      I don’t know what to do.
      It knocks my internal balance asunder. I can’t believe the national broadcaster can be so badly misguided. I think it may be my christian upbringing and adherence to Labor principles making me misjudge what I see ‘framed’ on ABC political reporting.
      I don’t know what to do.
      I turn it off.

      • Miriam, Teddy. See The puzzle at the heart of allegations of ABC bias in the ABC menu above, left, and especially the link to Mark Scott’s address to the Melbourne Press Club (which he gave in February 2010). He speaks of standards and professionalism, but doesn’t address allegations of bias directly.

        I haven’t seen any report that says staff are not happy with the present management; quite the opposite. While some staff appear to be biased against the Left, others do not. Some are also occasionally critical of the Right. In a perfect world the ABC’s journalists, presenters and commentators would be perfectly impartial and that would make the organisation a valuable asset.

        The most curious thing about allegations of bias is why the LNP Coalition and its allies claim the ABC is severely biased against the Right. Recently, this criticism has focussed on a perceived lack of Conservative comperes, commentators, moderators or presenters on mainline ABC public affairs programs. This suggests that the Right wing of politics knows exactly where each of the present bunch of ABC presenters stands politically. Frankly, I don’t know where they stand with certainty and I would have trouble putting a few of them in any slot.

        The federal Labor government is not exactly howling in protest against perceptions of bias, except in rare cases (see: Minister fires one across ABC’s bows). This may be explained by the reluctance of any government in a free society to tackle the news media head on.

        I am now in that confounding situation where I find the more research I do the more confusing the amassed information becomes. One theory that appeals to me is that the Right-wing criticism of the ABC is linked to the IPA’s recommendation to break it up and sell it off (likewise for the SBS). There may be a LNP campaign to destroy public confidence in the public broadcasters. Mark Scott’s address (cf above) makes it clear that in the UK and here the publicly-funded broadcasters are taking market share from the failing business models of commercial tv and print media newspapers. The IPA is funded by Big Business, one of its founders was Rupert Murdoch’s father, and the IPA formed and launched the Liberal Party of Australia (in 1944). Rupert is connected to the IPA in some way. He was guest of honour at its recent 70th anniversary dinner and his News Limited media outlets are hysterically critical of federal Labor and the ABC. It’s one conspiracy theory that has the ring of truth about it.

  12. Oops. I’ve allowed Miriam and Teddy to comment and compounded my error by commenting myself. However, their remarks raise valid points about the damage that is being done to our national broadcaster by perceptions of bias, which now comes from both sides of the political fence. My comments summarise what I have learnt since posting this subject.

    Taken together, the remarks of Miriam, Teddy and myself may help others focus on where and how the situation can be improved. If not, I’ll remove the comments referred to and we can get back to suggestions only.

Comments are closed.