ABC Bias exposed, confirmed and criticised

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    Review of ABC budget coverage reveals ‘perceptions of bias’
    Michael Bodey

    Media and Entertainment Writer

    Sarah Ferguson’s treatment of Joe Hockey has come under fire in a review of the ABC’s coverage. Source: Supplied

    Treasurer Joe Hockey was treated with “disrespect” by Ms Ferguson, the report found. Source: News Corp Australia
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    AN editorial review of the ABC’s coverage of the 2014 federal budget has found the “tone” of 7.30 host Sarah Ferguson’s interview with the Treasurer Joe Hockey was disrespectful.
    The ABC-commissioned review by a former editor of The Australian Financial Review editor, Colleen Ryan, also found the public broadcaster focused too heavily on the political consequences of the federal budget ahead of economic and financial implications.
    The editorial audit into the ABC's budget coverage
    Overall, Ms Ryan found “the overall quality of the budget coverage was excellent” and only three of the 76 news and current affairs items assessed raised any major concerns for the review.
    The assessment of Ferguson’s budget night interview will be contentious though.
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    Ms Ferguson’s interview did not breach any editorial policies yet Ms Ryan found the interview showed how “perceptions of bias could be inflamed unnecessarily” and that it was disrespectful. Sarah Ferguson’s stint filling in for Leigh Sales on 7.30 last year was widely acclaimed and, as Ms Ryan acknowledged, the Hockey interview “provided compelling television” and was a Walkley Award finalist.
    Ms Ryan found the opening question that it must be “liberating for a politician to decide election promises don’t matter?” was emotive and set a tone of “attack”.
    “I also believe that the average viewer would consider that the Treasurer was not treated with sufficient respect by the interviewer,” she said.
    Further exchanges with the Treasurer did “not meet the impartiality guidelines to treat the interviewee ‘with civility and respect unless there is a compelling reason not to do so’.”
    The editorial audit also found Lateline host Emma Alberici would have given the impression of bias by asking a Coalition MP: “Do you think voters are really stupid and can’t recognise a lie when they see one?” and said one May edition of The Drum was biased with two pro-Labor panellists against one conservative.
    The audit also found 7.30 reporting on the impact of budget measures on charities aimed at the poor in Tasmania was “the least balanced of the State-based 7.30 programs in budget week.”
    Overall, Ms Ryan had a number of “reservations” about the budget coverage, including a “a lack of balance in the coverage of the mainstream current affairs programs (7.30 and Lateline) between the political implications of the budget as opposed to the economic and financial implications.”
    She added there was an over-reliance on political reporters, rather than business reporters, in the budget coverage, which suggested a lack of “in-house’ experts at the ABC.
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