Their ABC

Facts of the ABC Variety

Should one laugh or cry at the news ABC is dumping its so-called “fact checkers” at RMIT University? ABC news director Justin Stevens emailed staff last week explaining that  the national broadcaster’s seven-year partnership with RMIT won’t be renewed. [Cue laughter]. But Stevens also announced that the ABC would set up an in-house “fact-check” unit called ABC News Verify [Cue tears].

ABC News Verify – doubtless modelled on “BBC Verify” which launched a year ago – will maintain the rage against whatever contradicts the ABC’s version of truth-telling. For example, that renewables are cheapest, Trump won in 2016 by colluding with Putin, men can become women and vice versa, and Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe, Australia’s leading fauxborigine, is of Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestry.[1]

I’ll discuss BBC Verify later, but as a teaser mention that one of its BBC staffers has enrolled for six months training at a climate-alarm lobby group. This group likes the idea of fining or jailing anyone rubbishing the madness of planetary apocalypse and net-zero ambitions.

For background on RMIT, the ABC has paid $670,000-plus since 2020 to RMIT to run RMIT/ABC Fact Check, a unit purportedly “combining academic excellence and the best of Australian journalism to inform the public through an independent non-partisan voice.”

The ABC’s chief partner is Russ Skelton[2], who was originally inside the ABC running its fact-check unit. When the ABC killed it in 2016 because of Coalition funding cuts, Skelton migrated to RMIT and the “fact-checking” nexus continued with the help of the ABC’s taxpayer dollars. Now, according to Liberal Senator James Paterson, who chairs the Senate Intelligence and Security Committee, “RMIT would be wise to reconsider whether it’s a good idea to continue the operation given the brand damage they’ve sustained.” If or when the RMIT setup collapses, will the ABC welcome back Skelton as an asylum-seeker?

Skelton has run RMIT FactLab plus RMIT/ABC Fact Check with various resources in common. The group also provides factchecking “education and training” to schools, university students, journalists and civil society groups.

Last August 10, FactLab slapped a “False” label on Sky News’ Peta Credlin’s revelations about the Uluru Aboriginal manifesto. She had found through FOI that it was not a one-pager but a 26-pager seeking reparations, sovereignty and much awful else. The “False” label caused Meta to restrict circulation of Credlin’s message, warning that “independent fact-checkers say that this information has no basis in fact.”[3].[4] News Corp Australia threatened legal action against FactLab for allegedly providing “misleading” information under Australian Consumer Law.

A fortnight later Sky News master sleuth Jack Houghton ran a horrific expose of their bias and malfunctions, under the header, The Fact Check Files. For example, Meta asserted independence from its fact-checkers, but Houghton reported that it was secretly paying RMIT up to $740,000 a year via a Meta subsidiary in Ireland.[5] Houghton also quoted Skelton and staffer Renee Davidson touting the Yes case on their social media while ostensibly referees of the debate. Ms Davidson’s re-tweets included likening Opposition Leader Peter Dutton to a “fear-mongering racist.”[6]

Houghton resurrected that in 2013 while Skelton was at the ABC, the SMH published a highly critical Paul Sheehan commentary. I am not saying that Sheehan’s remarks about Skelton are true or accurate, only that the SMH published them and Sky News republished them.

By the time Mark Scott [former ABC managing director] left the Senate committee hearing into the ABC on Wednesday he smelled. An unpleasant odour had attached itself to the testimony and credibility of the ABC’s managing director. The source of odour could be summed up in two words: Russell Skelton.

That Skelton has had several ethical collisions, is a fierce political partisan, and has left an unedifying trail of puerile smears, would not matter to the public at large if Skelton had not just been appointed the chief fact-checker of the ABC.

In response to Sky News’ “Fact Check Files”, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) immediately suspended its endorsement of FactLab, and Meta suspended its paid partnership. RMIT on its website de-emphasised its former “hand in hand” remarks about the two entities after Houghton’s exposure.  IFCN restored RMIT in November, saying the problem was all just a glitch. Meta announced likewise. But FactLab has published no fact checks since Sky’s August exposure.

RMIT/ABC continued operations. Its latest three checks involve ratings of “Overblown” and “Not the full story” against Opposition memes, and a green tick “Delivered” on Labor’s election promise of 500 more staff to process veterans’ claims. At February 25, the unit rated Labor as having delivered 33 per cent of its 66 election promises, with 54 per cent “in progress”, 9 per cent “stalled” and 3 per cent “broken“. Among those rated “stalled” (rather than “broken” in substance) as of February 25 was “Maintain the  Coalition’s legislated tax cuts”.

While Houghton’s Sky News expose should (but won’t) win him a Gold Walkley, terminal damage to the RMIT and ABC venture was done soon after by the Institute of Public Affairs, which functions as the ABC’s own nemesis. IPA lawyer/historian John Storey and his research assistant, Margaret Chambers, catalogued and analysed all 80 referendum “fact checks” by RMIT Factlab and RMIT/ABC Fact Check from Labor’s election in May 2022 to the vote last October 14. Storey concluded that the referendum “likely featured the most unfair targeting and censorship of one side of a political debate—the No case—in Australian history.”

♦ For RMIT/ABC, 30 checks or 77 per cent targeted “No” claims. Of the 30, the unit rated 29 as “false” and one lone check as “true”. Of the nine “Yes” claims, the unit found five to be “true”, three “false” and one “neutral”.

♦ For RMIT FactLab, all 41 checks (100 per cent) targeted “No” and all (100 per cent) ruled the “No” claims to be “false”. [7]

Skelton’s teams under their International Fact-Checking Network auspices were required to ‘not concentrate their fact-checking unduly on any one side’. They demonstrably breached this Code, Storey wrote, also eviscerating the methods by which Skelton’s teams created their ‘true/false’ verdicts (without going to the merits of any individual check).

♦ They purported to disprove “No” legal opinions by citing contrary ‘Yes’ legal opinions, which was illogical. The vagueness of the “Yes” proposition meant that legal experts had a spectrum of views. All such opinions can only be tested in the High Court in a majority verdict.

♦ Both sides made emotional claims but “Yes” advocates got a free pass. For example, Senator Mick Dodson made comparisons between a hypothetical “No” win and South African apartheid – which hasn’t eventuated here so far. Whatever opinions aligned with the RMIT worldview didn’t get fact-checked.[8]

♦ The teams made pedantic attacks on “No” claims that were mere mockery or satire, such as a mocked-up voting card with only two “Yes” options.

♦ Both sides made any number of unprovable claims, such as “Yes” arguing that it would “save money” and “close the gap”. The fact-checking of such material was implemented largely to knock the “No” case.

During the campaign the “Yes” leaders used the fact-checking results to boost their case. For example, Voice architect Megan Davis:

The fact-checking is going really well, I think the No Campaign is up to their fiftieth lie that’s been fact-checked and has been deemed as not correct. And that’s really important … the work of the fact-checkers.

Voice blueprint co-author Marcia Langton:

If you look at any reputable fact checker, every one of them says the No case is substantially false. They are lying to you.

IPA concluded,

The fundamental problem with censoring ‘misinformation’ is deciding who determines truth and falsehood. In the case of the referendum, organisations that purported to be neutral, and to whom responsibility was given to determine truth and falsehood, acted in a demonstrably one sided and biased manner. If organisations like these were empowered to censor online communications, the damage done to free political debate in this country would be profound.

Arguments about RMIT’s fact-checking are not just academic. During the Referendum when it slapped ‘False’, ‘wrong’, ‘debunked’ or ‘misinformation’ onto public figures’ views, Meta and Google restricted the views’ circulation and added warnings to damage the authors’ credibility. It’s a form of privately enforced censorship. Unwanted views can be suppressed with no explanation or right of reply and without any third party being aware of it. Throttling and labels can also bankrupt commercial sites by frightening away their advertising.

The nadir was during the final weeks of the US election in 2020,  when the FBI warned social-media leaders of likely Russian disinformation attempts. At the time the FBI knew the New York Post was about to break news of the Hunter Biden laptop and his corrupt foreign income flow from China and the Ukraine. The social media chiefs took the heavy hint and Twitter locked out the New York Post from circulating even its own scoop — along with third parties wanting to spread the news nationally. The specifics of the Deep State intervention emerged only because Elon Musk bought Twitter for $US44 billion and released the documentation. Polling suggested this censorship could have tipped enough votes into a win for Biden.

A year or more later, the New York Times and the Washington Post (but not the ABC) sheepishly acknowledged the Hunter Biden laptop disclosures were authentic. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s wrongful censorship “Sucks … when we take down something that we’re not supposed to, that’s the worst.”

TIME now to catch up on BBC Verify, likely a template for ABC’s new Verify namesake.

BBC installed a team of 60 so-called “investigative and forensic” journalists promoting “radical transparency in action”, supposedly building audience trust in BBC reports and “explaining complex stories in the pursuit of truth.” Its birth might well have been inspired by UK polling that trust in the BBC news is sagging dramatically. One annual survey in 2022 showed that since 2018, trust in the BBC slumped 20 points to 55 per cent, although it was still the UK’s most trusted news brand. A quarter of Britons — mostly conservative voters — don’t trust BBC News, and overall trust in journalism in the UK fell to a record low of 34 per cent.

BBC Verify got off to a bad start with its disinformation correspondent Marianna Spring promptly announcing she was studying the “UK’s conspiracy theory movement” which she connected a priori to “far right” and foreign sources. She showed no interest in any “far left” offshore conspirators. Spring hosts the BBC podcast “Marianna in Conspiracy-land”, attacking “mistruths” than can cause “really serious harm to society”. (“Serious harm” is also a key term in PM Albanese’s looming Misinformation Bill). She boasted,

There are other ways we also are able to interrogate what’s going on, including on social media. I have some undercover accounts that I’ve set up for the BBC’s Americast podcast, and we use these kinds of undercover accounts to be able to really understand polarisation online, and what’s happening on our social media feeds, and what we’re being recommended can affect all of us. 

 Frank Havilland at the European Conservative wrote,

Aside from the fact that such accounts are illegal, Spring is admitting that the BBC routinely uses fake social media accounts (which clearly influence the narrative), to understand fake social media accounts’ influence on the narrative. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

Hard to believe but the BBC is even more climate-deranged than the ABC. UK fact-checker Paul Homewood, an ex-accountant, has been nailing the BBC’s own “disinformation” on climate change on almost a daily basis for years, based on relevant readouts from multiple types of weather logging worldwide. BBC’s key misinformation is claiming extreme weather is getting worse, contrary to the data readouts and to the findings of the 5th and 6th IPCC reports.

 A typical BBC climate story was last December, quoting a young Egyptian artist Hossna Hanafy that her home city of Alexandria was at risk from rising sea levels. She complained that her school teachers had mocked such suggestions, and now runs climate-alarm workshops for kids. In the young lady’s entire lifetime, Alexandria’s tide gauge data in fact showed sea levels there had risen by a mere 2cm, or a rate of 18cm per century – less than the length of my hand and fingers. Homewood wrote,

Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s former Energy and Environment Analyst, let the cat out of the bag last year when he tweeted that the BBC has long been trying to ‘knit climate change into the fabric of the daily news’. In other words, try to link every bit of bad weather, famine or other disaster to global warming, in the most surreptitious way possible. Little wonder that only 44 per cent of Brits trust the BBC’s journalists to be truthful.

Last month another BBC Verify climate disinformation staffer, Marco Silva, started a six-months study-leave course run by the green-billionaire-funded Oxford Climate Journalism Network (OCJN). One of OCJN’s educators was Exeter Associate Professor Saffron O’Neill. She co-wrote a paper for the alarmist Carbon Brief in 2020 advocating “even putting in place punishments, such as fines or imprisonment” for alleged misinformation against “well-supported theories, or “attempt[ing] to discredit climate science.” Her link went to Brazilian proposed legislation for jail terms of up to eight years for “publishing inaccurate media accounts”, mainly but not exclusively to do with alleged pre-election misinformation.

The current OCJN course involves stupidities for participants like describing why a mango isn’t as tasty as a year ago because of climate change. No evidence is needed. Such is the education of BBC Verify’s arbiters of truths.

I suppose the ABC’s Justin Stevens can find enough idle souls to staff up his Verified Ministry of Truth – maybe from among the hundred or so ABC layabouts passing no-confidence motions in the managing director.

As Leigh Sales reminded Stevens last year, the ABC brand in the past few years has slipped from fifth most-trusted to eighteenth. Speaking generally, she continued,

My own honest opinion as to why many people are losing interest in the news? Because … people rightly don’t always trust us any more… One [reason] is that some reporters prefer to be activists and crusaders rather than fact-finders or straight reporters. They enjoy their heroic status among the tribes of social media or their subscribers. I’m not sure they can even identify their own bias. Others haven’t had enough training to understand what independent journalism actually is, or their organisation has an ideological bias and the reporter knows the way to get ahead is to toe the line … better still, to step over it. Or perhaps it’s awkward and exhausting to constantly push back against the groupthink of your colleagues. Another reason is fear of the consequences of reporting the full picture: that inconvenient facts could set back a cause the journalist believes in…

Yep, Leigh, I’ll verify that.

Tony Thomas’s latest book from Connor Court is Anthem of the Unwoke – Yep! The other lot’s gone bonkers. $34.95 from Connor Court here


[1] Stevens said Verify would be a “team of specialists with the ability to scale up to support our special coverage in times of crisis. It will be part of the Investigative Journalism and Current Affairs team led by Jo Puccini.”

[2] Skelton happens to be partnered domestic-wise by the ABC’s Virginia Trioli.

[3] At the ABC itself, star journo Leigh Sales delivered staff a script on how to justify the Labor “one-page” dogma

[4] Houghton described how Meta allowed RMIT to put a “false information” label on the video which forced users to read a disclaimer before opting to watch the video. Meta also restricted reach on the entire Sky News Australia page for weeks as a punitive response.

[5] Houghton: “The more fact checks RMIT publishes, including on the Voice, the more money it makes. This has the chilling effect of creating a financial incentive for activists to profit while controlling the national discourse.”

[6] “There is a significant difference between listening to Indigenous criticism of the Voice, and Peter Dutton’s opposition. One is healthy criticism from those impacted that challenges our colonial structures, the other is fear-mongering through racism,” Ms Davidson retweeted.

[7] The IPA study also covered the biased “AAP Fact Check” that devoted 99 or 93% of its 107 checks to “No” claims, finding every one to be “false”. Of the eight “Yes” claims, it found seven “false” and one “mixed”. Six of its eight “Yes” checks were made on or after the Sky News expose of August 23, suggesting a sudden urge by AAP Fact Check to appear less biased.

[8] For example, Sky’s Houghton says RMIT has never fact checked Prime Minister Anthony Albanese or Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney for the erroneous claim that a legislated Voice could be removed with a “stroke of a pen”.

6 thoughts on “Facts of the ABC Variety

  • Lawrie Ayres says:

    None of my acquaintances watch the ABC. They lost faith in it when James Dibble stopped reading the news. They usually don’t watch the commercials either nor do they trust the Nine Newspapers to tell the truth and the whole truth about climate, renewables and asylum seekers. The Australian is about the only newspaper that employs writers that are conservative; all the rest have a left bias.

    I do admit I watch ABC 23 at 7.30 for Shaun the Sheep.

  • mrsfarley2001 says:

    Hey, Tony – I think Marcia Langton just told the truth. However, I’m sure she didn’t mean to.
    Thanks for your articles which always inform and entertain.

  • whitelaughter says:

    you’ve given a good series of examples of true things they suppress – also worth noting that they *don’t* object to moon landing hoax theories, creationism, flat earthers etc. If a fact checker condemns it, it is always true.

    • David Isaac says:

      ‘Flat Earth’, as a constantly observable faleshood, is in a different category to the other two, which are really theories about past events, the evidence for which cannot be absolutely conclusive. One technique for discrediting the questioning of the establishment’s desired historical narratives is to promote fairly obvious faleshoods with spurious evidence and hope to entrap suspicious types who already disbelieve the establishment. It is hoped then that the less credulous will be warned off questioning by the example of these people who believed in somthing so obviously, to them, ludicrous. Mike Benz, in his recent interview with Tucker Carlson, gives a good expose of the information war being fought in the West.

  • Brian Boru says:

    Thanks again Tony. Please keep at it.

  • Lonsdale says:

    You, like most of Australia, could always turn off

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