National Farmers' Federation

Media watchdog finds ABC Four Corners Basin report biased against farmers

The National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed a finding today by the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) that the ABC breached the impartiality rules of its own charter, when Four Corners sought to report on the Murray Darling Basin in July 2019.  

The offending episode, Cash Splash, purported that grants for water efficiency projects, served only to develop farmers’ own water infrastructure. 

In its complaint to ACMA, the NFF argued the program made no attempt to inform viewers that farmers were contractually required to transfer existing water licences to the Government for the environment, in return for the grant funding.

The NFF argued the program was ‘one-sided’ and ACMA agreed. 

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the ABC’s Code Of Practice required issues to be presented and reported on in an impartial manner and that the Cash Splash episode fell short of this standard.

Ms O’Loughlin said the high level of public interest and debate around the management of the Murray Darling Basin increased the need for impartiality in the programming. ACMA concluded that the program omitted key information about the operation of the schemes which prevented viewers from coming to an informed understanding of the criticisms aired.

NFF Chief Executive Tony Mahar said while the finding was vindication of the NFF’s concerns, the fact remained that hundreds of thousands of Australians had viewed the episode of Four Corners, (which is still available on iview), and had as a result been misled. 

“This finding has taken 12 months to get and many people have unfortunately moved on with a badly jaundiced view of the issue. 

“To a mere lay person, a core tenet of journalism is presenting two sides of the story. In this case, our tax-payer funded, national broadcaster has failed miserably. 

“Disturbingly, by not being impartial and by unduly favouring one perspective, the ABC has called into question the integrity and the motives of farmers who accessed the now-complete grants program.

“It’s simply not good enough and the ABC needs to be held to account for the angst caused in rural and regional communities as a result.”

Remarkably a very similar finding was made about Insiders and The Drum in the Blackburn Review, made public by the Australia Senate only last week. When added to the findings in relation to another episode of Four Corners, Pumped, in 2017, a trend emerges. 

“These programs are flagship and have a higher obligation to get it right, but are failing,” Mr Mahar said.

Before seeking recourse from ACMA, the NFF lodged a complaint through the ABC’s own review channels. The broadcaster’s independent complaint handling unit dismissed the NFF’s concerns. 

Mr Mahar acknowledged the ABC’s commitment to reporting on the issues and complexities of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. 

“We encourage the ABC, across all its programming, to continue to do this. 

“We hope today’s findings will serve as a very strong reminder, of the ABC’s obligation on behalf of all Australians, to go above and beyond to present the whole story.

“We look forward to an official acknowledgement by Four Corners of ACMA’s findings.”

Media Contact
Laureta Wallace
GM, Media & Communications
0408 448 250

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