The ABC’s Reign of Error – Part II

On November 20, ABC television news ran a report from its Washington correspondent, Kathryn Diss, on the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, charged with the murder of two men in a street altercation. As is common with Ms Diss’s reports, her account was emotionally charged, stressing division and going to some lengths to imply, from her selection of street comment, that the jury got it wrong. There was much in her piece to object to, but I chose to complain only about the throwaway editorialising with which she concluded:

“The justice system continues to favour those holding the gun.”

ABC reporters increasingly begin and/or end their stories with summary comments which colour the story emotionally or politically, or both. This is in breach of Editorial Guidelines (as well as good journalistic practice). Overseas correspondents are especially prone to using this technique to colour their stories.

Some three weeks later – remarkably swiftly – came this response from Audience and Consumer Affairs. I give it in full because, undoubtedly unthinkingly, my ABC interlocutor, Kirstin McLeish, has revealed the duplicity of her “independent” section, dedicated to the defense of everything the ABC broadcasts no matter how wrong.

Your email has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content making areas within the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards. These standards are explained in the ABC Code of Practice which is available here –

We have reviewed the story.  It was introduced as follows:

‘The US President Joe Biden is calling for calm after a teenager was sensationally acquitted in a shooting case which has split America.  The jury agreed that 18 year old Kyle Rittenhouse acted in self defence when he shot and killed two men during racial justice protests last year.  He’s tonight a free man but there are some who believe the verdict could lead to more people taking the law into their own hands’.

It featured footage of the moment the jury’s decision was delivered and the reaction of Mr Rittenhouse and his legal team, as well as comments from Mr Rittenhouse’s lawyer and footage of Mr Rittenhouse speaking approvingly of the jury’s decision.  It included footage of the protest at which the two men were killed and identified the event that immediately gave rise to it –  the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake.  It also presented the views of some people who objected to the jury’s finding and the way the case was run.  The reporter said: 

‘The case was divisive.  By the law, the evidence shown in court demonstrated Karl Rittenhouse acted in self defence.  What the verdict doesn’t do is satisfy demands that vigilante behaviour be held to account.  And again sparks debate over who should be able to carry a gun on American streets’ 

 The report then featured footage of the girlfriends of the two men killed.  One said

‘He’s dead, and the system is telling me that nobody needs to answer for that’.

The other said

‘The victims’ lives don’t matter and I don’t think that that’s acceptable’.

Parents of one of the men killed had released a statement saying they were ‘heartbroken and angry’ and labelling the acquittal a miscarriage of justice.  The report also included the reaction of Jacob Blake’s family who said that the trial wasn’t conducted fairly.  Jacob Blake’s uncle said:

‘I’m not so surprised because in this city my nephew was shot seven times in the back and no charges were ever levelled.  You have to understand from day one the judge had his hand on the scale’.

It included footage of President Biden who did not repeat his previous comments likening Karl Rittenhouse to white supremacists and who said:

‘I stand by what the jury has concluded.  The jury system works and we have to abide by it’.

The report concluded with footage of people on the street reacting angrily to the verdict.  The reporter said:

‘Emotions are running high on America’s streets as the country finds itself again questioning the inequities of the criminal justice system, and how it continues to favour those holding the gun’.  

 We are unable to agree with your view that the reporter’s closing statement advanced a personal view about guns or gun laws which contravened the ABC’s editorial standards.  In context, viewers would have understood her statement to be reflecting the anger of those shown on screen at that moment – people on an American street reacting to the verdict.  Those shown were clearly dissatisfied with this result from the criminal justice system.  In the context of this story, those ‘holding the gun’ who the reporter described as favoured by the criminal justice system were Karl Rittenhouse – who the jury found had acted lawfully in self-defence – and police officers who had shot Jacob Blake several times in the back and faced no criminal charges.

The reporter’s statement conveyed that a perception that different people unfairly receive different treatment under the criminal justice system had not been quelled by the decision in this case.  This conclusion was duly impartial, supported by the content of the story, and did not unduly favour one perspective over another.  The report did not breach editorial standard 1.1.

To the extent that your complaint relates to compliance with the ABC’s impartiality standards, should you remain dissatisfied you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority,

Audience and Consumer Affairs was unable to agree. So that was it! And its assumption that what people might have understood from the report justified Diss’s gratuitous and biased summary comment.

The Parliament must make another attempt to investigate the ABC complaints process; the defeat of Senator Bragg’s inquiry must not be left to history.

Geoffrey Luck was an ABC reporter, foreign correspondent and news editor for twenty-six years

12 thoughts on “The ABC’s Reign of Error – Part II

  • Farnswort says:

    Kathryn Diss is a serial offender. Her coverage of the BLM riots and U.S. presidential election last year was atrociously one-sided and biased. She consistently downplayed or ignored the violence, destruction and mayhem occuring on the streets of American cities at the height of the BLM-antifa frenzy. Her reports were in large part cut and pasted from the US woke left TV and print media, replete with the attacks on and distortions about Trump. She blatantly lied about Trump calling the pandemic a “hoax” (he never did) and even implied that she was infected with coronavirus by Trump supporters.

    Australian taxpayers deserve better.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Favour to those holding the gun?
    Video footage shows one attacker pointing a pistol at at Rittenhouse,
    then Rittenhouse using his rifle for defence by a shot to the arm.
    Who decides favour?
    What is the purpose of that generalisation?
    Geoff S

  • IainC says:

    The ABC complaints system is, contrary to criticism, a bastion of Western civilization, adopting as it’s template ancient Greek philosophy grafted on to modern logic: namely, the towering thesis advanced by JS Mill “All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal”. Can’t you see the huge brainstrust in the Complaints Room cogitating thus: “All left wingers would agree with this news report and would hardly complain about it, the complainant must therefore be right wing (Labor voter) or far right wing (Coalition voter), hence the complaint is unjustified under our charter to be even-handed (Greens and Socialists get equal time on air).”

  • gray_rm says:

    Blah blah blah.
    “Conservative amazed ABC continues to ignore him”
    I’m tired of re-reading the same article 25 years in a row… either we ‘do’ something or we skite about it, relieving our pressure and anger with those who agree with us, but achieving nothing. Impotency.
    O Quadrant, lead us!

  • Farnswort says:

    Gray_rm, my view is that the Liberal Party either needs to be utterly cleaned out or destroyed and replaced by a new party that will actually fight back against the woke left and take on the likes of the ABC. Until this happens, nothing will change. In the case of the ABC, only government can really rein it in.

  • Daffy says:

    Join a political party and fight like crazy. The only way.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    The Left didn’t take over our institutions by smashing windows. They did it by saying the same thing over and over for 25 years.

  • Tony Thomas says:

    Minutes ago I submitted this complaint to ABC:

    On Monday Dec 13 7pm ABC TV News Victoria, at about 19mins30secs, ran an item on the major Kentucky tornado. It took a grab from CNN, introduced by Jane McMillan as
    “Authorities warn more extreme weather should be expected” and quoted the head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell as below.
    Ms McMillan wrapped up the item: “It [more extreme weather] is difficult to contemplate for those facing a recovery effort that could take years.” Since there is no evidence for increased numbers of extreme tornados, there is nothing difficult for citizens there to contemplate.

    The commentary is from Roger J.Pielke Jr, a distinguished IPCC author and NOT a sceptic about the anthropogenic catastrophic global warming hypothesis.
    Please take particular note of this official chart of severe tornado incidence

    TAPPER: And scientists warn that extreme weather events such as this one will only happen more frequently as the climate continues to warm. Is your agency, is FEMA equipped to handle this new normal?
    CRISWELL: This is going to be our new normal. And the effects that we’re seeing from climate change are the crisis of our generation.
    Far from being a “new normal”, on tornadoes the recent IPCC assessment report is quite clear on the state of detection of trends and attribution:
    · “observational trends in tornadoes, hail, and lightning associated with severe convective storms are not robustly detected”
    · “attribution of certain classes of extreme weather (e.g., tornadoes) is beyond current modelling and theoretical capabilities”
    · “how tornadoes or hail will change is an open question”
    Consider also that according to data from the U.S. National Weather Service from 2000 to 2020 only four of the strongest category of tornadoes were observed (which are labelled as F/EF5 tornadoes) In comparison, from 1954 to 1974 36 (!) such powerful tornadoes were observed. Our research on tornado damage in the United States over many decades shows a decline that is suggestive of an actual decline in tornado incidence.
    Based on the IPCC assessment of the literature, along with the underlying data and research, the only scientifically valid answer to the question of whether greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate change are leading to more or more intense tornado outbreaks — a “new normal” — is that neither tornadoes nor the most intense tornadoes have increased since at least the 1950s.

    My complaint is that ABC News is peddling unscientific climate remarks from Ms Criswell and failing to provide any balance in the form of scientifically correct data. ABC News is therefore exploiting the tragedy of a severe tornado to push its false “climate change causes extreme weather” narrative. Can you please add a pointer or link to the actual severe-tornado official data at relevant places on ABC on-line. Thanks Tony Thomas

  • MaxQMcGraw says:

    Peter OBrien – ‘The Left didn’t take over our institutions by smashing windows. They did it by saying the same thing over and over for 25 years.’

    Bill Buckley published ‘God and Man at Yale’ 70 years ago and the Left was doing it then. In Australia, the rot has set in more recently because the ‘non-left’ in Australian politics has refused to stand on principles – for fear of electoral backlash, but also because most of them are lefties themselves.

  • brandee says:

    How weak is the Coalition when the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher refuses any significant intervention into the ABC. He was a Turnbull supporter so does that explain? Then again Scott Morrison was well into the Turnbull camp and he was preferred by Turnbull as his involuntary replacement. Morrison quickly showed he was more into marketing than Conservative politics by appointing leftie luvie Ita to head the ABC.
    This incompetence in dealing with the ABC will obviously continue as long as Morrison and Fletcher have authority.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    P.M. Morrison seems to be one of those who goes on doing the wrong thing, and agreeing with the wrong people over and over again until, unexpectedly, the penny drops and he suddenly does the right thing, a la the nuclear submarines. Maybe, hopefully, the penny will drop again soon, and he’ll strike some sort of blow against the left, including the ABC. I personally think with Minister Hunt retiring, there will be at least one less voice of obstruction in his ear, which might help him ?

  • Peter Bannister says:

    I am not being defeatist when I hold that the main stream media, western left wing governments and the large global companies have a serious intent to run the world the way they want to. All three are allied in this endeavour. We who have always thought honesty the best policy and that only the truth is interesting, must now look at the world with this in mind. See Revelation 13:17.

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