Inside the ABC there has traditionally been some resentment towards its 24-hour news channel, which was funded not by government but by making internal savings back in 2010. Current affairs journalists believed the money was being siphoned away from established programs to create a live news channel that would not offer as much scrutiny of the powerful as a Four Corners or a 7.30.
Now an internal review has found that much of the streaming of live press conferences by politicians is little more than a platform for “campaign stump speeches”.
Politicians are “exploiting live media conferences” on the ABC news channel to repeat political messages that bypass journalistic scrutiny, the ABC editorial review has found.
“Where in the past, journalists would attend such events and decide for themselves, using their editorial judgment, what to include in their reporting, the live coverage of those events means it is the politicians themselves who have greater control over how extensively and in what manner their comments are broadcast”, the review of live media conferences on the 24-hour channel found.
An examination of 25 live media conferences in the week leading up to a number of federal byelections, from Friday 20 July until Friday 27 July 2018, found that the ABC news channel broadcast nine Coalition conferences and only six Labor ones.
“The raw numbers indicate that the opposition only received about 75% of the time provided to the government to campaign on the byelections by the means of live media conferences on the ABC News channel, and no independents or smaller parties appear to have received any live coverage of their campaign events.”
In its defence, the news division said the government was “simply more active than the opposition in calling live media conferences”.
Reviewer Alan Sunderland, the ABC’s editorial director, said much of the content “would not have merited such extensive coverage based on their news value or importance”.
“While there is undoubted value in covering byelection campaigns and reporting on the key promises, claims and counter claims of the candidates and the major parties, there is less apparent value in broadcasting long live slabs of repetitive campaigning in the form of media conferences.”
Inside story, from the inside
Speaking of scrutiny of the powerful, Four Corners will investigate the recent turmoil at the ABC that saw the managing director and the chairman depart in a matter of days. Reporter Sarah Ferguson has interviewed both Michelle Guthrie and Justin Milne and promises to tell “the inside story of the crisis that shocked the organisation and left the public confused and concerned”.
Weekly Beast hears Paul “Boris” Whittaker, the new boss at Sky News Australia, is making his mark at the network already. Whittaker has taken to sending frequent texts to presenters while they are live on air with advice on questions and angles to take in interviews and analysis. The texts have even been sent to political editor David Speers, who we are sure is appreciative of the advice from the newspaper man who has zero experience in television after a career editing the Daily Telegraph and the Australian.
We were wondering if Boris was behind Peta Credlin’s absurd claim that Sky News on WIN had an audience of 6 million. Did he text her and say “chuck in how big our audience is”?
“I remind Labor, this show is broadcast nationally on Sky’s platform across the Foxtel network and now across regional Australia on the WIN network. That’s 6 million people who get real Liberals and a cardboard Daniel Andrews,” Credlin said. Fact check: the available audience on the WIN regional network may be 6 million but the actual audience for Credlin is a fraction of that. On Sky it was just 40,000. But she can take heart from the fact that she beats Graham Richardson, who managed only 39,000. Meanwhile Sky on WIN has a share of just 1.2% of regional viewers, so the new platform hasn’t added all that many bums on seats.
Boris was not in charge three months ago when Sky News hosted the far right extremist Blair Cottrell in its studios for a one-on-one discussion about immigration with the former Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles.
The outcry led to the banning of Cottrell and the suspension of Giles, in the wake of advertisers pulling out of the News Corp platform.
Giles has returned to the network after a brief suspension and the media watchdog recently cleared Sky News of any breach.
Sky posted three videos on Twitter of Cottrell arguing for immigration based on race, and live tweeted his ideas, but according to Acma the “high threshold test of ‘intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule’ was not met”.
The former Sky News boss Angelos Frangopoulos tried to clean up the mess by announcing a management restructure to better oversee what goes to air. But it was just the same people with different job titles. The new management structure was clearly missing in action when Outsiders host Ross Cameron used racist language to describe Chinese people on 30 October.
Cameron, a co-host of Outsiders with Rowan Dean, described Chinese people as “black-haired, slanty-eyed, yellow-skinned” and management at Sky said nothing until the appalling incident was highlighted by activists Sleeping Giants Oz on Twitter. Only when their advertisers were being targeted did they take action and sack Cameron.
ABC staff told us that after the departure of Michelle Guthrie the much-derided Larry cards initiative – dubbed “The Wiggles for grown-ups” – had been junked. Announcing the staff morale initiative in September, Guthrie said the program was an opportunity for us “to celebrate each other’s achievements”.
We asked for confirmation that the Larry cards had been shredded but got this statement instead: “The first, very successful round of the ABC’s employee Recognition Program recently concluded. We received 186 nominations from across the ABC, comprising 145 employees and 41 teams, with nine employees and teams receiving awards. It’s important to recognise that what we do is made possible thanks to many hardworking and dedicated people across the ABC. We look forward to the second round next year.”
Running on empty
In April last year we reported that Rupert Murdoch’s Australian tabloids were making the majority of their photographers and subeditors redundant.
The director of editorial management, Campbell Reid, said at the time that the restructure of the traditional newsroom was needed to “preserve in print and excel in digital”.
Fast forward to this week and the Daily Telegraph’s subediting benches have been gutted after waves of redundancies at Holt Street. Sources say there are only three subeditors now on staff and the rest of the work has been outsourced to Pagemasters.
Swan lays egg?
It was only 2014 when Jonathan Swan won the Wallace Brown award for most outstanding young journalist, for his work as a political reporter in Canberra for the Sydney Morning Herald.
When he was selected for the prestigious American Political Science Association (APSA) Congressional Fellowship, he moved to the US and started work on The Hill.
Now Swan, who is only 33 and came to journalism at the age of 25, finds himself a much-talked about figure in Washington.
Now covering the White House for the online news site Axios, Swan had a scoop that got everyone talking – that Trump intended to propose terminating birthright citizenship. He was roundly attacked for the headline and his tone in the interview, and was called a “bootlicker” on the Splinter website.
This week he was the subject of not one but two profiles, one in the New York Times and one in the Washington Post.
The NYT said he had transformed from “an obscure Australian striver into a uniquely Washington figure of envy, fascination and contempt”.
But Swan received some praise from none other than legendary journalist Bob Woodward. “I don’t get the sense that he’s soft at all,” Woodward told the Post. “Walking that line of being tough but fair while also listening to the people you’re covering is a delicate one, particularly in daily reporting. He’s in that class that’s hitting Trump pretty hard but listening to him and giving him a chance to air his side.”
Swan certainly does have a strong journalistic pedigree. He is the son of the ABC veteran health journalist Dr Norman Swan.