Transcript: Interview with Ben Fordham on 2GB on ABC's Complaint Handling System

23 November 2021

Subjects: Senate inquiry into the ABC’s complaint handling process

E&OE…

Ben Fordham: The Liberal Senator, Andrew Bragg, believes the complaint process should be entirely independent. Andrew Bragg, the Liberal Senator, is on the line. Senator, good morning.

Senator Bragg: Good morning, Ben. How are you?

Ben Fordham: Can I ask your take on the way the ABC has handled this issue involving November platoon?

Senator Bragg: Well, Ben it's not my role to get into content as a politician, but it is my role to make sure that the ABC responds to community concerns. And there are many concerns about this story from veterans groups. But there are many other groups in our community, multicultural groups and the like and lots of individuals that have major gripes with the ABC's complaint handling.

Ben Fordham: The ABC published this story in October last year. Now in November 2021, they're trying to gather evidence to back it up. It sounds like they put the cart before the horse.

Senator Bragg: Well, I think initially they said that they wouldn't review any complaints after six weeks, which is just ridiculous. And so one of the things we'll look at in a Senate inquiry is how complaints are handled by other public broadcasters, like the SBS, and overseas locations. The SBS, for example, has an Ombudsman. So maybe we need to have that for the ABC.

Ben Fordham: No member of November platoon was interviewed for their story. They were not given a right of reply. They say this never happened. Surely that should be front and centre of an investigation like this to say to the people who are being accused, can you please tell me your side of this story?

Senator Bragg: It's a breach of the editorial standards that apply to the ABC's coverage. As I say, it's not my role to get into content, but certainly the upholding of the editorial standards is an important thing, and that is something that can be investigated in the course of the inquiry which attended is running.

Ben Fordham: So this gets to the heart of the issue with the ABC. They were sent 7500 complaints in the last financial year. Only 78 were upheld. So they're basically marking their own homework and saying with 99% of the complaints coming in, no, sorry, they hold their weight.

Senator Bragg: It's a completely closed shop. The ABC doesn't take complaints seriously. They try and get away with egregious errors. And there have been many breaches of editorial standards. And the reality is once they make a mistake and they agree to fix it, they never fix it with the same fanfare in which the original error has been made so a person's name can be ruined, the reputation can be destroyed. And then there's no way of fixing that, so it's a major issue.

Ben Fordham: How should it be handled?

Senator Bragg: Well, I think we have to have a much stronger, more independent and transparent process here. People have to have their complaints taken seriously. To start with. There must be very clear process. And as I say, if an error is made, the ABC should be required to tweet out that this is an error that's been made because, as I said, the errors are often made, but they're not properly fixed by ABC.

Ben Fordham: The Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young is expected to move a motion to shut down your planned inquiry. She says it's a witch hunt.

Senator Bragg: We've already received more than a dozen submissions from the community. Many serious issues have been raised in these submissions. Some of them are so serious, we can't actually put them up on the website straight away. So I think it would be unbelievable if the Senate was to cancel the ability of people to have their say. And this is a community process where people can have their say about complaints handling so if the Senate votes to close this down, they'll be voting to close down these people's voices.

Ben Fordham: I would have thought that scrutiny was a healthy thing to have. I mean, it's a taxpayer funded agency and they're entitled to scrutiny, just like Australia Post or the NBN or any other government agency.

Senator Bragg: Well, it will be unbelievable, right? They get a billion dollars a year. I think they generally do quite a good job. But in relation to complaints handling, it's been an absolute disaster. And the Parliament's role, especially the Senate, is to be a house of review. And so we are proposing to do a thorough inquiry of complaints handling which has nothing to do with content. Nothing to do with the ABC's independence but everything to do with how the ABC addresses genuine community complaints.

Ben Fordham: And I think they need to address the complaint being made by members of November platoon. Andrew Bragg We appreciate your time.

Senator Bragg: Thanks Ben.

Ben Fordham: The Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg joining us.

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