news Malcolm Turnbull has accused the national broadcaster of creating “relentless propaganda” to support Labor’s flagship National Broadband Network project, in a stance which the Shadow Communications Minister yesterday described as “embarrassing”.
The ABC’s Technology & Games sub-site has published a number of articles over the past six months by its editor Nick Ross going into a great level of detail about Labor’s NBN project and the Coalition’s criticism of it. In general, the aim of the articles appears to have been educational, although their broad line has been positive in favour of the NBN.
For example, Ross published an article on 14 June this year, entitled “NBN stats: Australia’s broadband future and why the Coalition’s alternative ‘won’t work”. The article attempted to use a global research study published by networking equipment manufacturer Cisco to show why “the Coalition’s alternatives won’t just be unable to support the benefits to health, education, power distribution, business and society that NBN Co’s current planned infrastructure will provide” and also “that they won’t be able to support the regular organic growth of the general internet requirements that we have now – within just four years!”
Ross published another article on 27 April this year entitled “The Coalition’s NBN: cheaper or a false economy?” The article attempted to debunk what it stated was a statement by Turnbull claiming that the Coalition’s rival NBN policy would be cheaper and easier to deploy than Labor’s NBN. “Initially I was all set to agree too. I was simply going to analyse whether cheap equated to value. However, more digging is suggesting that there’s nothing cheap about the Coalition’s plans. In fact they could well be monstrously more expensive,” wrote Ross at the time. The ABC’s Technology & Games site has also published several other articles by Ross broadly positive about the NBN.
Yesterday, Ross and Turnbull engaged in a very public argument on the subject on social networking platform Twitter. “Your relentless NBN propaganda is an embarrassment to the ABC,” Turnbull told Ross. “Do you really work for the ABC or is it the NBN Co?”
Turnbull wrote that he challenged Ross to set out the “lies” which he said Ross had claimed the Coalition was telling about the NBN. “Then I will deal with them,” Turnbull said. “Well here is a challenge to you – set out the facts that you say I have misrepresented and the facts upon which you rely. My complaint has been a lack of balance, of any attempt to consider or investigate the case put by us. You set out all the “lies” you claim we have told and I will deal with them.”
In turn, Ross (see the ABC’s Tech & Games Twitter account here) in particular highlighted what he said were weaknesses in the Coalitions’ NBN policy, especially its focus on using a fibre to the node-style of broadband rollout rather than the fibre to the home approach Labor is currently taking. “I work for the Australian public. You haven’t ever acknowledged health, [education], business, upload speed requirements for NBN,” Ross told Turnbull. “Am more than happy to meet up and discuss this. We seem to think the NBN is for very different purposes.”
“You can’t say these facts about the NBN without backing them up. I back up what I say more than anyone. If you can demonstrate what facts I have said that are wrong I’ll be mortified. But you need to justify your claims. I go the science route. The facts are all that matter here. Technology is blind to politics. I’ll show my working as usual.”
Ross is correct in that the Coalition has made a number of factually incorrect claims about the NBN project over the past several years.
Last week, speaking on Channel Ten’s Meet the Press program, Nationals Leader Warren Truss made a number of major factually inaccurate statements about the project, as detailed in this article by Delimiter at the time. In addition, Truss had previously made a number of inaccurate statements about the NBN over the past several months, and Truss’s about the NBN represent only the latest time which a high-profile member of the Coalition has made a factually inaccurate claim about the project over the past several years.
In June, for example, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey inaccurately claimed that 4G mobile broadband had the potential to be “far superior” to the fibre technology of the NBN. In mid-May, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott misrepresented the cost of connecting to the NBN, in comments which the Government claimed represented a deliberate attempt to mislead the Australian public on the issue. Turnbull similarly made a number of factually incorrect statements on the NBN throughout March, and in January Abbott got quite a few facts about the NBN wrong in a radio interview.
Has Nick Ross been broadly very positive about Labor’s NBN project on the ABC’s Technology & Games site? Indeed, he has, and Turnbull has a very fair point, that the site is viewed broadly by the technology community as being supportive of the NBN project. This isn’t the best look for the ABC, which is supposed to remain objective towards the Government and the Opposition of the day and their respective policies.
However, I consider the far greater crime to be the one committed by Turnbull and his Coalition colleagues over the past several years as they have made a substantial number of public statements about the NBN which have been shown to be incorrect. On Twitter yesterday, Turnbull challenged Ross to come up with evidence of where he had misspoken. Well, Mr Turnbull, we have the evidence. The Coalition’s misstatements on the NBN have been painstakingly chronicled on Delimiter, especially over the past year, and I encourage you to read the articles linked above and ask yourself whether you and your Coalition colleagues have always been truthful about the project as a whole.
And if the Coalition is tempted to turn the blowtorch on Delimiter next with respect to this matter, remember this: The Coalition isn’t the only political party to have had its public statements fact-checked by Delimiter over the past year or so. We encourage those who believe so to examine the way we have kept Labor and the Greens honest as well. You don’t get a free pass just because you’re in Government, as Senator Conroy is well aware.
Image credit: Screen cap of Turnbull and Pesce on ABC’s The Drum, believed to be fair use