Conroy demands ABC transparency after second pro-Coalition slap down of strong journalism

Nick Ross - ABC Technology & Games Editor

Nick Ross – ABC Technology & Games Editor

By Peter Clarke
March 7, 2013

The Federal Communications Minister, Victorian Senator, Stephen Conroy, has accused the ABC of  a ‘lack of transparency and fairness’ over its reported disciplining of its online technology writer Nick Ross, who has written extensively about the NBN.

The minister’s allegations, made to Jon Faine on Melbourne ABC radio this morning, echo much of the commentary around the ABC’s recent negative finding of ‘bias. against Faine himself:

‘Now this cannot go on. These internal procedures of the ABC have to be more open and more transparent. Journalists cannot work on a basis that they’re going to be bullied and intimidated, and have complaints lodged against them in a process that is not transparent and open.’

Senator Conroy also accused his opposition counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, of ‘constantly attacking and trying to bully some of your journalists’.

Conroy was responding to a report in today’s Australian Media section. It stated that in relation to NBN stories, an ABC spokeswoman said Ross had ‘been reminded of the need to ensure that his work in this area is in keeping with ABC policies’.

That report quoted from an opinion piece in the same edition of the newspaper by Kevin Morgan under the headline: ABC’s man leaves objectivity on the cutting-room floor to spruik NBN.

Morgan is an ‘independent telecom consultant’ and served on Kim Beazley’s ministerial committee on telecom reform.

Nick Ross, tweeting under @ABCTech has denied being reprimanded or disciplined but has so far been silent when approached to clarify the actual circumstances.

Ross did tweet that he was left ‘literally speechless’ by the Kevin Morgan opinion piece.

The ABC’s technology writer was further quoted via the twitter account @774Melbourne, as denying supporting one side or the other, ‘This is an 11,000 word article.. people have to make up their own minds on this.’

Ross was emphasising that this most recent of his articles, referred to by Morgan, is a detailed analysis piece.

The ABC now has two recent examples of internal “disciplining” of their own journalists for alleged breaches of their own Editorial Guidelines.

Jon Faine was found to have been guilty of a breach by the ABC’s own internal Audience and Consumer Affairs unit after complaints following his robust interviews with former Sydney shock-jock, Michael Smith, and The Age journalist, Mark Baker.

Faine very pointedly challenged Smith to provide facts to justify his ongoing campaign against Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, around her involvement in the AWU slush fund affair.

The ABC has resolutely refused all requests to provide detailed reasons for that decision beyond a bald statement of the negative finding.

The Australian editorially, has been consistently critical of the NBN. There have long been public tensions with the ABC.

News Corporation boss, Rupert Murdoch, has long been a proponent of diminishing or ceasing the operations of public news organisations such as the ABC and the BBC.

One observer, from their perspective, on Twitter summed up the Australian  articles this way: ‘News Ltd hit the double there: smeared both ABC management and Nick Ross in one hit.’

Leading ABC journalists such as 730 Political Editor, Chris Uhlmann, presenter of PM on ABC Radio, Mark Colvin and Faine colleague and presenter of the Drive program on 774, Rafael Epstein have all been publicly and sharply critical of the Faine finding.

Audio of Jon Faine – Stephen Conroy Interview

Audio: please specify correct url

UPDATE: An ABC spokeswoman emailed the following statement to @MediaActive for @NoFibs:

Nick Ross is the editor of a specialist online forum covering technology and games issues.
In that context, he has written a series of articles on the NBN, providing analysis and comment based on his specialist expertise.
As with all other ABC personnel, Mr Ross is required to follow Editorial Policies, which require comment and analysis to be based on professional expertise and demonstrable evidence.
Mr Ross has been reminded of the need to ensure that his work in this area is in keeping with ABC policies.
No formal complaint had been made against Nick Ross & he has not been formally disciplined.
The ABC’s complaint handling process is transparent
  • Complaints are referred back to the relevant divisions and discussed with the relevant staff member and the staff member has an opportunity to respond.
  • Summaries of our breach findings and summaries of all resolved complaints are published  on the ABC’s website and we have online records of complaints going back over the last 12 years.
  • As far as I am aware, this is unlike anything our commercial counterparts have in place.

Read more:

Transcript Conroy/Faine – 774 ABC Melbourne, Friday, 8 March 2013

Jon Faine Affair Archive

The Great NBN Fail by Nick Ross ABC

Why Murdoch’s media is gunning for your NBN by @sortius

Tony Abbott’s scripted lies about #NBN costs by @zackster

Jack McCaw’s NBN story  by @JacketMcCaw

Delimiter responds to The Australian criticisms:

Hypocrisy: The Australian attacks ABC’s NBN objectivity

It is highly hypocritical for The Australian and Morgan personally to accuse senior ABC journalist Nick Ross of breaching ABC editorial guidelines when it comes to his coverage of the NBN. It’s worse than the pot calling the kettle black; it’s irony of the highest degree.

Like others, I will admit that Ross’s articles haven’t been perfect — he’s made small errors here and there, and I think they could have been better edited. However, they still represent an incredible resource to readers of the ABC, and it is easily apparent at this point that Ross is the only journalist in Australia to have investigated the various NBN policies in sufficient depth, on a range of measures.

Personally, I was surprised and a little confused to read The Australian’s articles this morning. They came across as shrill, indignant and a little childish in nature; almost as though its writers had had to resort to playground insults instead of rational argument to get their point across. I hope to see a more adult level of NBN debate from the newspaper in future.  –  Written by 

Full record of tweets referred to in this story:


  1. The Australian has a piece on me on page 3 today saying that I’ve been disciplined by the ABC. I haven’t.
  2. As for Kevin Morgan’s critique of my article: I have no comment. I’m literally speechless.
  3. #Faine controversy deepens with “disciplining” of Nick Ross by @ABCaustralia Editorial “bias” inconsistencies grow sharper.@abcmarkscott
  4. Ridiculous! @MediaActive Nick Ross writes some of the best Tech articles, particularly NBN, all FACTUAL @ABCaustralia @abcmarkscott
  5. #Faine @774melbourne interviews Minister Conroy who also accuses @ABCaustralia of “unfair process” & confusing their journalists and us.
  6. It’s very clear now a strange process occuring @abcaustralia around their editorial policies with the imminent coalition government. #Faine
  7. For b/g on current disturbing “picking off” of journalists @abcaustralia without transparency/fair proces: @nofibs australiansforhonestpolitic…
  8. I read Nick Ross one of the most informed factually based writers on NBN etc. @ABCaustralia THIS time cf #faine needs to explain & justify!
  9. Is there a pattern here? @abcaustralia “picking off” its most effective & factually oriented journos? But with Kafkaesque ruthlessness?
  10. Meanwhile as @abcaustralia moves on targeted journos eg # Faine, its outputs riddled w inconsistencies eg Counterpoint Philip Adams etc.
  11. So apparently Steven Conroy just appeared on ABC Melbourne saying he was disappointed I’d been reprimanded. #Politics&media
  12. Will @PhillipAdams_1 support #Faine & Ross or cling to HIS anomalous shield under @abcaustralia Ed Pols? @LNLonRN Ethics/Integrity Phil?
  13. @PhillipAdams_1 FYI @nofibs australiansforhonestpolitic… plus earlier stories & archive. Your longstanding “anomalous” exception? Thoughts?
  14. @ABCTech, Nick Ross is denying being “reprimanded” @abcaustralia re his NBN writing. Meanwhile #Faine & Conroy saying opposite. Clarity?
  15. Here is @australian article re @ABCtech NBN writing & Kevin Morgan critique: bit.ly/ZukLSb This needs clarity! Ross “reminded”?
  16. Is @ABCtech being “bullied and intimidated” as Comms Min. Conroy suggests? “I’m pretty much the only tech person in the org” #Faine
  17. .@ABCtech says he has not been disciplined. “It’s not true,” Nick Ross. “I wasn’t disciplined.. they changed (article) online” #Faine
  18. .@ABCtech “the problem is not one Liberal politician bagging me, or a Labor one supporting… I just want to write about technology” #Faine
  19. .@ABCtech denies ‘backing’ one side on #NBN. “This is an 11,000 word article.. people have to make up their own minds on this”
  20. As we analyse @ABCaustralia apparent “inconsistent” application of its Ed Pols re Nick Ross go to @ABCTech then his NBN articles for b/g.
  21. Recent article @ABCtech Nick Ross re govt & coalition NBN policy. Reported @ABCaustralia “disciplined” him? bit.ly/15xNgDp @NoFibs
  22. Just beginning of very fraught election year. Truth & facts will be elusive. @ABCaustralia crucial. Are they also courageous? @abcmarkscott
  23. Wonder @abcmarkscott aware of growing cynicism/scepticism around #Faine & now Nick Ross @ABCtech? This is very corrosive for @ABCaustralia.
  24. IMO Now real danger @abcmarkscott “silence” allowing confidence in @ABCaustralia journalism & within org to be further subverted. #Faine
  25. We’ve seen many Labor & Coalition pressures/attacks @ABCaustralia independence before. Usually MDs showed leadership & courage @abcmarkscott
  26. Silence/hiding behind corporate spin/stonewalling @abcaustralia re #Faine “fairness” is NOT leadership @abcmarkscott Weak irresponsible poor
  27. @ABCTech Are u able issue crystal clear statement re circumstances surrounding @australian report today. What actually happened? Important!
  28. @ABCTech What “article online” was changed? How? By whom? Did you agree to changes? This needs clarity. As u bring clarity to YOUR writing.
  29. @abcmarkscott @MediaActive @ABCaustralia Silence isn’t leadership either Mark Scott, if the criticism is unfounded tell your customers why!
  30. News Ltd Agenda pushing discredit someone who says anything positive re #NBN @MediaActive @abcmarkscott @ABCtech @ABCaustralia
  31. Here is the article by Kevin Morgan attacking @ABCaustralia & @ABCTech Nick Ross & read report in @australian Media. bit.ly/Wx6DLA
  32. @GMegalogenis Saw your tweet on #faine affair re @leighsales Walkley earlier. Now @ABCtech Nick Ross, Kevin Morgan etc? Any thoughts?
  33. One of the most striking weekly examples of TOTAL inconsistency with @ABCaustralia Ed Pols was Counterpoint w Duffy & Comrie-Thomson #Faine
  34. Sadly history records when Howard called for “rightwing” @PhillipAdams_1 @ABCaustralia obliged w Counterpoint. “Consistent” Ed Pols? Hardly
  35. @MediaActive the ‘growing cynicism/ scepticism will NOT B covered by MSM , so @abcmarkscott will NOT care @abctech @abcaustralia #auspol
  36. @ajbau @MediaActive @abcmarkscott @ABCtech #NBN NewsLtd hit the double there: smeared both ABC management and Nick Ross in 1 hit.
  37. @TurnbullMalcolm @nofibs covering ABC Nick Ross story. Your response to Conroy accusation that you “attack” and “try to bully” ABC journos?
  38. “Conroy demands ABC transparency after second pro-Coalition slap down of strong journalism” bit.ly/Z3LVzv @NoFibs
  39. Next chapter in larger #Faine story re @ABCaustralia “bias” Now @ABCTech Nick Ross is accused of “bias”. bit.ly/Z3LVzv @nofibs
  40. @MediaActive @PhillipAdams_1 @ABCaustralia Exactly! Frightened rabbits who don’t have the guts to stand up to the Right’s nasty views.
  41. @MediaActive @TurnbullMalcolm @NoFibs Conroy called it as it is. Journalism in this country is at all-time low as Aussies taken for a ride.

Comments

  1. Douglas says:

    It’s not enough for Minister Conroy to just talk.

  2. Vicky Bonventi says:

    Leigh Sales had to face a hearing over her award winning interview with Tony Abbott.

    I wonder what Rupert has offered Mark Scott?

  3. J.Fraser says:

    ABC 1 (2) tv 7pm News here in Queensland on Tuesday (5/3/13) had “Slick” Abbott on before the Prime Minister of Australia.

    ABC 1 (2) tv 7pm News here in Queensland on Wednesday night had the lead (first) story on the “rumours” surrounding the Cronulla Leagues Club.

    ABC 1 (2) tv 7pm News here in Queensland on Thursday night had the lead (first) story on the “rumours and allegations” surrounding the Cronulla Leagues Club.

    Football is the main news bulletin on the ABC.

    Merde !

  4. Woodypear says:

    So what I want to know is – 1. how come the ABC can take such action and not disclose all reasons? and 2. Why can’t the government step in and take action that is obviously needed? (PS Is Janet Albrechson still on the board?)


  5. Woodypear: Read the ABC’s Charter & the enabling Act for better understanding. Govts have made ABC independent – in exchange for impartiality, which isn’t happening. The Minister can’t intervene. Even ACMA can only act on certain matters & NOT on ABC websites or Twitter account complaints. John Howard stacked ABC board to cure “Leftism”. Albrechtsen left board some years ago. ABC MD Mark Scott is Liberal apparatchik from way back. Tony Abbott about two months ago said Scott “still had some work to do” to correct ABC’s Left-wing bias. I don’t believe ABC is Left biased. I think Liberal view is: If you’re not 100% with us you must be biased against us.


  6. Barry, I despair at what has happened to the intelligence of people in this country and how they have been slowly “dumbed down” over the last 40 plus years.
    I wasn’t even a teenager when Gough was ousted in what I think was a coup, but because my family (I am the son of a 50s European immigrant) discussed politics openly and vigorously amongst ourselves often I was politically aware about what had happened and the ramifications it had on Australia.
    I have grown up wanting to discuss the rights and wrongs of what happens on our political stage that determines how our wonderful country is run with others who have made sweeping ill-informed statements and voting decisions based on a single point of view.
    What I have found over the last few decades is that it is getting harder and harder to convince people that there is a myriad of information out there to look at before making a statement/voting decision.
    Is it because not only that the MSM (and now the ABC) screams all these fallacies louder/longer than anyone else or is it also because so many families find themselves so time-poor (by design?) they cannot spend the time to find this information themselves and only accept what is thrown at them on TV, the MSM and now also the ABC?
    E.g. I talk to other staff I work with and give them the links to sites such as this one, IA, Grog’s Gamut, New Matilda, Global Mail etc and ask them to have a look at what is on offer.
    Later, when I ask them if they have had a look at them, I get “Nah, what’s the point, the politicians are all the same”.
    I just want to scream with frustration and rage at these people because they have children and I wonder what sort political discourse they have with their children (if any) and if they actually realise the impact their collective decisions have on this country and their children’s future.
    I despair, I truly despair.

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