Four Corners breaches impartiality rules

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has found the ABC breached impartiality rules for a broadcast of Four Corners in July 2019. The program reported on the contentious issue of whether water infrastructure schemes funded under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan were providing value for taxpayer money and saving water.

An ACMA investigation found that, while it was acceptable for Four Corners to present critical commentary, the program did not present sufficient information from other relevant perspectives to enable viewers to make up their own minds about the schemes.

The ACMA assessed impartiality by considering whether the program met obligations in the ABC Code of Practice 2019. There was no breach finding for accuracy.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the ABC failed to meet the standards in the Code on this occasion.

“The ABC’s Code of Practice requires producers of ABC programs to present and report on issues in an impartial manner, and this Four Corners report fell short of that,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

“Although the producers of the program explored legitimate criticisms, Four Corners had a responsibility to acknowledge other perspectives on the matter of contention in a meaningful way.”

The high level of public interest and debate about the recovery of environmental water under the Basin Plan increased the need for due impartiality in the program.

The investigation found the program omitted key information about the operation of the schemes which prevented viewers from coming to an informed understanding of the criticisms aired.

“Australian audiences expect the ABC to give proper treatment to differing perspectives when exploring controversial issues. Unfortunately, on this occasion, this did not occur.”

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