Astonished that the ABC — their ABC — reported on Islamist mayhem and murder in Paris without mention of the killers’ motives and affiliation, Geoffrey Luck asked the national broadcaster for an explanation. What followed was a prolonged exercise in admission, retraction, denial and obfuscation
After the recent jihadi massacres in Paris, journalist and Quadrant contributor Geoffrey Luck was watching his former employer’s coverage when, on January 10, reports by Barbara Miller and other correspondents caught his attention. The reports, which led that night’s 7.00 news, somehow omitted any mention of the words “Islam” or “Muslim”.
Luck, who spent 25 years at the national broadcaster, reached for his keyboard and dashed off a quick note in quest of an explanation as to how a report about Islamist butchery could fail to mention, even in passing, the creed and philosophy that demanded the deaths of cartoonists, journalists and shoppers in a kosher supermarket.
Reproduced below is Luck’s original question, plus subsequent rounds of correspondence with ABC functionaries. As he observed after abandoning his bid to have the ABC police its own standards, the to-and-froing is “a document exemplifying how the ABC wriggles and twists on the hook of a complaint.” While the exchange satisfied none of Luck’s queries, it might prompt readers to wonder yet again why, despite its inaccuracy, omissions, bias, cronyism and ongoing delight in broadcasting prime-time obscenity, the national broadcaster has so far seen no greater encouragement to reform than a paltry 5% reduction in its funding.
(editor’s note: The ABC TV clip that prompted Luck’s ire seems not to be available on the web. This report, also filed by Miller, is cut from the same holey cloth.)
“The news reports were not the place for extended speculation on [the terrorists’] motivation.” — the ABC’s Mark Maley on the art of knowing what to leave out
From: Geoffrey Luck
To: ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs
January 10, 2015
This complaint is to demand answers to the following questions:
- Why was all mention of Islam, Islamic terrorists, jihad and revenge in the name of Allah avoided in the report on the situation in Paris, given that all three terrorists had been killed, and their motivation established from their own statements?
- Was this avoidance of the significance of the terrorists’ affiliation and motivation the result of an editorial or ABC policy directive?
- Why has the ABC taken it upon itself to censor the news in the protection of Islam and Muslims?
Throughout the report, the Islamic terrorists were referred to as “gunmen”, “the brothers”, “a third gunman”, “the wanted men” and “a man reportedly armed with an assault rifle.”
Barbara Miller referred to “more potential attackers still on the loose” and quoted al-Quaeda in Yemen praising the “three gunmen.”
Nicole Chettle described the escaped female terrorist as “another fugitive”; Mary Geirin avoided describing the jihadist who murdered four people in a food store by simply referring to him (twice) by name.
This travesty of truth masquerading as a reliable report, sheltering under the professed reputation for honesty and objectivity of the national broadcaster, went to air scrupulously avoiding the salient facts already established in three days of intense journalistic coverage. The motives of the three terrorists had been established by their own statements proclaiming their actions in the name of Allah and revenge for insults to Mohammed. The planning and co-ordination of the two attacks had been admitted by the terrorist Coulibaly in the food store.
This report scandalously failed to tell viewers that it was all due to radical Islamists, killing in the name of Mohammed.
— Geoffrey Luck
Luck’s complaint was referred to NSW News Editor Don Lange, who replied:
From: Donald Lange
Date: Tuesday, 20 January 2015 10:32 AM
To: Geoffrey Luck
Subject: December 10 bulletin
Thank you for your email. I was surprised in reviewing that bulletin to find that you’re largely right. There should have been more reference to the fact that they were jihadists. However there were references that you haven’t quoted of them proclaiming themselves as defenders of the prophet and that they were supported by Al Qaeda in Yemen.
Their motivation was clear and had been well established in previous days so I don’t accept that this report was a travesty of the truth as you suggest. However, I concede there should have been some explicit acknowledgement.
NSW News Editor
To which Luck replied:
Subject: Re: December 10 bulletin
Thank you for your response – although I can see nothing but skid marks as you swerved around the questions I asked.
How did the two reporters come to avoid the appropriate terms for the terrorists and their motivations? Did they do this on their own initiative, or by direction? If they acted off their own bat, why did they? Is it considered that “counselling” is required? This was not an isolated case of the ABC handling Islamic terrorism with kid gloves. but it was probably the most extreme.
As I am sure you can guess, your response does not suffice; you should return my complaint to Audience and Consumer Affairs for a full investigation.
Bear in mind that News Editor Lange conceded without protest that his reporters were in error for not to having mentioned jihadists, and that Luck’s complaint was, in his professional estimation, “largely right”.
Now read the official response as Luck’s complaint progressed through the ABC food chain, eventually being digested and extruded by Mark Maley of Audience & Consumer Affairs. Implicit in Maley’s response is the view that Lange was talking through his hat. Worth noting, perhaps, is Maley’s pedigree: a former 7.30 executive producer and Four Corners reporter, his are the genes of a left-leaning clan with a long history of Fairfax-ABC cross-pollination:
From: ABC Corporate_Affairs
Date: Friday, 23 January 2015 11:07 AM
To: Geoffrey Luck
Subject: RE: December 10 bulletin
Dear Mr Luck
As you requested, your complaint has been referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs for consideration and response. The unit is separate and independent from ABC program areas and is responsible for investigating complaints alleging a broadcast or publication was in contravention of the ABC’s editorial standards. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial requirements for accuracy and impartiality, as outlined in sections 2 and 4 of the ABC’s Code of Practice: http://about.abc.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/CodeofPractice2013.pdf . In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News.
The two reports on the events of the day broadcast 10 January were day were clear, unadorned factual accounts of the developments. They avoided sensational language but reported all the salient information that had been revealed in the 24 hours since reports filed from Paris the previous day. This included that the two attacks were connected, that they were terrorist attacks, the gunmen were apparently members of a terrorist cell and that there was evidence of links to Al Qaeda affiliates. The use of the term “gunmen” in relation to the killers/terrorists was completely appropriate, accurate and clear.
The alleged links to Al Qaeda had first been reported the previous evening. The evening before that, in the first reports for the 7pm News on the shootings, Mary Gearin reported that the men had shouted ‘God is great’; they said they were avenging the Prophet Mohammed; and that one of the killers had been previously convicted of association with Jihadist terrorists. As you would appreciate, the focus in news stories is reporting new information, not repeating what is already well-known and well reported.
There is no evidence that there was any attempt in the reports you have cited to conceal the men’s and woman’s association with terrorism or Islamic extremism. The news reports were not the place for extended speculation on their motivation.
Mr Lange has conceded that, in his opinion, there may have been more explicit reference to them as jihadists. However, taking into account the references within the stories, other references in news stories over the course of the news coverage that week and the extensive analysis of the events in programs such as 7.30, no sensible viewer of ABC TV News and Current Affairs would have been in any doubt about the connection between the attacks and Islamic extremism.
Accordingly, while noting your concerns, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied the broadcast was in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and impartiality.
Thank you for taking the time to write; your feedback is appreciated.
For your reference, the ABC Code of Practice is available online at http://about.abc.net.au/reports-publications/code-of-practice-2014/ Should you be dissatisfied with this response to your complaint, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, http://www.acma.gov.au.
Audience & Consumer Affairs
So, all clear on that? The Islamist connection had been noted elsewhere, hence no need to mention it all over again.
It’s Their ABC, alright. No doubt about it.