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The ABC ‘misled’ audiences in an investigation about Fox News

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A two-part program by the ABC has been found to have breached the national broadcaster's own standards of practice.
The ABC 'misled' audiences in an investigation about Fox News

A two-part program by the ABC has been found to have breached the national broadcaster’s own standards of practice. The Four Corners program was focused on the influence that Fox News – a 24-hour news channel owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – had on former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election campaign.

First, the context

In August 2021, the ABC aired a two-part Four Corners series called “Fox and the Big Lie”.

The program was centred on the 2020 U.S. presidential election and its aftermath, including the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021.

This investigation focused on the role that Fox News played in shaping public sentiment prior to the election, and legitimising Trump’s false allegations of election fraud.

What was investigated?

After the program aired, Fox News made a formal complaint to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) – the national media regulator.

ACMA investigated whether the ABC may have breached requirements listed in its own Code of Practice.

The program’s compliance with the Code’s impartiality, accuracy, and fair and honest dealings standards was examined.

The latest

Yesterday, ACMA released the findings of its year-long investigation into the program.

It found the ABC’s investigation breached accuracy, and fair and honest dealing requirements from its Code. It ruled the program “came close to” but didn’t breach impartiality standards.

ACMA found the program “materially misled” audiences by failing to include contextual information relevant to the story, and didn’t properly disclose to a person featured in the program the nature of her participation.

ABC’s response

The ABC conveyed concern over some of ACMA’s interpretation of its Code of Practice, and its potential for “negative consequences for the future production of strong public interest journalism”.

Head of ABC News Justin Stevens defended the program, saying it was a “strong and measured” piece.

“It is important the public does not lose faith in the democratic process of free and fair elections and journalism like this plays a key part in that.”

What’s next?

The ABC has said it will continue to review ACMA’s findings and interpretation of their Code of Practice.

The Four Corners program is still available for public viewing, with the ABC saying it has no plans for it to be taken down in light of ACMA’s findings.

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