LABELLING the ABC’s current complaints process “not fit for purpose,” Jewish groups – who have been campaigning for an external complaints mechanism for the public broadcaster for months – have handed in their submissions to the ABC’s independent review.
In October, the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA), Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) welcomed the ABC’s decision to carry out an independent review into how the corporation manages external feedback and complies with its own editorial standards, accusing the broadcaster of previously avoiding any admission of wrongdoing.
Earlier this year, multiple complaints were dismissed by the broadcaster, including a number concerning a one-sided Q&A
episode titled “Trauma and Truth Telling”, which was broadcast during the Israel-Gaza conflict in May.
“The absence of transparency and independence leads to a lack of accountability within the ABC, which undermines the raison d’être of the complaints mechanism,” the ZFA stated in its submission, offering four recommendations.
These include a call for all complaints and responses to be published, in the name of transparency, and a call for an external public media compliance office to be established, which will respond to complaints independently, and will conduct ‘performance audits’ on ABC editorial decision-making.
“Importantly, when assessing allegations of bias, the public media compliance office would pay attention to how each side of a story is aired, not merely that they are aired,” the submission states.
ECAJ’s submission explained that “whilst the ABC must remain independent of political interference, being independent is not the same thing as being a law unto itself”.
Naming the way some complaints have been dismissed in the past as “cavalier, formulaic and capricious”, ECAJ said there has been “a failure to engage in the substance of matters raised by complainants, or to apply community standards of elementary fairness”.
The submission detailed a number of cases where ECAJ complaints had been dismissed since 2014 and called for an ombudsman for the ABC similar to those that handle complaints for financial services, telecommunications and the Australian Tax Office.
ECAJ also recommended that the ombudsman be required to provide an annual public report, with statistics about the “number of complaints received, upheld, dismissed or otherwise resolved,” and which notes “patterns of systemic bias or other failings arising from complaints which have been upheld or conceded by the ABC”.
Stating AIJAC’s submission was “gained over many years of lodging complaints against biased and one-sided media coverage of Israel,” executive director Colin Rubenstein noted the current process was “tilted too far in favour of the ABC”.
He added, “AIJAC proposes a model that will be fair and balanced for those wishing to make a complaint, as well as those who might be the subject of a complaint.”
The ABC board is expected to see the review in March 2022 before it is released to the public in April.