ABC and ACMA dispute impartiality of ‘Cash Splash’ by Four Corners

A Four Corners episode reporting on the $5.6 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan breached impartiality rules, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has decided.

But the ABC disagrees, claiming the ACMA’s “decision risks suppressing investigative or ‘accountability’ journalism”.

The program titled ‘Cash Splash’ which aired in July last year, examined whether the scheme was regulated properly and authorities were being held accountable.

The episode aired last year

The ACMA found that the episode was accurate, but Four Corners did not “present sufficient information from other relevant perspectives to enable viewers to make up their own minds about the schemes”.

“The ABC’s Code of Practice requires producers of ABC programs to present and report on issues in an impartial manner, and this Four Corners report fell short of that,” said chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

“Although the producers of the program explored legitimate criticisms, Four Corners had a responsibility to acknowledge other perspectives on the matter of contention in a meaningful way.

“Australian audiences expect the ABC to give proper treatment to differing perspectives when exploring controversial issues. Unfortunately, on this occasion, this did not occur.”

However, the ABC has firmly stood by the episode, and those who made it.

“We respectfully disagree with the ACMA’s finding that the program lacked impartiality and that it should have referenced information already on the public record, or sought alternative viewpoints, when the relevant government representatives – who could have provided evidence and not just an opinion – declined to participate,” the ABC said in a statement.

“The ABC believes this decision risks suppressing investigative or ‘accountability’ journalism through a distorted application of the standards under the Code. The Code does not require that a balance of perspectives on matters of contention be presented in a single program, nor does it oblige journalism of this nature to take steps to moderate the impact of a deliberate decision not to participate.”


Four Corners spoke with “dozens” of parties relevant to the topic, the ABC said, but “most declined to be interviewed on camera due to what they described as the insular nature of the industry, its close connections with bureaucracy and a culture of silence and fear within government, the irrigation industry and farming communities.

“Those who declined to go on the record all feared losing work and business relationships.”

The ABC also noted that Four Corners spoke with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and Department of Agriculture and Water Resource, however Environment Minister Sussan Ley and government officials from the department chose not to take part in an on-camera interview.

The ACMA did acknowledge these difficulties, noting that the government’s refusals to speak on the record and the ABC’s inability to use information provided in background briefings “constrained its ability to represent these perspectives on the program”.

But the regulator believed the program could still have better represented differing viewpoints.

The ABC concluded that multiple stakeholders, some of whom did not appear on camera for the episode, were featured in follow up coverage across the broadcaster’s platforms following the program airing.

The ABC also recently had to defend Four Corners for the show’s investigation into misogyny and inappropriate behaviour in Canberra – with particular focus on Attorney General Christian Porter and Minister Alan Tudge – has drawn the ire of the government.

Earlier this month, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher demanded answers as to why the show was newsworthy in a letter posted to Twitter, asking ABC chair Ita Buttrose to respond to 15 questions within 14 days. Yesterday, Buttrose responded, reportedly alleging the government’s behaviour “smacks of political interference”.


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