ABC promotes private interests: what happened to impartiality?

6 Oct

Between June 15 and October 5 2011, the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Online and the Drum have published eight articles written by anti pornography campaigners and colleagues who share the same perspective on pornography.

Judging from many of the comments on some articles, the views of this collective are regarded as extreme, and pushing right wing Christian conservative values.

Seven of these articles were written by contributors to Big Porn Inc, a collection of anti pornography essays edited by activists Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray.

In five of the articles reference is made to the soon-to-be-released Big Porn Inc, and three of them are extracts from the book. Clive Hamilton‘s article in Religion and Ethics reads like a book launch speech, and his last two paragraphs enthusiastically promote Big Porn Inc.

Gail Dines, also an author in Big Porn Inc, appears in R&E on September 15 promoting her anti pornography position. Meagan Tyler writes in the Drum on October 5th defending Gail Dines against critics, and promoting the same anti porn position. Tyler has another anti porn piece in the Drum on September 20th.

During this period the ABC has published one, yes that’s one alternative perspective to that put forward by all the above authors. That piece was by academic Alan McKee on September 23rd. McKee addresses many of the criticisms launched at him and his colleagues by some of the above authors.

Editor of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics forum, Scott Stephens, is launching the book the ABC has been blatantly promoting in Brisbane next week.

The ABC Code of Practice states as follows:

4. Impartiality and diversity of perspectives

Principles: The ABC has a statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial according to the recognised standards of objective  journalism.

Aiming to equip audiences to make up their own minds is consistent with the public service character of the ABC.  A democratic society depends on diverse sources of reliable information and contending opinions.  A broadcaster operating under statute with public funds is legitimately expected to contribute in ways that may differ from commercial media, which are free to be partial to private interests.

Judgements about whether impartiality was achieved in any given circumstances can vary among individuals according to their personal and subjective view of any given matter of contention.  Acknowledging this fact of life does not change the ABC’s obligation to apply its impartiality standard as objectively as possible.  In doing so, the ABC is guided by these hallmarks of impartiality:

• a balance that follows the weight of evidence;

• fair treatment;

• open-mindedness; and

• opportunities over time for principal relevant perspectives on matters of contention to be expressed.

By neglecting to observe the required balance, the ABC has promoted both a specific position on pornography, and  a book written entirely from this position. This has continued for five months, with only one article that challenges this perspective published during that time period.

At the editor’s website, the launch of Big Porn Inc is headlined thus: “ABC Editor Scott Stephens to launch Big Porn Inc in Brisbane October 14.”

That the ABC should promote a book that is subsequently launched by one of its employees is bizarre. The ABC is not publishing this book. It isn’t written by ABC employees.

There’s a big difference between noting publications in an author’s biography, and the kind of intense promotional activity immediately prior to a book launch we’re seeing here. There’s a big difference between the ABC interviewing an author about his or her book, and the promotional activity seen here. There’s a lot of cosiness between the book’s editors and the ABC Religion and Ethics editor. None of this is good for a public broadcaster whose mission is to convey as many perspectives as reasonably possible on issues that affect the whole of our society.

Comments on all pornography articles on the Drum in 2011 reveal a wide variety of community views, the majority of which dispute those purveyed by the collective currently dominating the issue at the ABC. There are many comments calling for the publication of other perspectives.

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One Response to “ABC promotes private interests: what happened to impartiality?”

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  1. The godification of children; the bizarre marriage of anti raunch feminism with the religious right. « No Place For Sheep - October 10, 2011

    […] ABC promotes private interests: what happened to impartiality? […]

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