news Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appears to have implied that he made the same complaint to ABC management that he has previously made in public before the 2013 Federal Election, stating that the broadcaster had “failed” to provide balanced coverage of the competing National Broadband Network policies.
In Federal Parliament today, Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare asked Turnbull whether he, or any members of his current or former office, had had any contact with ABC management, in relation to stories critical of the Coalition’s NBN policy.
The question came in the context of an ongoing national discussion over former ABC technology editor Nick Ross.
Ross served as the broadcaster’s editor of its Technology & Games sub-site from 2010 before resigning his position several weeks ago. The journalist came under fire from other media outlets and political figures such as then-Shadow Communications Minister Turnbull in 2013, after he published a number of articles heavily critical of Turnbull’s rival NBN policy. He has published little on the subject since.
However, the ABC has denied it gagged Ross, telling BuzzFeed news that the journalist had been warned to take the role of a “reporter”, rather than an “advocate” and highlighting the ABC’s editorial policies. A spokesperson for the broadcaster added that Ross had been invited to contribute to the ABC’s business coverage, including on NBN issues, after the Technology & Games sub-site was scheduled to be shut down, but that Ross had declined.
In response (see the full draft transcript online here), Turnbull said that he had, on several occasions, complained “very publicly and openly about the ABC’s coverage about the NBN issue, in particular and most notably in the lead up to the last election where I felt the ABC’s coverage of the issue was very poor and lacked balance”.
The Prime Minister said that in his view, the ABC failed in its coverage of the issue of the competing technologies being pitched for the NBN by the various political parties, because it did not use its international resources to examine how Turnbull’s preferred Fibre to the Node technology was being used in a number of other countries, such as the United States, the UK, Germany, Switzerland and others.
“In my view – and I was very public about this – in my view, the ABC failed in its coverage of the issue because what it failed to do was to use its rather extensive international resources to at least go and interview people at British telecom or Deutsche telecom or Swiss com and test whether the arguments I was putting as Shadow Minister for Communications were correct,” said Turnbull.
“They declined to do that and as a consequence I feel in that regard the national broadcaster, which I hold in high regard as I’m sure Honourable Members do, in that regard it failed to put enough – it should have done a better job in putting more information about the competing alternatives before the public.
Turnbull added: “… have I complained, did I complain about this to the ABC? The answer is yes, I did complain but I complained publicly. I was very public about it and made this point. I’ve said nothing in any of my discussions with the chief executive at any time. I’ve said exactly the same things privately as I’ve said publicly because it is important, in my view, that the national broadcaster, whenever it can, seeks to inform the public debate so to ensure that, right or wrong, the contending arguments are well exposed in light of the facts.”
Turnbull’s answer — while a little unclear — appears to imply that he made the same arguments to ABC management privately regarding its coverage of the NBN issue that he had made publicly, although the Prime Minister’s words can also be interpreted as meaning that he did not raise the issue with ABC managing director Mark Scott privately.
Following Clare’s question, the Member for Blaxland followed up with a second question on the issue, asking whether an independent inquiry would be conducted into the matter, similar to the inquiry that has recently been conducted into the ABC’s Q&A program. Watch the second question and answer here:
In response, Turnbull said he did not want to comment on specific journalists at the ABC, such as Ross, or Lateline host Emma Alberici, who Delimiter has reported had an article on the NBN delayed until after the 2013 Federal Election.
“As for the rights and wrongs of Nick Ross — I think’s the journalist the Honourable Member mentioned — or indeed Emma Alberici, those are matters between the ABC management and the journalists in question and matters for them to resolve through the normal industrial processes,” said Turnbull.
“… in the free and open debate we have, all of us are entitled to express our views about the coverage of issues in the media and all of us should continue to do so … the ABC’s coverage is entitled to be as subject to criticism as the people on whom it seeks to report.”