The newly created ABC Ombudsman’s Office has found that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) violated impartiality and accuracy standards in its radio report on the Alice Springs community meeting. The report, which aired on Jan. 31 on the ABC’s flagship radio program AM, accused locals worried about the alcohol-fueled crime wave in the remote community of being “racist.” It also featured interviews of people criticizing the meeting as a “white supremacist fest” and describing the vibe as “scary.”
Alice Springs, a remote community in Australia’s Northern Territory, is currently dealing with escalating crime rates and increasing youth violence. Residents blamed the issue on the state government’s decision to lift an alcohol ban in the community in 2022.
In a report published on Feb. 13, the Ombudsman’s Office said the broadcast breached impartiality standards by “unduly favoring one perspective over another.” The taxpayer-funded broadcaster has received 19 complaints about the AM report, most of which were concerned that the report “presented only the views that the meeting had been racist, despite a range of different perspectives being expressed at the event.”
The Ombudsman’s Office also found that the ABC breached accuracy standards by “not making responsible effort to ensure that material facts were accurately presented in context.” In particular, the introduction to the AM report incorrectly stated that “hundreds” of people attended the meeting, while in fact, more than 3,000 had been present.
The ABC has apologized for providing an incomplete picture of the meeting, re-edited the report and published an editor’s note on the online version of the AM report. However, the broadcaster did not retract the report despite calls from Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson, who called ABC’s coverage of the community meeting a “kick in the teeth to residents who have put up with this for far too long.”
At a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, ABC managing director David Anderson admitted there were mistakes in the AM report and that it “should not have gone to air.” He said the broadcaster does not have an Indigenous reporter based in either Darwin or Alice Springs, despite the large population of Indigenous Australians in the regions.
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