Is media bias in the ears of the listener?

By Barry Tucker                    22 February, 2013

ABC management ran into a storm of protest recently when Melbourne radio broadcaster Jon Faine was reprimanded following an inquiry into his interviews with two journalists last November.

The complaints of 17 listeners were upheld. They claimed the  interviews with Mark Baker, Editor-at-Large at The Age, and Michael Smith, former 2UE talk-back host, lacked balance, were conducted aggressively and that Mr Faine demonstrated bias.

You can find an audio of the interview in the story Who is wearing the Kafka mask at the ABC?, on Australians for honest politics, here:

I have listened to the interview. Mr Faine made it clear that he was seeking positive proof concerning allegations that have been made for months by Mr Smith and in the parliament that the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was guilty of some kind of illegality when, as a lawyer for Slater & Gordon 20 years ago, she set up a fund for the Australian Workers Union (AWU) which was subsequently used for fraud.

Like millions of Australians, Mr Faine was seeking some finality to the damaging allegations and, like millions of Australians, he became insistent due to his frustration because positive proof was not being provided.

People who have complained about the ABC’s ruling have contrasted the situation with a controversial interview of the Prime Minister by the ABC 7.30 Report’s Political Editor Chris Uhlman. Viewers complained that Mr Uhlman rudely interrupted the PM’s answers and was aggressive. The interview drew scathing comments from former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating. Mr Uhlman, who was not reprimanded, was one of the first to come to Mr Faine’s defence, describing his radio interviews as “robust”.

The situation has enforced the view that ABC management is inconsistent in its complaints decision-making. The ABC’s Media Watch analysed the Faine reprimand on 4 February, 2013:

The transcript of that report was followed by a broad range of comments. Some who commented thought the ABC was definitely Left-wing, some thought it was Right-wing.

Fed Up Taxpayer :

07 Feb 2013 5:47:46pm

The problem, of course, is that the ABC is by and large all singing to the same tune. Our esteemed blogger host included. It is possible to throw a table cloth across the spectrum of political views of ABC radio and TV current affairs hosts. Even flagships like AM, PM, Lateline, 7 30. The choice of guest, the topic, the slant, the tone of questioning, the aggression or lack thereof. It is so palpably pro-Greens/Labor that I’m astonished anyone seriously doubts it — let alone debates it or, in Faine’s case, denies it.

The ABC needs a major overhaul. It’s unlikely to be done by a government that gets a free run. [Former Prime Minister John] Howard had a chance and fluffed it; I doubt that [federal Opposition Leader Tony] Abbott will pass up the chance. I don’t know that impartiality can be instilled into a culture that’s so ingrained, one that bucks against its masters, one so used to doing what it wants. The first thing that would have to go is tenure of employment. The second reform has to be accountability in the form of commercial sponsorship. I expect that, in itself, would have a huge salutary effect on a culture out of control. Many of us don’t vote progressive; most of us in fact. Many don’t countenance the alarmism of AGW, yet the ABC clearly adopts it as a mantra. We resent paying for a mouthpiece for one side of politics.

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And, later, there’s this view:

ABC rightwing subsidies :

10 Feb 2013 6:27:26pm

We the taxpayers are funding Liberal-biased employees. The ABC has morphed into a Liberal Party cheer squad. Taxpayer funded Liberal Party advertising?

When election debates come around, we certainly don’t want an ABC employee chosen as moderator thank you. We should be lobbying the government to clean out the ABC.

I’d like to know how much the ABC pays [former Liberal Ministers] Amanda Vanstone, Peter Reith and all the ones from right-wing organisations spruiking their rubbish all over the ABC such as the IPA, one of the founders of the Liberal Party,, the Lavoisier Group, Counterpoint, the HR Nicholls Society, founded by people such as [former Liberal Minister] Peter Costello and described by [former Labor Prime Minister] Bob Hawke as
a group of “political troglodytes and economic lunatics”.

How much taxpayer-funded ABC money is paid to this lot?

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One comment proposed privatisation. I don’t agree with that as a solution. I’m not aware at present of any commercially owned news medium that is generally supportive of the aims of “progressive” politics, such as those of the Australian Labor Party. It is vital for the health of our democracy that an equal balance of opinions is disseminated. At present (apart from the emerging Social Media), the ABC is the only medium capable of doing that; and it is supposed to be impartial, according to its Charter and to the various policy documents that regulate news and current affairs staff and programs.

For those interested, you can read the viewer comments on the ABC’s judgment of Jon Faine’s radio interview here:

The ABC appears to have three tiers of complaints handling:

1) The first is to refer errors of a minor nature or, say, a complaint by Tweet, to the immediate senior manager or editor. At this level complaints can be quickly handled, corrected, or easily dismissed.

2) Written complaints by email or by completing the ABC’s on-line Complaints Form seem to be handled by Adam Doyle, who is a researcher in ABC News Online. A few Tweeters have told me their complaints have been casually dismissed by Mr Doyle. That was the fate of my on-line complaint regarding an insult to the Prime Minister in a News Online picture caption (see Outrageous slur appears on ABC News website, in the ABC menu above, left).

3) The third level is a formal complaint by on-line Complaints Form, email or letter to Audience and Consumer Affairs (ACA). ABC documentation says ACA  is “independent” of ABC management. It is my belief that only complaints to ACA will be seriously considered and investigated. Replies will be signed off by ACA, not by Adam Doyle.

If a complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint they can take the matter up with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), a government body. However, ACMA can deal only with complaints that relate to a breach of the ABC’s Code of Practice. The Code should be read in conjunction with other documents, including the Editorial Policy and Guidelines on corrections, complaints and apologies.

ACMA cannot deal with complaints relating to something that occurred on the ABC’s web sites or Twitter accounts, even though some recent incidents are clearly in breach of the Code of Practice. Those mediums come under the management of the Director of Radio (see Media Watch transcript referred to above).

As a last resort, complaints can be referred to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.


2 thoughts on “Is media bias in the ears of the listener?

  1. Crikey claimed Bolt was giving up his 800 bucks per time gig on insiders to start boltreportland. l would say l agree more with the second comment on my ABC`s bias and, would really like to know how much the shills are paid and WHY, when so many are getting the big-buck$ from those they shill for. These details should be available online, for all the public to see which shills are paid and why. You should use your clout and contacts in pursuing this, not twit tweets Barry.

  2. Fed Up Taxpayer (who claims the ABC favours the left) provides no evidence, just blanket assertions.

    Take these two unproved statements:

    “It is so palpably pro-Greens/Labor that I’m astonished anyone seriously doubts it — let alone debates it”


    “a mouthpiece for one side of politics.”

    … From evidence-free, we go to the second commenter, ABC rightwing subsidies, who provides actual examples of right-wing favouritism, citing regular appearances by:

    Amanda Vanstone… Peter Reith…the IPA

    I know which commenter has more credibility: Not the one making blanket statements without proof. No, the commenter with more credibility is the one who provides actual examples and evidence when arguing their case.

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