Complaits about The ABC

This article was originally posted on the ABC Friends National website September 19, 2023. It is re-posted here to ensure ABC Friends SA/NT have good opportunity to be kept aware of the issue of complaints.

Ms Cameron was appointed as inaugural ABC Ombudsman in September last year and has now overhauled the ABC’s complaints handling process which had been in place for 20 years. The new process can be accessed here.

The biggest change is that there is now an Ombudsman who reports to the Board and leads a team that is independent from the ABC’s Editorial Director and content-making divisions.

Ms Cameron’s report – which covers the three-year period to the end of 2022 – showed that total complaints to the ABC averaged 23,767 per year, with 85% of these general complaints relating to personal taste and preference. In the previous three year period, total complaints averaged 24,400 per year.

The remaining 15% related to specific ABC content which concerns the ABC’s editorial standards, and these come within the remit of the Ombudsman and her office. Across the three years, less than 50% of all content complaints were investigated, with 80% of these investigations not upheld and 20% either resolved (early remedial action taken) or a breach finding recorded.

The most complained about platform was News Online – which has a significant reach because it is shared across social networks. The 7pm News, 7.30, News Breakfast and Q+A made up the rest of the top five complained about programs.

Balance, bias and factual inaccuracy 

Over the three years, the three main categories of complaints related to bias, balance and factual inaccuracy. These remained steady at around 70% each year.

Complaints relating to factual inaccuracy grew from 27% in 2020 to 33% in 2021 before falling back to 25% last year, while those relating to bias increased from 34% in 2020 and 35% in 2021 to 42% in 2022. Complaints relating to balance remained steady at around 5%.

2023 complaints so far

In the six months to June, some 11,400 complaints were received, with 13% of these relating to content and 36% of these resulting in an investigation. Of the 535 investigated, 415 were not upheld, 78 resolved and 42 upheld.

Ms Cameron said there had been a slight increase in the bias category, with multiple complaints this year about three particular pieces of content: an ABC News tweet being racist and/or anti-Palestinian (40 complaints), a Landline story about the live export trade pro-industry biased (86 complaints) and a 7.30 interview reflecting anti-Russian bias (51 complaints).

She said that 102 complaints had also been received alleging bias or lack of balance in coverage of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. No investigation into these had been upheld, she said, with many going to presenter or interview styles.

Complaints not upheld will be made available whenever possible

Ms Cameron said that while the ABC had previously published a summary of resolved and upheld complaints, she has determined that, unless there are privacy barriers, significant investigations will be published in full including those not upheld.

“Wherever possible, all complaints that are reviewed by the Ombudsman will also be published in full”, she said, providing links to the final reports of these key investigations:

AM story Alice Springs Town Meeting Angers Aboriginal People’

A complaint by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age about a Media Watch segment ‘War with China?’

ABC coverage of the Coronation of King Charles Ill.

Ongoing reporting

Ms Cameron will report publicly at the end of each six month period. Between reports, significant investigations and reviews will be published here, upheld complaints summaries will be reported here and resolved complaint summaries will be reported here.

ABC Friends encourages our members and supporters to share any concerns or complaints through the ABC’s online complaints process.