ACMA censures ABC News over ‘judgemental and pejorative’ Tony Abbott report

An ABC News report describing former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as “the most destructive politician of his generation” has incurred the wrath of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Following a complaint over a report on Abbott’s speech to a climate change conference in London last October, ACMA found the ABC’s political editor, Andrew Probyn, had breached the broadcaster’s code of practice.


In the complaint, the aggrieved viewer said: “Whilst watching the ABC News, […] Andrew Probyn unashamedly proclaimed Mr Tony Abbott as ‘the most destructive politician of his generation’!

“This was the nightly NEWS – not an editorial, not Q and A, not 7.30 and not any other platform which invites journalists to voice their personal opinions.

“We were supposed to be listening to an objective report of Tony Abbott’s speech in the UK, not listen to a political activist masquerading as a journalist editorialising.”

In its defence to the complaint, the ABC submitted: “[Abbott’s] speech, which was made as the government are finalising their new energy policy, was therefore highly newsworthy, in the public interest and appropriate for further contextualisation and analysis.

The ABC went on to state: “We have also referred to the Macquarie dictionary which provides the following definition for ‘destructive’: ‘tending to overthrow, disprove, or discredit’.

“It is the case that Mr Abbott over his long political career has succeeded in overthrowing his political and ideological opponents, and in his speech to the GWPF he sought to discredit or disprove the consensus on climate science. In the highly competitive context of federal politics, “destructive” is not necessarily a pejorative descriptor.”

The ABC ultimately rejected the complaint, saying: “We have concluded that Mr Probyn’s analysis was duly impartial and in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards.”

ACMA rejected the ABC’s conclusion and ruled Probyn’s statement judgemental and pejorative, founding the report breached Standard 4.1 of the broadcaster’s code practice in that the report was not presented with due impartiality.

“The impartiality provisions in the ABC’s own code require it to demonstrate balance and fair treatment when presenting news, and avoid conveying a prejudgement”, said ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin in a statement.

“This is only the second breach by the ABC of its impartiality rules since 2011. While this demonstrates strong compliance with these important provisions of the code, the ABC did not get it right on this occasion.”

The ABC had no comment when approached by Mumbrella over the ruling.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.