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ABC’s internal audit reveals biased coverage of The Voice

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The ABC’s Ombudsman’s Office received a total of 383 content complaints related to its referendum coverage, the overwhelming majority of which claimed bias.

An internal Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report has found that the public broadcaster gave more twice the amount of coverage to content in favour of The Voice proposal to change the Constitution, than it did to negative or undecided views.

The Voice was a referendum to determine whether an indigenous “Voice to Parliament” should be enshrined in the Constitution. The official campaign period started on Aug. 30, 2023 and the vote occurred on Oct. 14, with 60.06 percent voting “no.”

The ABC established a Referendum Coverage Review Committee (RCRC) in July 2023 to review its content of the vote.

ABC’s Coverage

Millions of people engaged with the ABC’s referendum content across various platforms, which included 243 digital articles, which accumulated 30.4 million page views, and 98.4 million engaged minutes.

As well as, TV coverage including “Australia Votes: The Voice Referendum,” which reached 3 million viewers in the combined five-city metro and regional markets across ABC TV and ABC News Channel.

On ABC iview, the broadcaster had 451,000 live streams on the date of the referendum, up 406.7 percent on the 2023 year-to-date Saturday average. On its ABC listen app, ABC NewsRadio had 85,000 live streams that day, up 93.2 percent on the 2023 year-to-date Saturday average.

While the ABC News’ Instagram account accumulated 1 million views across the referendum weekend.

The Review

The RCRC established two separate monitoring platforms to review the nature of the broadcaster’s coverage.

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Media monitoring company Isentia began its work on Aug. 30, while an internal tracker covered a wider range of content over a longer period.

The ABC’s report explained that “its purpose was not to give an overview but to assist individual program teams and managers keep track of whether they were providing a fair diversity of perspectives in the programs and platforms under their control.”

The report goes on to note that, “Despite the sampling differences, the two systems gave roughly similar results.”

 The result of ABC's report on its coverage of the 2023 Voice to Parliament referendum (Chart created by The Epoch Times).
The result of ABC’s report on its coverage of the 2023 Voice to Parliament referendum (Chart created by The Epoch Times).

That was that more than twice the coverage was given to content that favoured or promoted a “yes” vote than that given to either the “no” or “neutral” perspectives. This pattern was broadly repeated across all media.

Difficulties Convincing Opponents to Speak

The report notes that ABC reporters found “that it was significantly more difficult getting “no” voices to speak on the record.”

“This was true of both high-profile representatives of the campaign … and ordinary citizens for talkback and vox pops. It was true in both predominantly Indigenous communities and predominantly non-Indigenous communities.”

It claims prominent Indigenous “No” campaigner Jacinta Nampijinpa Price declined at least 52 interview requests with ABC and did not agree to a single interview on a major broadcast program.

Complaints

The ABC’s Ombudsman’s Office received a total of 383 content complaints related to its referendum coverage, the overwhelming majority of which (315, or 82 percent) claimed bias or lack of balance.

About 121 were investigated, and four were found to be in breach of editorial standards.

Five were resolved to the satisfaction of the Ombudsman (the content area having taken appropriate remedial action). All of the breach findings were about an inaccurate reference in a 7:00 p.m. TV news story that claimed the 1967 referendum granted Indigenous Australians the right to vote.

The ABC concluded that, despite the outcome of the report, its coverage was “high quality and successfully included diverse voices and opinions from all parts of Australia,” and that the broadcaster was “ever mindful of its responsibility to facilitate a comprehensive but responsible debate in an impartial manner.”



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