“The interview speaks for itself… I don’t feel I have to defend anything.”
The Australian Broadcasting Commission, our ‘ABC’, has commissioned a report into their own coverage of the 2014 budget. And they’ve found that award winning journalist, Sarah Ferguson may have breached the ABC’s guidelines about bias.
Because her interview with Treasurer Joe Hockey was “feisty”, showed “disrespect” and had an “emotive” and “aggressive” tone.
The interview was broadcast on Budget night on the ABC’s 7:30 program. It was also nominated for a Walkley Award for journalistic excellence. But according to a new independent report, the interview was less-than-excellent.
Colleen Ryan, a former editor at the Australian Financial Review was in charge of delivering the report. She watched 76 ABC programs from the perspective of a first-time viewer and attempted to “assess it, as would an average ABC viewer in terms of its impartiality.”
The Ferguson interview with Joe Hockey was singled out as problematic. Mainly, because of this first question:
For those who are unable to watch the video, Ferguson asks: “Now, you’ve just delivered that budget. It’s a budget with a new tax, with levies, with co-payments. Is it liberating for a politician to decide election promises don’t matter?”
The independent report states that while there was no factual bias contained in the interview, Ferguson’s questions “rattled” the Treasurer and that her “tone” made it appear as if the Treasurer was “under attack”. It went further in suggesting that Ferguson did not treat her interview subject respectfully enough:
The report calls Ferguson “aggressive”and states that because the Treasurer was “tired and rattled” and “performed poorly” in the interview, the perception of bias was made stronger.
As the national public broadcaster, the ABC’s editorial policies are fundamental to its integrity. The ABC conducts reviews as well as internal and external audits to maintain the highest journalistic standards and ensure coverage is comprehensive, unbiased and ethical.
But ABC News Director Kate Torney has responded in defence of star interviewer Sarah Ferguson’s impartiality.
“The fact that this may make interviewees “uncomfortable”, does not necessarily mean that the interviewer is either aggressive or is failing to demonstrate due impartiality,” Torney said.
When contacted for comment, Ferguson said that “the interview speaks for itself… I don’t feel I have to defend anything.”
Surely this is what journalism is? A strong interview that asks tough questions, pushes a subject on controversial issues and demands straight answers isn’t bias – that’s just a journalist doing their job.
Unsurprisingly others have also leapt to Ferguson’s defence. Veteran political journalist Laurie Oakes said on twitter that the ruling was “stupid”, and praised Ferguson’s interview.
And one of Australia’s finest interviewers, Andrew Denton, told Mamamia that the report was “misguided” and “damaging”.