Unacceptable response from ABC TV
1/12/2015 9:29 AM
Dear Ms Barnett
Thank you for your letter of 5 November regarding the 2 November Media Watch story Approach some claims with caution. The Managing Director has asked me to respond on his behalf.
Your complaint has been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content making areas within the ABC. Our role is to review complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards. We have carefully considered your complaint, sought information from Media Watch, and assessed the story against the ABC’s accuracy provisions which are explained in Section 2 of the ABC Code of Practice, available here – http://about.abc.net.au/reports-publications/editorial-policies/. Most relevant to your complaint is standard 2.1: Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
Assessing accuracy requires consideration of all relevant factors, including the type, subject and nature of the content and the likely audience expectations of it. Media Watch is a program of information, analysis and criticism which examines perceived failings by journalists and others in the media, and it prominently features the perspective of the presenter. Audience & Consumer Affairs considers that the Media Watch audience is likely to be familiar with the program’s established format and the fact that the host expresses a viewpoint on the matters covered.
This particular Media Watch story focussed on the media coverage of your claims of a VIP paedophile ring, and comes to the conclusion that, particularly given the extraordinary nature of your allegations of child abuse and murder, the media should have approached your story with more caution.
With regard to your concern that Media Watch “intentionally published a factual error” with the reference to the “Ninth Circle” taken from the online publication Neon Nettle, as you state, the program attempted to clarify the claims of a ‘hunting party’ with you via email. Your response to Sally Virgoe from Media Watch confirmed that “There is truth to the hunting party story” and provided a link to your interview with Richie Allen. However, it appears that Media Watch conflated your account of the hunting party with that of similar allegations of a hunting party from Toos Nijenhuis as described in Neon Nettle; and erred in its attribution of these events in your case to the “Ninth Circle”. There is no evidence that this was intentional by Media Watch as you suggest. In light of your concerns, Media Watch have appended a clarification to the online transcript of the story. Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that this resolves this aspect of your complaint.
With regard to Operation Attest, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that it was entirely appropriate for Media Watch to rely on the official ACT police response, and to include reference to this in the story.
On the Channel 9 TV footage, Media Watch have explained that they wanted to check the press conference to see if you provided any evidence in support of your allegations that had not been broadcast. Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that there was no editorial obligation for the program to use more of this footage. The focus of the story was on the extensive media coverage your claims received and appropriately the program referenced “a host of newspapers and websites”.
With regard to the statement in the Media Watch story: “And when we asked her to back up some of her claims, she was unwilling or unable to do so” , on review of the correspondence between you and Media Watch, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that this was reasonable. We disagree with your characterisation of Sally Virgoe’s email as aggressive or offensive; it was civil and appropriately requested information to support your claims. Media Watch have explained that it was important for the program to ask you these questions, because their criticism was of other media outlets which had failed to do so.
Your complaint references various information you believe should have been included in the story; however, Audience and Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the report included the necessary context considering the focus of the report, which was not an in depth investigation into your claims. Rather, it was a critique of the media coverage of the claims you made about high ranking Australian politicians and authorities.
While noting your further concerns, taking into account the action taken by Media Watch to clarify your claims regarding the hunting party, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that the story is in keeping with ABC editorial standards.
For your reference, the ABC’s Code of Practice is available here: http://about.abc.net.au/reports-publications/code-of-practice/. Should you be dissatisfied with this response, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority: http://www.acma.gov.au.
Head, Audience & Consumer Affairs