Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Defensive Response of ABC

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
ABC Ultimo Centre, 700 Harris Street, Ullimo NSW 2007
GPO Box 9994, Sydney NSW 200'1
Tel. +61 2 8333 '1500

30 September 2009

Mr Faruque Ahmed
PO Box 349

Dear Mr Ahmed

Thank you for your letter dated 22August, and email of 6 September, concerning the ABC Radio National Background Briefing program of 16 August. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.

I note your concerns are that the broadcast was in breach of lhe Commercial Radio Australia Codes of practice & Guidelines September 2004. Please note that the ABC, as Australia's national public broadcaster, is not a commercial radio licensee and, as such, is not subject to the Code to which you refer. Instead, the ABC has its own Code of Practice that outlines the major principles that apply to ABC content. A copy of the code is enclosed, for your reference.

Background Briefings ABC Radio National's agenda-setting current affairs radio documentary program. lt varies each week in both style and content, sometimes doing investigative journalism and, at other times, exploring ideas or social issues. Within this remit, from time to time, the program broadcasts talks or seminars. The content classification for the program is determined on the basis of the content being presented. on 16 August, the program broadcast a talk given by journalist and author, Christopher Hitchens, on the 'Axis of Evil'. this particular edition of the program is classified 'opinion content' under the ABC's Code of Practice'

Opinion content is commissioned or acquired by the ABC to provide a particular perspective or point of view. The views expressed in opinion content are those of the presenter or author, and are not endorsed by the ABC. ln addition to the content standards outlined in section 2 of the Code, which includes a particular provision in respect to discrimination and stereotypes, opinion content must also comply with the requirements outlined in section 4 of the code.

The talk by Mr Hitchens focused on his experiences oJ the three regimes of the so-called 'Axis of Evil' - Iraq, North Korea and Iran. The views expressed by Mr Hitchens were principally about the systems of government and particular regimes in place in the three countries, and were not expressing an opinion about the people of three countries generally. The talk also included a number of questions from the audience on a range of subjects. ln response to a question about organised religion, Mr Hitchens expressed his distaste for ill organised religions and the concept of being a person of faith of any denomination. The current situation for Palestinians, or issues pertaining to Israel, Jews or Zionism, was not raised as part of the talk.

Having reviewed the broadcast, we cannot agree that the views expressed by Mr Hitchens could reasonably be interpreted as disparaging, discriminatory or prejudicial against Arabs, Persians or Muslims. ln any event, we note the discrimination and stereotypes provision of the ABC's Code of practice specifically acknowledges that the requirement is not intended to "prevent content which is"' the expression of genuinely-held opinion". In the case of this broadcast, the views expressed were the genuinely-held opinion of Mr Hitchens.

The ABC is committed to impartiality. ln respect to opinion content, the requirement is that a diversity of perspectives must be presented across a network or platform in an appropriate timeframe. Accordingly, the requirement is for a range of views to be presented on a network, such as ABC Radio National, over time. There is no provision that requires each side be afforded equal time, or that a directly opposing view be presented for each viewpoint broadcast.

ABC Radio National has presented a diversity of perspectives on issues of world politics, international relations and religion in its opinion content. This has included other Background Briefing broadcasts, as well as opinion content presented on Late Night Live and Counter Point. By way of example, in recent months, Late Night Live on 6 August featured lmran Ahmad speaking about his quest to spread the moderate Muslim word, and journalist Antony Lowenstein's experience of Gaza six months on from the recent war in which over a thousand Palestinians were killed. Counter Point presented the views of John Micklethwait, who believes there is a global revival of faith, on 1 June. And on Background Briefing the week prior to Mr Hitchens' talk, the program presented the views of retired US army colonel and historian of international relations, Professor Andrew Bacevich, who argued that the US should withdraw from Afghanistan.

Accordingly, on review, we consider the presentation of Mr Hitchins' view on Background Briefing on 16 August was editorially appropriate, and contributed to the diversity of perspectives presented on the subjects on ABC Radio National. Whilst noting your concerns, we are satisfied the broadcast was in keeping with the requirements for opinion content as outlined in the ABC's Code of practice. Nevertheless, please be assured that your concerns have been conveyed to ABC Radio management.

You may be interested to note that a range of transcripts and audio for previous ABC Radio National programs, including Background Briefing, Late Night Live and Counter Point, are available on the web. These can be accessed via the ABC Radio National website at:, and selecting the relevant program from the list on the right-hand side of tfre page. Additionally, the ABC offers a dedicated 'Religion & Ethics' portal online, providing links to ABC content exploring religious topics :

Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with us, and for your interest in the ABC.

Yours Sincerely

Kirsten Mcleod
Audience & Consumer Affairs

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