Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The following is a transcript of part of the hearings that took place in the Senate on 8 February 2010. Senator Abetz is interviewing an ABC apologist. The full transcript of yesterday's hearing is located at

ECA 29

Senator ABETZ—Take that on notice. I do not want to delay too much. Last estimates I asked question on notice No. 88, ‘Topic: On-air corrections’. Thank you for the detail of that. I notice the issues are summarised below in that answer. I was told, for example, that on the ABC Classic FM program New Music Up Late on 30 May 2006 there was a ‘lack of attribution of a composition’, a heinous offence, and the ABC made an on-air apology and correction. Over the page, there was a complaint that a report about a protest meeting of the Bega Valley Shire tourist industry stated:

... an incorrect location of the meeting. A clarification was issued during the following week’s program.

There are really major issues here—lack of attribution and accidental misstatement of where a meeting was held. They were all done on air, but when the state of Israel is accused of committing war crimes, your answer No. 87 says:

The investigation was finalised on 22 May 2009, and the correction was made as an editor’s note on that day.

Accusing a nation-state of war crimes in comparison to lack of attribution of a musical piece on Classic FM gives me some idea of the value judgments being made in the ABC. Does it or not?

Mr Scott—No, I would not say so, Senator.

Senator ABETZ—All right. Why not? Tell me why I am wrong.

Mr Scott—I think the local radio station put some material to air that they then, under their own operation, corrected, as did Classic FM. The matter that you talked about that was raised at the October estimates in question on notice 87 was to do with the issue with the school. Is that correct?

Senator ABETZ—That is right.

Mr Scott—I think we covered this last time in some level of detail. The shelling occurred in January. The story ran everywhere and continued to run that it was Israeli tank fire on the school. Then there was a UN retraction. We carried that story of the retraction.

ECA 30 Senate Monday, 8 February 2010


Senator ABETZ—But how often?

Mr Scott—We carried it in our news online.

Senator ABETZ—Yes, online but—

Mr Scott—We carried it on The World Today, our national current affairs program, and then we made—

Senator ABETZ—You have a number of national current affairs programs, like AM and PM, which have a much greater audience than The World Today.

Mr Scott—We carried it on a national current affairs program, Senator.

Senator ABETZ—With a very low listening audience.

Mr Scott—We made a mistake in May. I absolutely accept that in May we made a mistake by, I think, a reporter incorrectly referencing previous files about the original UN claim.

Senator ABETZ—That is right.

Mr Scott—Then we made an editor’s note that appeared on our online site that clarified that the shelling in all the facilities took place outside and not inside the school, and we published the summary of the upheld complaint against us. Senator, if you go back to the original story that was run around the world, as you are aware, when that became clear we broadcast that. We ran a story online, repeated it on one program and then amended our record accordingly.

Senator ABETZ—Would you accept that the story got out to a larger end audience than the retraction or clarification?

Mr Scott—I think that is likely, Senator, yes.

Senator ABETZ—Would you agree that the ABC Classic FM correction went out basically to the same audience that listened to the nonattribution?

Mr Scott—I think that circumstance is—

Senator ABETZ—And the same with the Bega tourist industry location?

Mr Scott—They are two minor examples, Senator.

Senator ABETZ—So here we go. We had the heinous offence of nonattribution for a classical piece of music, and we made sure that the same audience got to hear the apology. Similarly, with the Bega tourist meeting when the location was wrong we made sure that the same audience got to hear the correction. But if I might say, with respect—and I might have my values out of kilter here—asserting a war crime against a nation-state, in my value judgment at least, rates somewhat higher, somewhat more seriously, yet the ABC did not see the need to ensure that the correction got the same coverage to the same audience that originally heard that heinously false allegation. That is the summary of the situation.

Mr Scott—Yes, I cannot argue with that.

Senator ABETZ—So you agree with the summary. If you agree with that summary, can you see that it leaves a lot of Australians concerned that the ABC would not adopt a similar approach to what it did with ABC Classic FM and Bega ABC to make sure that the same listening audience was disabused of the misinformation that it heard?

Mr Scott—Yes, I understand that criticism, Senator.

Senator ABETZ—What are we doing about this in the future to ensure that these things do not happen again?

Mr Scott—I appreciate that. This morning we have 65 live microphones broadcasting ABC content around the country; we are broadcasting Australia Network into 44 countries and Radio Australia across the region as well. At no time before this Senate committee have I suggested that our programs are flawless and that our follow-up is always flawless. This is a significant issue for us, Senator. We are reviewing our editorial policies in the first six months of this year; we have reviewed our self-regulation mechanisms as well. I do not want us to be reluctant in setting the record straight when that is the right and the appropriate thing to do, nor do I think we should be reluctant about running on-air corrections from time to time. We have and we do. I have asked at times for that to happen. We will be reviewing our corrections policy in light of our self-regulation, a review that has happened, a review of our editorial policies, and those matters will be considered by the ABC board.

Monday, 8 February 2010 Senate ECA 31


Senator ABETZ—If lack of attribution is worthy of an on-air apology, surely allegations of war crimes by a nation-state are similarly worthy, in the ABC mindset. Can I tell you that in my mindset they are a lot more worthy than non-attribution of a Classic FM piece. I hope I have made my point clear and I look forward to the ABC changing its policies in relation to on-air apologies.

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