ACMA Clears Channel Seven Over Abbott Complaint – ‘No S—‘ Happened

The Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA) has released it’s findings after it’s investigation into a complaint regarding  breaches of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2010 by Channel Seven News on 8 February 2011.  The 2010 Code of Practice was registered to provide greater viewer safeguards with the launch of digital multi-channels, making provision for electronic complaints lodgement by viewers through an online website form.

The new code, developed by Free TV Australia, the industry group representing commercial free-to-air television broadcasters supplants the 2004 Code.

The code contains rules covering a range of compliance and other matters including the classification of programs, promotions, time occupied by non-program matter and reporting of news and current affairs.   It was in context of the requirement that news be p  factually accurate and fair and impartially reported that the complaint arose in relation to Licensee Channel Seven News.

The story was politically controversial, partly due to Channel Seven audio technicians making audible a comment to the effect that “shit happens”, made by Mr Abbott during his visit to Afghanistan.

The ACMA derives it’s jurisdiction to investigate complaints made under the Code of Practice pursuant to ss148 and 149 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth)The ACMA was investigating a complaint referred to it alleging a breach of the Channel’s obligations under s4.3.1 and s4.4.1 of the Code.

The complaint alleged that Channel Seven breached two sections of the Code of Practice in broadcasting a segment. The anonymous complainant alleged that the footage broadcast didn’t show the full context of the comments, was intentionally misleading and designed to show Mr Abbott in a poor light.

The  five minute segment concerned comments made by Abbott during his visit to Afghanistan in 2010, including a conversation with US commander, followed by Abbott’s subsequent reaction to comments made by a reporter when given an opportunity to explain those comments including the context in which they were made.  The segments are shown in the video above.

In arriving at a determination of whether Channel Seven presented factual material accurately at the time of preparing and broadcasting the footage, the ACMA found that the  ‘ordinary reasonable viewer’ would have understood the factual remarks made by the reporter in the introductory segment to the report.  The ACMA also decided that the viewer would have understood that his comments were made in the course of a broad discussion about the complex circumstances surrounding the soldier’s death.

In terms of whether the Licensee had complied with s4.4.1, the duty to present news fairly and impartially, the ACMA remarked whilst care is required in framing issues, it is perfectly legitimate for a Licensee to investigate and report on matters of public interest. This doesn’t exclude a Licensee from examining public words and actions of figures in public life and from commenting on them.  The fact that a judgemental tone is adopted or that an individual may be seen in a poor light, doesn’t constitute evidence, in and of itself that a report is unfair or lacking in impartiality.

Taking into account the contextual footage and the ample opportunity given to Abbott to explain his comment, coupled with the broadcast of the interview in it’s entirety, the ACMA wasn’t satisfied that there had been no breach of obligations under s4.4.1 of the Code.




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