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.
The Australian has a piece on me on page 3 today saying that I've been disciplined by the ABC. I haven't.
— Nick Ross (@NickRossTech) March 7, 2013
Ross did tweet that he was left ‘literally speechless’ by the Kevin Morgan opinion piece.
As for Kevin Morgan's critique of my article: I have no comment. I'm literally speechless.
— Nick Ross (@NickRossTech) March 7, 2013
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.’
.@ABCtech denies 'backing' one side on #NBN. "This is an 11,000 word article.. people have to make up their own minds on this"
— ABC Radio Melbourne (@774melbourne) March 7, 2013
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
UPDATE: An ABC spokeswoman emailed the following statement to @MediaActive for @NoFibs:
- 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.
The Great NBN Fail by Nick Ross ABC
Why Murdoch’s media is gunning for your NBN by @sortius
Delimiter responds to The Australian criticisms:
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 Renai LeMay
Full record of tweets referred to in this story: