Israel-Gaza dominates complaints but Ombudsman finds ABC coverage ‘professional’

6,539 complaint issues relating to matters published or broadcast on the ABC were raised with the Ombudsman’s Office in 2023. This reflects a 5-year high with 51% of all issues related to the Israel-Gaza war and 11% concerning the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

An organised campaign about a single episode of Q+A which dealt exclusively with the war (alleging bias in favour of Israel) raised 1,974 issues, accounting for the 5-year high. Excluding the multiples relating to this campaign, 58% of complaints relating to bias suggest content was pro-Israel and 41% conclude pro-Palestine.

The Ombudsman’s 12-month report released today delivered a verdict in the context of the Israel/Gaza war of “professional, wide ranging and reflective of newsworthy events”.

The strong reaction to the war episode of Q+A saw an increase in complaints alleging bias and inappropriate content across the reporting period. Other programs most complained about include the News Online platform, 7.30, 7pm news and RN Breakfast.

In the case of 240 matters, the ABC took remedial action to address concerns to the satisfaction of the Ombudsman’s Office. These matters were considered resolved and largely occurred in the News Online space where relatively minor accuracy issues were quickly corrected.

92 complaint issues were found to be in breach of the ABC’s editorial standards with 22 of these relating to the AM Alice Springs Town meeting story reported on early in 2023 (Investigation Report here). A further 20 relate to triple J’s Hip Hop Show about an episode that contained presenter comments about the Israel-Gaza war. (Investigation Report here).

The Ombudsman assessed 91 issues from complainants unsatisfied with a previous ABC response. Four (4) matters were resolved through this process including the case relating to an interview on Weekend Breakfast with the Director General for the Hague Initiative for International Cooperation (thinc) where it was determined that this think tank was not appropriately labelled as pro-Israel. (Review available here).

“While complaint numbers are a useful reflection of audience engagement, often content that is uncomfortable attracts more criticism. The ABC needs to be mindful of this tension to avoid being fearful of delivering on charter obligations while being thick skinned enough to clarify and explain decisions and apologise where appropriate,” Fiona Cameron concluded.

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