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May 05th 2018 print

Geoffrey Luck & Roger Franklin

ABC to Complainant: Drop Dead

Once, when the ABC was a proper news organisation, Geoffrey Luck ran the broadcaster's London bureau. When he saw a recent report that hailed Britain's conservatives for rejecting coal while neglecting to mention the hefty contribution of nuclear and gas, he dashed off a letter....

their abcOn April 11 in Canberra, three of the most senior ABC executives — a trio representing combined salaries far in excess of a million dollars a year — appeared before Senate Estimates. The entire transcript of that session can be found here and will confirm the impression of many that the national broadcaster is a law unto itself, an entity whose managing director is alternately very sharp on the uptake and, whenever it seems to suit, thick as a post. Readers are encouraged in particular to note the distance from candour between Senator Abetz’s repeated attempts to ascertain why the ABC is spending public money to promote the hijab and editor-in-chief Michelle Guthrie’s blandly vacant answers (page 3) that the latest taxpayer-funded vehicle to advance the media career of Yasmin Abdel-Magied is just “part of a fashion program.”

Keith Windschuttle: Allan Ashbolt and the Capture of the ABC

Shortly after that exercise in query and fog, the following exchange concerning the ABC’s handling of public complaints unfolds between Senator Eric Abetz and ABC editorial director Alan Sunderland ($178,145 p.a., as of 2013). Read it as a background briefing before absorbing the dismissive arrogance on display in the exchange of correspondence between Quadrant contributor and former ABC London bureau chief Geoffrey Luck and Audience and Consumer Affairs investigations chief Denise Musto. Their exchange is reproduced  in full below this Estimates transcript. The emphasis is Quadrant Online‘s.

ABETZ: Can  you indicate to us, on notice, the  criteria to determine how a complaint is dealt  with and how it is determined whether a complaint should be reviewed by the ACA [Audience and Consumer Affairs] team or by the program itself?

Mr Sunderland: Sure, I will provide you a summary.

ABETZ: Thank you. I note  that in the October-December 2017 quarter only seven  per  cent  of complaints received were actually investigated. Is that correct?

Sunderland: I’m not familiar with that particular statistic and how it’s derived. I’d need to check on that and get back  to  you.  It  depends  on  whether  you  are  talking  about  that  as  a  percentage  of  all complaints or as a percentage of editorial complaints.

ABETZ: Of 4,954 complaints received, 374 were investigated. They are the raw figures, and if you could  take that  on  notice I would be  much obliged. Could  you  also  advise  why  so  few  complaints were investigated? I note that of the 374 complaints investigated, four per cent — only 14 — were actually upheld. So I put to you the  proposition:  Is  it  really  the  case  that  96  per  cent  of  complaints  during  that  time  period  were unfounded? So if you could provide us with an analysis I would be much obliged. Can I also ask: Do you think it’s reasonable  that  so  many  Australians  take  the  time  to  provide  feedback,  only  to  have  their  complaints  either ignored — 1,686  complaints  were  not  responded  to  in  the  October  2017  quarter — or  dismissed, with  4,940 complaints not being upheld? So I would invite you to have a look at that on notice.

Sunderland: I will look at that on notice. I think it is important to make one point, which is that it would be a mistake  to  assume that a complaint that is not investigated by Audience  and  Consumer  Affairs  is ignored or dismissed.  A  complaint  may  well  be investigated  and  there  may  even  be  errors  identified  and  responded  to without it needing to be handled through an investigation.

All clear on that, especially in regard to Sunderland’s assurance that “it would be a mistake  to  assume that a complaint that is not investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs is ignored or dismissed”? Good.

Now read on to see how a recent complaint was not merely “ignored and dismissed” but outright rejected on the grounds that Ms Musto did not like Geoffrey’s “tone and language”. As a consequence, she assures him, future such queries will be ignored entirely! Perhaps, had Geoffrey peppered his missive with f***s and c***s, which the ABC deems perfectly okay for beaming into Australian livingrooms, Ms Musto might have felt more comfortable.

First, Geoffrey’s complaint. It was inspired by an ABC report about the demise of coal in the UK and appeared under the headline “UK conservatives are embracing a future without coal-fired power stations“. Worth noting is that reporter Steve Cannane’s omission-heavy report went to air after the founding of the pro-coal Monash Group. Its opening paragraph:

As Tony Abbott and other prominent Coalition MPs make the case that Australia should be building new coal-fired power stations, Conservatives in Britain are pushing a very different agenda.

Here is Geoffrey’s letter, filed via the ABC’s online form. Readers afflicted with Ms Musto’s exquisite sensitivities might choose to stop reading right here or, in the interest of personal safety, to make sure an accommodating sofa is at hand as they clutch their pearls and swoon.

Subject: Cannane on coal
 
Comments: Never in the history of the ABC’s London office has such a despicable piece of propaganda posting as journalism been put to air as Steve Cannane’s “report” on the future of coal in the UK.
 
Nearly fifty years ago, as London Editor, I led a team of Robin Sharpe, Richard Palfreyman and Paul Lynham. Despite opposition to voice reporting by the General Manager, and lack of support from C. News, we broke many stories, including the first TV interview of a British Prime Minister and day-to-day reporting of the beginnings of the Northern Ireland Troubles. In this, Palfreyman was held up at gunpoint by the IRA in Belfast and robbed. Lynham and I were both threatened on the streets of Londonderry.
 
By contrast, a supine Cannane trots off to Selby and mouths a pitifully distorted tale of the demise of the UK coal industry and thermal coal generation.  This was politically positioned to dramatise the difference between British “enlightenment” and the Australians who want coal recognised.  Australia has hundreds of years of coal deposits; Britain’s pits are almost exhausted, and coal generation is much dearer than gas.

What Cannane duplicitiously avoided reporting was that Britain gets 18% of its electricity from nuclear generation, and 39% from North Sea gas. Australia refuses to even debate nuclear power, and gas is restricted by political bans on exploration and/or extraction. The biomass (wood pellets) he featured at the Drax plant at Selby contribute an insignificant proportion of Britain’s energy, but a disproportionate amount of “feel-good” prattle about carbon (misleading Green shorthand for harmless carbon dioxide) emissions.
 
The latest Ofgen report – with which Cannane should be familiar – explains that the increase in renewables contribution to generation to 30% had been largely due to unusually windy weather.
 
There was no news in the 39% reduction in coal-fired generation since 2012, to the present 9% (not 7%). The fact is that Britain has been saved for the last fifty years or so by the discovery of North Sea gas (in my time) and the forward-looking policy of developing nuclear energy. Together they have supplied 60% of the UK’s power all that time. The British policy of fostering renewables is not new and is well known. What Cannane could have usefully done is examine the economics of that policy. Obviously that was beyond him, and beyond the political objectives of the organization he slavishly serves.
 
RecipientName – Audience & Consumer Affairs

Geoffrey’s critical observations have definite merit, and his experience as the former head of the same London bureau from which reporter Canane now sallies forth confer a special relevance to a veteran journalist’s critique that no mention was made of coal’s demise being enabled by the preponderance of nuclear- and gas-generated energy.

Here is Ms Musto’s response. She doesn’t like his tone. Arrogant, what?

Dear Mr Luck
 
I refer to your email of 9 April.
 
In keeping with the ABC’s complaint handling procedures, your correspondence has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit separate to and independent of the content making areas of the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards, which can be found here:  http://about.abc.net.au/reports-publications/code-of-practice/
 
As you may be aware, the ABC Code of Practice explains that the ABC may decide not to investigate a complaint which is “not made in good faith”, and it is on this basis that we decline to investigate this complaint.  Should you wish to reconsider the tone and language used in this email, and resubmit your complaint accordingly, we would be happy to review your concerns.  Notwithstanding this, please be assured that your comments are duly noted.
 
In future, complaints you submit which include insults towards individual members of ABC staff or the ABC more broadly will be noted, but will not be responded to.
 
Yours sincerely

Denise Musto
Investigations Manager
Audience and Consumer Affairs

One day we might see a minister in charge who enjoys the backing of his prime minister and has the gumption to respond in kind to such insults and abuse of privilege. This would make a radical change from the current standard, which recently saw Communications Minister Mitch Fifield complain about foul language on a purported comedy program. Like Geoffrey Luck, he was told his gripe just wasn’t worth taking seriously.

Yes, one day. Sigh.

Comments [13]

  1. Peter OBrien says:

    Yesterday, by pure chance, I was watching ABC, in particular a quiz show called Think Tank. Does the ABC really think commercial TV hasn’t already explored every possible permutation and combination of asking general knowledge questions, I wonder. It’s been said before but ABC has clearly and massively exceeded its raison d’etre. I can’t help thinking that whatever portion of $1 billion was wasted on this lacklustre offering could have been better spent on almost anything else. And of course there are many other of the same ilk.

    I had a similar incident with ABC complaints, but nowhere near as egregious as Geoffrey’s, when I objected to an ‘indigenous’ kid being turned into a hero for refusing to stand for the National Anthem at the school that had awarded him a scholarship in the series Redfern Now

    • Jody says:

      You misunderstand ABC audiences; they see themselves as a cut above the ‘deplorables’ who watch commercial television. I get this from talking to people about the ABC – clearly they see it as some kind of elite organization for people who want to really think about serious things. Actually, it’s completely the opposite of that. If outsourcing your thinking to an activist organization is your game then the ABC is ideal for you. That way you get to spout their platitudes in social situations; when penetrating the arguments with these people I find they most resort to the bromides and cliches you hear on the ABC, over and over. Far from an elite organization, the ABC is the home of intellectual wallpaper where everybody can feel cosmopolitan and moral because they’ve turned on the TV and radio and they know who the commentators are. If intellectual wallpaper is what you want – with those inevitable, repeated patterns – then pay for it yourselves Australia. Same for the, er, “Conversation”. Wall to wall agreement, resentment in abundance and advocates for bigger and bigger and bigger government and ubiquitous nanny state. There are other like-minded rags (we all know which ones) who infantilize people with their endless preaching. Watch U-Tube folks; the most interesting things are happening there way beyond the remit of the MSM.

      • LBLoveday says:

        “…they see themselves as a cut above the ‘deplorables’”

        This comment from elsewhere directed at me and others who suggested cutting funding, privatising… the ABC typifies the attitude that I perceive in ABC supporters (I originally wrote “watchers”, but there are those (Kenny, Henderson, ….) who watch and report thereon so I don’t have to).

        “After all we do not all drive Commodores”. Pathetic, no?

        • Jody says:

          I speak from the experience of working for that organization; knowing their contempt for the “Cottees Jam people on commercial television”!! Verbatim. How many hours have I spent in my 20s sitting in the “7,2,9 Club” in St. Leonards (now demolished and a unit block stands there, thankfully) listening to this kind of tripe!!

          The late Alan Ashbolt destroyed the joint. Irony of all; I’m friends now with an erstwhile secretary of his from the ABC!! I’ve told her I’m “constitutionally allergic to the ABC” and when she asked “why” I said, “I don’t want to discuss it”.

      • padraic says:

        I agree with you Jody. As I have indicated previously the ABC is lefty activist Central. The other morning on an alleged “news” radio station they gave ten minutes to some juvenile who belongs to an activist group that was blaming “old” people for all their financial alleged woes. The activist hinted they could pay us back by not supporting aged care initiatives in the future when we have all retired and are at their mercy. Pathetic. I should have kept all the receipts for my kids’ education, hospital, food, shelter, holiday expenses and charged them when they reach 50!!?? How mercenary are some of these activists and why does the ABC plum in the mouth, patronizing toned, hyphenated name employees give them oxygen? They are so superior they even have a show about “bogans”, a term popularised by the Labor PM K Rudd with his remark about “Boganvilla”. They would never have a show about “Druggies” and associated family violence because drug abuse is quite fashionable in their circles. They seem to make a distinction between “acceptable” racism and “unacceptable” racism as evidenced by the alleged comedy show referenced in the article above when a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders called white people “c—s”. Oh ha, ha, tres drole. I mean, whitened sepulchures have nothing on the ABC.

        • Jody says:

          You’ve nailed the drug issue. I’d say a good 40% of my colleagues back then at the ABC were regular ‘recreational’ drug users. Some on heroin and they and we all knew the people in the arts and acting who did the same. I won’t name names here, but they are and were (the ones who’ve survived, that is) at the top of their fields. All head cases when it came to drugs. At my young age of early 20s I wondered why they lived like this…was it an escape from reality? Slavery to fashion? Weakness? Lack of morals? Poor self-esteem? It remains enigmatic to me, but one thing is for sure; I don’t want either them or their children preaching to me now!!! Absolutely not. Having travelling the road to perdition they are not in a position to lecture or judge!!

          • padraic says:

            Over the years I have looked on and pondered why people use harmful drugs. I came to the conclusion that it is a bad aspect of our need to escape reality from time to time to freshen up mentally. You might read a book, for example. You are in the jungle keeping out of sight of the baddies who have just parachuted out of von Stalheins ‘plane. You become immersed in the story to the extent that you have left your immediate surroundings. You go to the cinema and sit in the dark and become part of what is happening on the screen – your body can move to avoid a flashing scimitar – you feel you are there. Ditto as a spectator at a football match – you wince in your seat as you take a big hit and whoop as you dive over for a try or kick a goal into the net. When you close the book, walk out of the cinema and leave the football match you are still the same you as before in terms of physical and mental health. Taking harmful drugs is another way of escaping reality but as you come back to reality you are not the same you in terms of physical and mental health . Initially you may think you are, but over time it catches up. It’s one thing to close a book, walk out of a cinema or leave a football match, but it is hard to walk away from an addictive drug. Some cause brain damage of differing degrees (marihuana, ice) and consequent depression and psychoses, others like cocaine impact adversely on the heart. When I see a TV report, for instance, of a 27 year old musician dying from a heart attack I say to myself – cocaine. The media reports bad health outcomes from drug abuse as a result of the person taking them because of “mental health issues”. Wrong (in most cases). The reason is peer pressure, similar to what young people experience in relation to smoking tobacco or having a drink of beer or spirits. Mental health problems are a result of taking the harmful drug. If drug abuse gets to a critical stage in the community like a disease preventable by vaccination (typhoid, cholera, smallpox etc) then we are in for a rough ride.

  2. MarcH says:

    While a little more active at ABCNEWSWATCH.BLOGSPOT.COM.AU the ABC changed its complaint handling procedures, possibly due to the number of referrals we made. There was at one point an internal mechanism that provided for a review. This has since ceased leaving, ACMA as the next step in the complaint process after Denise or one of the minions has summerarily dismissed your complaint. The sooner this behemoth is harpooned and broken down the better.

  3. Clive says:

    The ABC is a left wing political organization funded by taxpayers. Perhaps a $1.4 billion saving could be made in the budget. That would not generate many complaints.

  4. Jody says:

    @padriac. Nice analogies there are escapism. But resorting to drugs, IMO, is evidence of the LACK of imagination and an inner life – that place of refuge you so eloquently described; our own heads!! I used to tell my students at school, “you must find something to believe in other than yourself and your immediate surroundings; the inner life is fundamental to a quality of life”. I consider myself lucky as I had the world’s most glorious and complex music (and I still have it) in which to immerse myself ALL THE TIME. I’ve never wanted or needed drugs and – this is important – I have never needed or sought the affirmation of others as validity of my inherent worth as a person. Finally, I feel sorry for drug addicts as I think they have empty lives. Screw the idea of ‘mental health issues’ – that’s the ultimate ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card!! Uh uh; no deal. Here’s my drug of addiction and, as Simon Rattle says, it’s one I’m happy to be addicted to for the rest of my life:

    http://allofbach.com/en/bwv/

    • padraic says:

      Agreed. I accidentally left out music as one way to harmlessly escape reality in my comments above. Not so much for me these days but music certainly helped as a young student. I also noted that it should be “sepulchre” and not “sepulchure” – more of a “spello” than a “typo”, I hate to admit.

  5. ianl says:

    From a Denise Musto’s reply to Luck et al:

    > ” … a complaint which is “not made in good faith””

    While I appreciate Denise’ black humour – really, I do, although she may not see that – I do wonder what Geoffrey Luck expected as an outcome other than what did occur.