ABC announces independent review of complaints handling processes

The ABC Board has commissioned an independent review of the national public broadcaster’s editorial self-regulatory system and complaints handling.

The review will be headed by Professor John McMillan AO, former Commonwealth and NSW Ombudsman and Jim Carroll, former SBS Director – News and Current Affairs and Head of News and Public Affairs for the Ten Network.

The review will examine the issue: How well does the ABC manage external complaints and feedback about compliance with ABC editorial standards?

It will also consider training, remedies and actions taken, resourcing and the handling of other audience responses that may have a bearing on the standards.

The ABC’s self-regulatory processes have been previously reviewed.

An independent review by Maurice Newman and Paul Chadwick, commissioned in 2008 and published nine months later in 2009, found that the ABC’s framework was “fundamentally sound” and compared to other media organisations in Australia was “well developed and transparent”.

That review made a number of recommendations to streamline and upgrade complaints handling processes.

In 2018 the Australian National Audit Office also examined the ABC’s management of complaints, finding the national public broadcaster “effectively manages complaints” and that processes were accessible to the public, easy to navigate and responsive.

ABC Chair Ita Buttrose said the review was a timely initiative to ensure the ABC’s complaints handling procedures met audience expectations.

“The ABC’s role as an independent public broadcaster is integral to the strength of our democracy,” Ms Buttrose said. “That role requires the most robust of accountability processes. I am pleased both Professor McMillan and Mr Carroll have agreed to bring their significant skills and experience to this review.”

ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the work of the small team of complaint investigators in the independent Audience and Consumer Affairs unit is “essential to maintaining transparency and accountability”.

“The ABC’s commitment to the highest editorial standards and stringent complaints processes are why it remains one of the nation’s most trusted public institutions,” Mr Anderson said. “This review will assist the ABC to maintain its commitment to continuous quality improvement.”

After consultation between the ABC, Professor McMillan and Mr Carroll, the following terms of reference have been adapted and updated from the 2008 review:

  1. The adequacy of the ABC Editorial Policies and ABC Code of Practice for upholding the requirements of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 (Cth).
  2. The suitability of the ABC complaint process for receiving and managing complaints relating to ABC editorial standards.
  3. Measures taken by the ABC to inform the public about the ABC complaint process.
  4. Whether complaints relating to ABC editorial standards are dealt with efficiently, fairly and reasonably.
  5. Whether appropriate actions are taken and remedies provided for breaches of ABC editorial standards.
  6. Measures taken by the ABC to ensure the organisation and its staff are fully informed about complaints and complaint outcomes.
  7. Measures taken by the ABC to ensure that the complaint process is tied to continuous improvement in ABC editorial standards, and feeds into standards-setting, training and day-to-day content-making.
  8. Measures taken by the ABC to provide information and training to staff and independent service and content providers about ABC editorial standards.
  9. Whether the capabilities and resourcing of teams responsible for complaint processes are fit for purpose.
  10. Measures taken by the ABC to ensure public transparency about complaints and complaint outcomes.
  11. Measures taken by the ABC for receiving and managing audience responses (other than complaints) that have a bearing on the standards.

The review will have regard to relevant provisions of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 (Cth) (ABC Act), the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) and the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). It will be conducted with the overarching aim of improving the ABC’s self-regulation framework to ensure accountability to the public so as to maintain high levels of quality and trust.

The review panel is expected to report back to the ABC Board in March 2022.

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