How Much Is That Banana In The Window? Samuel’s Footy Tips

ABC Editorial Guidelines…and they think they’re a good thing?

June 22nd, 2006 at 12:21pm

As I was watching Media Watch on Monday night, a rather unusual part of the ABC editorial guidelines popped up:

Everyone makes mistakes, but here at the ABC broadcasters are expected to correct their mistakes and then do better.

The process is spelt out in the ABC editorial guidelines and it’s generally well understood by journalists and program makers.

This week Communications Minister Helen Coonan announced two new appointments to the ABC board, including the controversial historian Keith Windschuttle.

Last year in his Earle Page Memorial Oration, Mr Windschuttle made this – now infamous – claim about the history of the ABC.

[ABC broadcaster Alan] Ashbolt managed to find jobs for a small group of Marxists and radicals like himself. In the ensuing thirty years that group, its appointees and values, have captured the organization.

— Vilifying Australia, The perverse ideology of our adversary culture, by Keith Windschuttle

Under the ABC editorial guidelines, broadcasters must back up their opinions with facts.

We wonder whether Keith Windschuttle would be able to back up his extraordinary claims in the same way.

Putting ABC advertorial comments (“but here at the ABC broadcasters are expected to correct their mistakes and then do better”) aside for a moment, the editorial guideline quoted struck me as rather odd, namely:

Under the ABC editorial guidelines, broadcasters must back up their opinions with facts.

Oh well, so much for independent thinking and freedom of the press. That guideline might sound good on the surface, and it was definitely used by Media Watch to discredit Keith Windschuttle, but that guideline makes absolutely no sense for a broadcaster with talk radio and television discussion programmes in its lineup. The guideline inhibits broadcasters’ opinions and thoughts, and means that the audience are not getting the full picture…and the ABC aren’t going to try and give it to them.

Allow me to give you a few examples, all pertaining to the ACT government, as those are the examples that spring to mind.

Firstly, the school closures announced in the recent ACT budget are, in my opinion, a political stunt designed to sweep other budget details under the media radar, and to enable the government to close a smaller number of schools. 39 schools seems like a rather silly number of schools to close, and a number which is bound to grab headlines, some of the proposed closures are downright silly, and some of the merger plans even sillier (turning Campbell High into a 7-12 school and effectively killing the college environment on a block of land which doesn’t have enough room for the extra students, for example).

I think that the ACT government learned a thing or two from the massive public outrage over the closure of Ginninderra High last year, and decided that in order to close a small number of schools they would need to add a bunch of other schools to the list, pretend to consult the public, and eventually say that they are only closing the small number of schools and have the spin doctors announce that they are “saving 25 schools” or something to that effect.

I also think the have managed to mostly slip a lot of small details (such as a change in measurement method for rates increases so that they appear to be smaller) under the radar, and with the media almost entirely focussed on the schools, the opposition aren’t having much luck bringing those small details to public attention.

How does this relate to ABC editorial policy I hear you ask…quite simple…I cannot back up that opinion with facts, quite simply because there are none…I can’t prove that the government only ever intended on closing a small number of schools, and I can’t prove that there are a bunch of small devious things hidden in the budget, because I don’t specialise in reading zillion page government documents…and it is a public document, which gives the government a valid excuse about not sweeping anything under the carpet. I can’t prove these things, they are an opinion, and as has been said to me on many occasions in a different context, an opinion is not an axiom (A self-evident or universally recognized truth).

Moving on to example two, Andrew Barr. Andrew Barr took over former treasurer Ted Quinlan’s seat on a countback after Ted Quinlan retired from the ACT government. Andrew Barr was instantly given the education portfolio, which had been a public relations disaster under Katy Gallagher. That led me to believe that Andrew Barr, as the new kid in a big important portfolio, would be used as a skapegoat for all the government’s educational ills…the longer Andrew Barr spends in that role, and the worse things get, the more convinced I am of this.

None the less, it is an opinion, one not founded in verifiable truths and facts (I doubt anyone, even the Chief Turnip himself, can see what happens in the Chief Turnip’s head), and one that I would not be able to propose on-air at the ABC. The topic would be a discussion point, and would prompt debate about government plans and personalities…but alas, that is not within the bounds of ABC editorial guidelines.

And how about one more example? Ted Quinlan…who knows why he jumped ship…I think he decided that he was not willing to hand down the worst budget the ACT has seen and continue to battle the frivolous expensive plans of senior government ministers (pointless busway anyone?)…after all the rumors had been circulating on commercial talkback of government budget problems since October/November last year…why stay when you know it’s worse than anybody thought, and the Chief Turnip is insisting on interesting accounting to make it look a tad better?

Again, I can’t back that up with facts…but it sounds reasonable, it probably is reasonable, and since when was politics a cut and dry case of facts? Political reporting and analysing is all about reading between the lines, being a tad cynical, and putting ideas out there for the public to discuss.

The ABC editorial policy prevents broadcasters from speculating, and it prevents broadcasters from speaking their mind…it’s almost a case of believing everything that everyone says. The ABC obviously forgets that what we regard as fact may actually be a fabrication, and next week we might find that out…surely it is better to let the broadcaster go out on a limb and speculate that the fact is a fabrication because they believe it is, rather than forcing them to accept the false fact…or does the ABC disapprove of broadcasters who think for themselves?


Entry Filed under: Bizarreness,Samuel's Editorials,TV/Radio/Media

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  • 1. Chuck A. Spear  |  June 23rd, 2006 at 1:08 am

    Very Interesting Sam. More interesting is that your hyphenated Scottish surname has been borrowed for some obscure musical act at

  • 2. eebl  |  June 23rd, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    The guidelines are put in place so that ABC presenters don’t put the wrong spin on a story. In fact, its more so they don’t put any spin on the story at all. Your opinion is just that — your opinion. The ABC gets away with comments made on the J’s (Wil Anderson calling Fmr Sen Richard Alston a right-wing pig rooter, after he called the ABC a bunch of left-wing cardigan wearers. Cardigans are awesome, damnit!) because those are the opinions of their commentators, and for some, comedy.

    These guidelines work. John Howard and his Merry Band of Morons brought 30 something claims of bias against the ABC at one point, and they went nowhere. Why? Because there is no bias at the ABC. Just ‘cos you dont like what you’re hearing, doesn’t make it untrue.


  • 3. randombrainwave  |  June 23rd, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    I think the ABC’s guidelines make perfect sense.

    “Under the ABC editorial guidelines, broadcasters must back up their opinions with facts.”

    That is just making sure that the broadcasters do research, and fact checking, and have valid arguments rather than just off-the-cuff ranting, Stan Zemanack (mispelled, i know) style.

  • 4. Samuel  |  June 26th, 2006 at 1:42 am

    The guidelines are great for a news service…in fact perfect for a news service, but once you have presenters running talk shows with callers and topical discussion, it becomes an opinion show, and the presenter should be allowed to stick their neck out (within reason of course).

    I have no problem with fact checking, and 90% of the time proper opinions are based on facts…but there is still room for what the presenter believes, but can’t prove.

    My current gripe with ABC editorial policy is that it doesn’t allow for that.

    Randombrainwave, Stan is an entertainer who has a bunch of callers who, for some strange reason, enjoy being yelled at. I’m not saying we should have presenters yelling at callers all day on the ABC, merely that presenters should have a bit of room to move.

    Eebl, sorry about the delay with your comments, the spam filter picked them up for some reason.

    From memory the claims of bias were against ABC News, not ABC Radio…of course there isn’t a bias (or at least a proveable one) in the news, but there is nothing wrong with having a biased opinion show presenter…although it does help if they give the other side a go as well.

    I’m also not saying that the ABC should be filled with people making silly allegations all day…all I am saying is that presenters of opinion programs (such as the majority of ABC Local Radio and ABC Radio National) should be allowed to voice opinions which they believe but can’t prove, as long as they say that it is their belief.

  • 5. eebl  |  June 26th, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    Listen to the J’s once in a while, there’s plenty of opinionated people on there, stating their opinions.

  • 6. bo-j  |  June 26th, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    hello sam, long time i know. I’d just like to point something out- there is a difference between opinion based on fact, and opinion based on nothing. you can’t, as you say, prove opinion, but you can justify it based on fact. I could say that kim beazly has no chance of winning an election because all his policies are complete and utter shit, and he should take up a job in a bank because he has no personality. That’s opinion, opinion not based on anything remotely facutal. On the other hand, i could point to poll positions, or policy failures, or look at what has made John Howard successful, and then go on to say that Kim Beazly has no chance of winning government. That’s still opinion and could never be “proved”, but it is based on fact and so is informed. so i don’t think that ABC guidlines are all that bad because they prevent uninformed hicks influencing people by spitting bias ideas that betray their prejiduces. I think it is an important disctinction and shows that opinion is not squashed, but rather has a standard of proof.

  • 7. Samuel  |  June 28th, 2006 at 3:03 am

    Seems that everyone has a different opinion on this one. None the less, I still think the ABC editorial policies need to be reviewed…or renamed as guidelines.

  • 8. randombrainwave  |  July 2nd, 2006 at 1:12 am

    They seem to have been working for the ABC so far, so I suggest we wait until Virginia Trioli is dragged away before we make any decisions.


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