In the flurry of media reporting of Stan Grant's decision to step away from TV, you may have missed ABC Ombudsman Fiona Cameron's report into complaints about the ABC’s coverage of the King's Coronation.
The report was released on 25 May, three days after Grant announced he was stepping down as host of Q+A after years of racist abuse which, he said, increased after speaking about the impact of colonialism during the ABC’s Coronation coverage.
The ABC received more than 1800 complaints in relation to the coverage, which ran for eight hours on 6 May, with most relating to a 45 minute panel discussion, involving Stan Grant and others, about the role of the monarchy in modern Australia.
People who made complaints described the panel discussion as "unbalanced, biased, disrespectful, inappropriate, offensive, anti-monarchist and poorly timed".
Under the ABC's complaints handling process, complaints about content are generally passed on to the ABC Ombudsman for review.
In her report, Cameron said that, while concerns raise about the timing and format of the discussion were "matters of editorial judgement" and not for her consideration, she had reviewed complaints relating to the ABC's editorial standards, particularly:
- Gather and present news and information with due impartiality (standard 4.1)
- Do not unduly favour one perspective over another (standard 4.5)
After reviewing the complaints, footage and ABC News response, Cameron found that, while the broadcast did not breach ABC editorial standards, the panel discussion of critical perspectives while showing footage of guests arriving had been "jarring and distracting for some of the audience".
There were clearly instances where the footage being presented from London did not relate to the nature of the critical discussion being had by the panel in Australia, which was jarring and distracting for some of the audience as evidenced by complaints received — Cameron said.
Cameron said, however, that the "role of the monarchy to modern Australia and the Indigenous perspectives presented were legitimate and newsworthy topics for discussion on the rare occasion of a Coronation and in the context of ABC's extensive coverage".
She said she believed that the panel discussion had "sought to reflect what the event meant to different cultures including the impact of Colonisation on Indigenous Australia".
The panel’s views were robust but fair and the conversation was courteous and respectful allowing audiences to make up their own minds about the matters that were discussed.
She said that while the ABC should "on all occasions be fair, accurate and open minded, the impartiality standards do not require that every perspective receives equal time, nor that every facet of every argument is presented".
She said it was also relevant that the discussion was only one part of the extensive coverage across ABC television and digital radio platforms and the matters discussed and opinions given were not novel or raised specific accuracy concerns.
ABC News provided advice to Cameron that a range of conservative voices had declined invitations to appear on the coverage.
The Coronation was a major news event, and it is central to the ABC’s role that it provides substantive analysis and a diversity of perspectives. By presenting this discussion, which went for 45 minutes in total, we ensured that across the whole coverage a genuine diversity of views and perspectives was presented.
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