news The managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has categorically denied that the broadcaster “gagged” its former technology editor Nick Ross from reporting on the National Broadband Network, stating that it merely wanted the journalist to comply with its editorial policies in doing so.
Over the past several weeks, Ross has made a number of public statements through sites such as Reddit, New Matilda and PC & Tech Authority claiming that the ABC prevented him from publishing articles critical of the Coalition’s controversial National Broadband Network policy.
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 Malcolm 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.
A number of senior Labor figures — including Victorian Innovation Minister Philip Dalidakis and Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare — have written to ABC managing director Mark Scott about the issue, and this afternoon in a Senate Estimates hearing, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari pressed Scott on the issue at length.
In response, Scott explicitly denied that the ABC had sought to gag Ross from reporting on the NBN, instead stating that the broadcaster had requested that he comply with its own editorial policies.
Scott said with respect to Ross that there was a “disagreement on the role that he wanted to play”, with the ABC believing that Ross had not focused on publishing a range of views around the NBN debate.
“It was not the responsibility of Mr Ross to simply tell his view, it was to report the range of views,” said Scott. “His role was to report and curate a range of views around this debate … that was what he was being urged to do.”
Ross himself this afternoon used Twitter to dispute some of Scott’s statements. It is recommended to read Ross’s Twitter feed to get a full view of the journalist’s view on proceedings this afternoon.
“I didn’t break [the ABC’s editorial policies],” he said. “I was never told I broke [editorial policies]. I didn’t push a ‘view’. I showed all the facts and drew a balanced conclusion.”
“Saying I’m not balanced in my NBN article. First time an ABC manager has told me that … Mark Scott once again pushing that we didn’t push ALL views of NBN. There was something we missed? Where?”
Ross additionally told several journalists on Twitter: “I keep saying this, but I’d be interested if you could find anything missing from those big articles at all.”
Scott said that Ross had not referred a controversial 11,000 word article critticising the Coalition’s version of the NBN policy to upper ABC editorial managers before it was published, and that in any case it was “unprecedented” for the broadcaster to publish an article of that length.
Scott said he had read the transcript of a taped conversation between Ross and ABC head of current affairs Bruce Belsham on the matter.
However, he stated in response that he was confident that the ABC’s standards were “high” and that he backed Belsham’s editorial judgement in the matter. Scott said he was confident with the ABC’s approach to the issue and the ABC was not planning to hold an internal inquiry into the matter.
Scott confirmed that he had received criticism from political figures, such as then-Shadow Communications Minister, now Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in relation to the ABC’s reporting of NBN coverage, but stipulated that this did not constitute pressure, given that the ABC regularly received pressure from politicians with respect to the matter.
The ABC managing director said Turnbull had largely questioned — as Turnbull himself has previously said publicly — that he would like the ABC to have used its foreign correspondents to investigate the way various broadband technologies were being used globally.
“I get political criticism all the time around coverage … it does not amount to pressure,” Scott said.
Scott said he did not recall having a discussion with former and current Turnbull staffer Sally Cray — who during the period in question held a role as the ABC’s head of corporate communications — about the Ross issue, and that he viewed Belsham in particular as an “unfortunate victim in these circumstances”.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam sought to defend Ross’s coverage of the NBN issue, noting that Ross’s NBN articles at the ABC were widely cited by other media outlets and had been heavily referenced.
However, Scott insisted that the issue with respect to Ross’s coverage was about meeting the ABC’s editorial standards and not about “false balance”. The ABC MD stated that being a journalist for a major broadcaster such as the ABC was “a very different role to a technology blogger”.