Nick Ross, the ABC and what lies beneath The Australian’s lies

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ABC tech reporter Nick Ross has been taken to task by his employer after criticising the Coalition’s broadband policy. Technology expert Kieran Cummings reports.
(Click on image to access the ABC Media Watch story on this subject.)

LAST WEEK, a small media storm erupted around Nick Ross of ABC Technology & Games, with The Australian reporting that Nick had been disciplined by his superiors for failing to meet “standards of objective journalism” of the National Broadband Network (NBN). The Australian's article was both misleading and poorly researched, giving the false impression that Nick had breached ABC’s standards.

From the onset, this article was clearly designed to smear Nick and present a falsified account of what had happened. Not only does The Australian fail to present facts, it relies on the opinion of Kevin Morgan, a long time anti-NBN pundit who has continually written factually incorrect articles for both The Australian and CommsDay.

Soon after The Australian’s article was published, Nick Ross refuted the claim he had been disciplined in regards to his opus, The vast differences between the NBN and the Coalition's alternative. There has yet to be a correction in The Australian and I doubt there will be.

So where do the claims of bias come from and why has this not been reported on until now?

Over the past few weeks, since Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the election date, there have been a spate of articles giving “damning evidence” on the NBN. With everything from spruiking Hybrid Fibre-Coax (HFC), which I have repeatedly shown as a poor technology on my blog, to providing statements so devoid of facts that one can only assume they were thought up by someone who has no working knowledge of technology.

There are many culprits doing this: The Australian Financial Review, which recently wrote an article that left out information to paint a grim picture of the NBN’s Initial Cost Recovery Account; CommsDay, whose spate of blog posts ignore facts on just about every aspect of the NBN, from speeds, technology, through to studies (I won’t be linking to them as they don’t deserve the traffic); and ITNews, who published rather defamatory statements claiming the NBN is fraudulently messing with deployment numbers.

There are many other examples I could show, but the central point is that these articles utilise the age old tools of fear, uncertainty and doubt so as to change people’s perceptions of the NBN.

Meanwhile, over at ABC Technology & Games, Nick Ross has written many articles that lay out facts on both the NBN and what can be cobbled together from Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott’s thought bubbles.

(Image courtesy C. Chambers.)

True, Nick is passionate about the NBN and he may inject a little opinion in to factual articles, but that’s the game we’re playing — present the facts and give your opinion on what it all means.

Jonathan Holmes of ABC Media Watch, may have been correct in his highlighting last night (11 March 2013) of the ABC’s Guidance Note that analysis on ABC should be presented so that it:

  • aims to inform and explain more than to rouse or persuade; and

  • does not prescribe what should be done nor urge what the audience should conclude.

However, there are few examples of Nick Ross doing so and much bigger fish to fry in the pot that is ABC’s “Journalistic Standards”. The likes of Latika Bourke and Chris Uhlmann have cemented their place in ABC by breaching these guidelines set forth in ABC’s Guidance Note, yet I have never seen these journalists reprimanded or even change their tack.

In fact, these journalists have been promoted and given greater airtime the more they breach the ABC’s standards, while people like Nick Ross and Jon Faine are treated like pariahs for trying to get to the bottom of important policies (or lack thereof).

It’s clear that people pulling the strings at the ABC want both a Coalition government and any piece that may be construed as positive for government policies to have false balance applied liberally.

The question I have been asking myself is: why has the ABC allowed its reputation to become so tarnished among die hard supporters of public broadcasting? Who will gain from a privatised ABC? As with most anti-NBN rhetoric, all roads lead to Rupert Murdoch.

With the current lack of diversified media in Australia, we are living through an unprecedented time where progressive governments are unable to reach voters due to an embargo on truth and a desire to maintain profits and power over ethics. This is exemplified by a 2009 study by Australian National University titled How Partisan is the Press? Multiple Measures of Media Slant, which showed that the Australian media landscape is heavily skewed toward endorsing the Coalition over the Labor Party or the Greens.

Where does this leave Nick Ross and the outlandish claims of The Australian? In a position where everything Nick writes from now on will be seen as biased, no matter if it is a factual article ‒ like his 11 000 word comparison of technologies ‒ or an opinion piece on the perceived socioeconomic benefits of a fibre based network.

While The Australian and others’ articles are often not based on fact, it doesn’t matter — the damage to Nick’s reputation, in the eyes of media consumers, has been done. It’s all part of sowing the seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt. This technique has been used since the dawn of civilisation to discredit those seeking facts by those seeking control.

I leave you all with this — and it’s my favourite quote from In The Loop (an awesome movie from the series The Thick of It):

“In the land of truth, my friend, the man with one fact is the king.”
~ Lynton Barwick

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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