Response from the ABC

A spokesman from the ABC said these statements were issued earlier in January in response to queries from various media outlets:

Nick Ross has resigned from the ABC and we are not in a position to make any specific comment about his situation or circumstances other than to wish him well. He was a valued and respected staff member.

The ABC does not “gag” the coverage of any issues or topics of public importance. As our record makes clear, the ABC covers all issues of public importance thoroughly and independently.

The only “restrictions” on the issues the ABC covers and the way we cover them are our Editorial Policies, which set standards for things like accuracy, impartiality and fair dealing. All of our journalism is required to adhere to these standards at all times.

The notion that Nick Ross has ever been “gagged” by anyone at the ABC is nonsense. The advice Ross received was that, as with all other topics, coverage of the NBN issue required adherence to ABC Editorial Policies, which require appropriately reflecting all major points of view. As is normal editorial practice with all coverage of all significant issues, Ross was expected to upwardly refer anything controversial. After the ABC’s funding cuts last year, when it became clear that the technology portal was to be closed along with a number of other portals and web sites, Nick was invited to contribute to our business coverage, including on NBN issues. He declined to do so.

The technology page has long been out of use and has now been decommissioned. All of the content is still available on the ABC News site. Technology coverage will now be run off the front page, where the big audiences are and where it will be more available to our audience.“

In a statement published on New Matilda after that outlet sought comment, a spokesman for the ABC said:

The ABC finds it unethical and reprehensible in the extreme that New Matilda expects a response to partial excerpts of secretly recorded conversations without the opportunity to hear and understand the full context of what was said, despite our repeated requests. These things can and will be interpreted to suit people’s agenda.

The personal counselling given to Mr Ross by his manager was extensive and delivered at length over a number of conversations. At times, those exchanges used unguarded and informal language, as is commonplace in private conversations that are intended to air issues fully, frankly, robustly and in confidence. It would be a shame if all such conversations had to be conducted as if they were on the record interviews. Nevertheless, the thrust of the sentiments expressed to Mr Ross in all of the discussions held with him were consistently that, as with all other topics, coverage of the NBN issue required adherence to the ABC charter and editorial policies, which require appropriately reflecting all major points of view.

To put the taped conversation into context: It followed Mr Ross as ABC Technology Editor publishing an almost 11,000 word article severely criticising the then Opposition’s policy on the NBN. To require him to next look at the current policy of the then Government in power is hardly unreasonable. In fact, it was the editorially responsible thing to do.

As previously stated, the notion that Nick Ross has ever been "gagged” by anyone at the ABC is nonsense. The ABC does not “gag” the coverage of any issues or topics of public importance. As our record makes clear, the ABC covers all issues of public importance thoroughly and independently. The only “restrictions” on the issues the ABC covers and the way we cover them are our Editorial Policies, which set standards for things such as accuracy, impartiality and fair dealing. All of our journalism is required to adhere to these standards at all times.

New Matilda also published the following comment from Alan Sunderland, ABC Director Editorial Policies in response to questions from New Matilda about “false balance”:

The ABC’s charter and editorial policies commit us to fair, accurate and impartial reporting of all issues and that is what we aim for every day on every issue. In pursuit of that standard, there are regular conversations, meetings and discussions involving journalists, producers and news managers, as there are in any major news operation. Those conversations focus on the right issues to cover and the right way to cover them to ensure adherence with our policies. In relation to significant, controversial or contentious issues, attention is given to ensuring the coverage is fair, accurate and impartial. This can include ensuring that all issues consistently receive appropriate scrutiny and coverage, but it doesn’t involve “false balance” or giving all sides in a discussion the same weight. The policies we live by specifically make that clear. It is in no way controversial or surprising, for example, to expect that the policies of both sides of politics will receive the same scrutiny. But once that scrutiny is applied, the resulting coverage will be balanced according to the weight of evidence. This is not false balance – this is good journalism.

These are the standards we have put in place and these are the standards we are judged by. We regularly review our coverage as well as commissioning independent external reviews.

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