Deception is Part of ABC Staff Culture

RON Brunton, a former Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Director, explains how deception, in particular the withholding of important information, is part and parcel of the organisation’s culture:

“Before I became a director, I had an experience that demonstrated how staff and management were quite prepared to deceive members of the Board if they thought it necessary to protect an individual or program unit. After I wrote a Courier Mail column about having been invited, and then suddenly disinvited, to appear in a television debate on Aboriginal issues, the Prime Minister’s Office contacted the ABC for an explanation. The incident itself was not particularly important, and the actual details are too involved to recount here. However, in the correspondence that followed, which came to involve the then Chairman, it was clear that Donald McDonald had been given information that I knew to be false.

“In my time on the Board, previously ‘unknown unknowns’ did surface on a number of occasions, and I encountered many instances where I had reason to believe that I and other directors were being deceived on important issues by one or more levels of management. In a small number of cases the deception eventually came out into the open, and involved extremely tense Boardroom episodes. In some others, I was given the relevant details privately by ABC staff. For present purposes it is unnecessary to consider whether the claims were accurate. If they were true, they indicated that the Board was being deceived, not necessarily through deliberate lying, but by the withholding of information that it needed to be apprised of in carrying out its duties. If they were false, then the person giving me the information was attempting to deceive a director or directors, presumably in pursuit of his or her own interests…”

And if you were wondering whether it is worth complaining about the complete lack of balance and total bias in much of the ABC reporting, Dr Brunton comments:

“[T]here is no appropriate bench mark as to the number of complaints that would indicate whether the Board is actually meeting its obligations. Furthermore, at least on anecdotal evidence, I suspect that all but the most persistent and committed individuals are discouraged from making and pursuing complaints by a belief that the steps required, and the consequences for offenders, simply do not justify the effort involved. I should add that, in spite of many attempts by myself and other directors to obtain clarification, I am still unclear about aspects of the process that is followed when individuals are found to have breached editorial policies. Despite assurances from management to the contrary, I am not confident that the supposed reprimand – or ‘counselling’ as it used to be called until senior managers seemingly got tired of our ridicule of this term – does not come with a wink and a nod to favoured staff, and as an excuse to demote dissidents and troublemakers, or to lever them out of the organisation.

“As to the third source which the Board might use to judge the ABC’s editorial performance, my attitude towards the program reviews carried out by editors and producers is similar to my attitude towards internal investigations by a police force – the reviews are being conducted by the very people who are responsible for the programs they are assessing. And having asked for and examined the minutes from some of these reviews, I have not seen any evidence that serious consideration is given to issues of balance or bias…”

OF THE ABC by Ron Brunton in The Sydney Institute Quarterly number 33, August 2008 available here:

And the ABC’s Media Watch producer, Lin Buckfield, continues to justify her teams pathetic attempt at closing down debate on the federal government’s $10 billion plan for water reform. Read more here:

Murray Gate 3 The Response, the debate

5 Responses to Deception is Part of ABC Staff Culture

  1. Jolly April 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    I am certain that the sad scenario at the ABC (as revealed by Ron Burnton) is not uncommon. Most institutions, be it Government or private, do engage in such bias processes in varying degrees. Perhaps it is a sad and deplorable human condition that can only be minimized by open and transparent processes. Processes that provide balance and fairness to the operation of such institutions and work places. Left unchecked, the only outcomes are corruption and the ultimate disintegration of this nation. “I am not confident that the supposed reprimand … does not come with a wink and a nod to favoured staff, and as an excuse to demote dissents and troublemakers, or to lever them out of the organization”. We, the general public, must not remain complacent to such concerns. This is our country and all of us have a stake in the well being of our work places and institutions.

  2. cohenite April 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Has any ABC staffer ever been fired?

  3. Johnathan Wilkes April 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    I’m surprised that anyone is surprised about it.

    Bias is everywhere, just because you might be agreeing with what is being said or written doesn’t mean it’s not biased, it only means it’s biased the way you like it.

    The only catch with this is, that while I or Jen or anyone else can freely display our bias, the ABC is publicly funded and supposed to be impartial.

  4. cohenite April 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    That is exactly the point Johnathan; the abc is supposed to be impartial; it hasn’t been for over a decade; it is a corporate advocate of left wing and particularly green ideology.

  5. Mick In The Hills April 2, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    I like to think I consume a fairly wide variety of news and opinion across all media sources.

    For me, the standout form of bias from our ABC is that of omission.

    Facts that are tabled by disinterested media outlets which happen to be uncomplementary to the ABC’s line are conveniently ignored. Developments in climate change research are a pointed example.

    The remedy to this situation for people wanting to stay reasonably informed on matters is to tap into a wide array of information channels, and draw your own conclusions. But take a big dose of ‘bias-block’ when you consume anything from our ABC.

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