As the ABC comes under government scrutiny, staff have been warned not to ”embellish” or add ”any flourish” to asylum seekers’ claims they have been mistreated by border protection forces.
Head of ABC news content Gaven Morris sent the directive to the organisation’s top brass on Friday morning, less than 24 hours after the government announced it would conduct an ”efficiency study” into the ABC’s operations.
In an email obtained by Fairfax Media, Mr Morris instructed senior staff to advise their teams about reporting on ”incidents at sea”. He said staff should ensure that the reports ”stick to the basics”.
”As you know we currently have a set of claims by asylum seekers our editorial teams are continuing to work hard to get an accurate account of and to verify,” he wrote.
”During this process all our output should reflect the basic facts before us … we don’t need to interpret them beyond what we know, nor should be [sic] editorialising or seeking to add adjectives or any flourish.
”We’re not seeking to describe or embellish the allegations with descriptions like torture or mistreatment or violence and we’re not reporting whether we have proved or disproved anything the media has previously reported – the allegations and responses stand for themselves.”
When asked to comment on the email, Mr Morris said: ”The note was to senior editors on my team reinforcing the ABC’s enduring editorial approach. Amid the continuing varying reports of what may or may not have happened at sea and the responses to it, it was intended as a reminder that ABC News should continue to do as we always do and report the facts before us.”
The government’s efficiency study, announced on Thursday by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will focus on the day-to-day operational and financial running of the ABC and SBS. The terms of reference stress ”it is not a study of the quality of the national broadcaster’s programs, products and services, or the responsibilities set out in their charters, but of the efficiency of the delivery of those services to the Australian public”.
But the review’s announcement came after a week of sustained pressure on the national broadcaster, including an extraordinary attack by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who suggested the ABC was being unpatriotic in its reports of asylum seekers’ allegations against officials.
On Wednesday, Mr Abbott argued that journalists should give the navy the ”benefit of the doubt” when it came to claims of wrongdoing, and said: ”A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s.”
The ABC has come under sustained pressure from News Corp publications over its reporting on allegations by asylum seekers they were mistreated by Australian navy officers.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has described as ”a pretty poor effort” the ABC’s reports that asylum seekers suffered burns because of treatment by the navy, calling the claims ”unfounded, unsubstantiated, outrageous allegations against our navy and our Customs and border protection service”.
A ReachTEL poll conducted for Fairfax Media on Thursday showed the majority of Australians believed the ABC was politically neutral in its reporting.
That figure rose to 63.5 per cent among women, compared with 55.5 per cent among men.
Overall, 32.2 per cent believed the ABC was biased towards the Labor Party, while just 8.2 per cent said it was biased towards the Coalition.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.