NATIONAL Irrigators’ Council (NIC) chief executive officer, Steve Whan. says a ruling by the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs unit upholding a complaint about coverage of the Murray Darling Basin plan by ABC’s Background Briefing reinforces the need for balance in coverage.
Mr Whan said the NIC and other parties made complaints about a Background Briefing story early this year which they felt was inaccurate and failed to provide balance.
“NIC was particularly concerned about the story giving listeners the false impression that there had been no gains for the environment from the Murray Darling Basin Plan,” he said.
“Independent assessment has found good early environmental results, very strong progress on water recovery with positive outcomes from more than 750 environmental watering events.”
The background briefing story came in two parts and included a video on social media.
ABC’s investigation concluded that neither part one or two of the story nor the social media video were in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and impartiality.
“The Basin Plan is controversial – and we recognise that people with alternative views have a right to be heard. We aren’t trying to shut down criticism, but we do expect that reporting will be balanced and will acknowledge when a theory, put forward by a couple of people, has significant flaws,” Mr Whan said.
“That was the case with the theory put forward in the program on so called ‘return flows’.
“The ABC has now conducted a very thorough review and upheld complaints we (and others) made. NIC appreciates the serious way the ABC has dealt with this.”
In their email responding to the complaint the ABC said:
- ABC News apologises for these editorial lapses and advise that an on-air acknowledgment of this finding will be made on Background Briefing, which will point listeners to the prominent Editor’s Note on the program website (https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/murray-darling-basin-crisis/9687538).
- Audience and Consumer Affairs’ summary of these findings is published here: https://about.abc.net.au/complaints/background-briefing-29-april-6-may-2018-abc-news-facebook-26-april-2018/ and the ABC News corrections page summary is published here https://www.abc.net.au/news/corrections/2018-11-05/murray-darling-basin-plan/10464852.
- The Facebook video has been removed from the ABC website. In addition, we understand these findings have been discussed at length with the program, and in keeping with our usual processes this matter will be reported to the ABC Board.
“It is regrettable that the story went to air in the first place, particularly since NIC had made efforts to seek to have some balance in the story and point out errors,” Mr Whan said.
“Implementing the Basin Plan is by no means easy, but it is made even harder by inaccurate reporting. It is hoped that journalists reporting on the Plan in future make more effort to provide balance and accuracy.”
The Ricegrowers Association of Australia (RGA) was a joint complainant regarding the accuracy and impartiality of Murray Darling Basin Plan reporting on Background Briefing.
RGA president Jeremy Morton said: “The ABC has strict editorial policies which give confidence to their audience that they are receiving accurate, impartial and balanced reporting on matters of national interest. It is extremely disappointing that those policies were not adhered to and the RGA welcomes the complaint being upheld”.
“The RGA encourages all journalists to uphold strong standards of accuracy, impartiality and balance. The ABC should be an example of what exceptional journalism looks like and the ABC reporters in rural, regional and remote Australia are well placed to assist their colleagues when reporting on complex issues of national importance like the Murray Darling Basin Plan,” he said.
Mr Morton said the Murray Darling Basin Plan was difficult reform with significant consequences from an environmental, social and economic perspective.
He said progress to date in the 12-year Plan was mixed and an adaptive pathway forward is needed.
“Like any plan that runs for over a decade it needs to adapt to progress on the ground and new information about achieving the outcomes we all want. Journalists have a key role in reporting that progress in an accurate, impartial and balanced way,” he said.
Sources: NIC, RGA