The ABC continues to deny right-wing bias by The Drum.

Jul 29, 2021
The drum

It is was with some sadness that I penned an article indicating what I saw as a right-winged bias by The Drum in its selection of some panellists. Since that article, I have continued to exchange correspondence with the ABC and I believe that the thread of responses mirrors the same tactics the Government uses to conceal obvious bias on their part. The ABC’s tactics has been at first ignore, then deny and if that fails spin the story.

A hallmark of the Morrison Government has been its continuous use of marketing and spin to conceal its dedication to rewarding the ‘haves’ at the expense of the rest of us.  Their continued effort to conceal the truth about the sports rorts, parking stations, etc. has damaged any level of trust held for them.  The spin defines them, and over recent days the press, particularly the ABC have been applying pressure to our political leaders, especially the PM to take responsibility for their inaction and failure to adequately vaccinate us from the COVID outbreak.  There has been a continued implication that Morrison uses his marketing skills to avoid personal responsibility however, journalists have taken pride in holding him to account and at least a partial apology.

A healthy democracy relies on a free and impartial press to keep us informed about important issues that affect us and in Australia we rely heavily on our ABC to do just that.  The ABC should be free from intimidation by those wealthy companies who control the advertising revenue so vital for their existence.

It is was with some sadness that on the 16 July I penned an article indicating, in John Menadue’s Public Policy Journal, Pearls and Irritations about what I saw as a right-winged bias by The Drum in its selection of some panellists.  I did this after I had made a formal complaint to the ABC and had not received any meaningful response.

Since that article I have continued to exchange correspondence with the ABC regarding my criticism and I believe that the thread of responses mirrors the same tactics the Government uses to conceal obvious bias on their part.  The ABC’s tactics has been at first ignore, then deny and if that fails spin the story.

My first complaint went through to Denise Musto, Investigations Manager, Audience and Consumer Affairs.  In her response she denied any bias, she pointed out they followed Section 4 of their Code of Conduct and that if I considered ‘a particular program was not in keeping with ABC editorial standards’ I needed to highlight where they had transgressed and with direct reference to the content.  Further, she would need more specific details other than a list of panellists to get a substantive response.

I was puzzled as my compliant was regarding the proportion of panellists with affiliation to the Liberal National parties compared to Labor and the Greens.  I had supplied very specific details but, as a courtesy by return email I asked what type of additional information they would require especially considering my only complaint was the proportional distribution of panellists with political affiliations.  I received no further information regarding this matter.

The ABC News Team also responded thanking me for my interest and declared The Drum selects guests from a huge and diverse range of backgrounds and political affiliation is only one consideration.  I was confused as the political affiliation was the source of my complaint and the astonishing bias I asserted was ignored.

I replied on the 17 July stating ‘I find this reply confusing.  In essence, my complaint was that I believed that there was an obvious bias in the selection of panellist from political backgrounds.  As a consequence, I was again asked to provide evidence of my claim please note that we require specific examples to support your concerns – including the date of broadcast’.  

I responded including the statistic that ‘the distribution based on their Party affiliation shows that 79% are Liberals, 20% Nationals and 1% Labor and the Greens never had a voice’.  As a counter claim I pointed out that ‘you (The Drum) have provided no such quantitative evidence to support your counter claims.  This imbalance is a direct infringement of the ABC’s Code of Conduct which requires even-handedness’.  The Code states that you havea statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism’.

In my response I also addressed their counter claim that when I contend that The Drum had a bias I was informed that it ‘selects guests from a huge and diverse range of backgrounds, and political affiliation is only one consideration’. I had made no complaint about any other criteria than political affiliation.  However, by mentioning political affiliations they concede that this is a consideration so by any rational conclusion that despite the parameters of their Code of Conduct, they deliberately chose panellist with a political affiliation predominantly from Liberals; what other conclusion could I reach?

I completed that correspondence with the statement ‘from the evidence and your response I can only conclude one or all of the following:

  • You are incapable of understanding the content and importance of my complaint
  • You deliberately defy your Code of Conduct
  • You really believe what you say which indicates a very poor comprehension of effective journalism
  • You really know what you are doing and this action reflects your intellectual and moral integrity.’

Perhaps I should have included that I could be wrong, however I believe in evidence and could see nothing to suggest an error on my part.

I also passed on this correspondence to Media Watch and, apart from an acknowledgement of receipt I have heard nothing.

Yesterday I received what I suspect is a final reply regarding my complaint from Annie White, Editor, ABC News, Analysis & Investigations who opened with the statement that she ‘was advised by Denise Musto, that (she) need not reply to your (my) email of 9 July.

Ms White then continued, I believe in good faith to do her best to ‘explain better’ the guiding values of the program.  These values are to ‘try to represent a balanced set of views on the issues of the day’ and ‘part of that balance is political perspective and that the Drum never features elected politicians’.  Further, the program ‘seeks to spotlight diverse communities and neglected voices, to better represent modern Australia, as well as those who may have a political background but also now are not bound by the party line.’

She goes on ‘in terms of the Editorial Policies there is no requirement for a head count from any organisation or other body. What is required is a balanced presentation, over time, of views, so whether they are former sitting politicians, or conservatives in the business community, or reside in a mining community, or from a religious body – the editorial priority is there being a reasonable representation of that perspective.’

I would think that it would be prudent to keep a tally of the panellists.  I investigated 34 shows before I made my complaint.  However, from my university studies of statistical analyses a sample of 36 makes the findings of proportional comparisons more significant.  So, if I include the next two episodes in my sample, Ewen Jones a former Liberal/National Party representative from Queensland was a panellist and there were no representatives from any other party.  This strengthens my findings it increases the evidence of political bias.  From this sample you could conclude with some degree of confidence that there is a strong bias of Liberal representation distribution of the panellist on the show.

Ms White assured me that ‘their previous roles as Liberal MPs is disclosed because that is required according to the editorial guidelines, but is not the reason for their inclusion.’  Later she asserts that ‘our panels are published, and panellists’ backgrounds fully disclosed in the interests of transparency. This information can be found on The Drum’s website’.   I went to the website and the example of this ‘full disclosure’ is shown below!

I have not been able to find any other source that would rectify this – it is hardly a full disclosure!

Ms White went on to claim that they ‘absolutely do have former ALP and Green representatives, although prompted by your email I can agree not in the months you describe – this is absolutely not a strategy or a directive or any such conspiracy simply a reflection of the guests who have appeared instead.’  She goes on to explain the ‘complexity each panellist brings and that some panellists have run for ALP selection’.  The availability of this rationalisation of the selection criteria would be useful but I cannot see how the audience would be aware of any such selection criteria from the ‘disclosures’ provided.

In any case, if they are to criticise my data it would be appropriate to provide the evidence that allows them to make such claims.  Their criticism that my ‘chart attempts to break down this complexity’ is a nonsense statement, I would contend that the data I presented reflects the real situation and is a direct contrast to the complete lack of information that would support the ABC’s claims!

I appreciate the ABC maintains that it ‘remains loyal to its charter and up-holds your (their) Code of Conduct’ however, in recent times I cannot find any way the Drum has achieved this in regards to my complaint.  I contend that their selection of panellists with a political affiliation has blatantly breached the principles they seek to defend.

I find this whole process disappointing.  I pointed out an undeniable bias in the selection of panellists with political affiliations.  An acceptance of the evidence or a data driven rejection of my claim, an apology and an undertaking to address that imbalance in future would have seen this dispute finished in two lots of correspondence.  However, the initial dismissing of my complaint and the subsequent inaccurate defence of their decisions has all the hallmarks of, dare I say ‘marketing the message’ instead of truth telling. I expect more from my ABC!

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