Complaints Surge as ABC’s Online News Faces Scrutiny: Ombudsman’s Report Reveals

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Why have complaints against ABC’s online news skyrocketed, surpassing popular programs, and what does the Ombudsman’s report reveal about this surge in viewer discontent?

More people complained about ABC’s online news than Q+A, News Breakfast, and Insiders combined, according to the ABC ombudsman’s first report released by inaugural ombudsman Fiona Cameron. 

The report covers three years, from 2020 to 2022, and vividly depicts public sentiment and grievances towards Australia’s national broadcaster. Here are the key takeaways from the report:

The ABC has found itself in the crosshairs of public scrutiny as complaints surge to new heights. Over three years, 23,767 complaints were lodged, with only 15% directly related to content. 

These figures indicate deep discontent among viewers, pushing the broadcaster to examine its editorial policies closely.

Cameron comments: “The sheer volume of complaints reflects a growing concern among the public regarding ABC’s content and approach.”

Online News Takes the Heat

Surprisingly, ABC’s online news content emerges as the primary target of viewers’ ire. 

It accounted for more complaints than esteemed programs like Q+A, News Breakfast, and Insiders combined. 

Critics argue that the online platform’s accessibility and reach make it an easier target for dissatisfied viewers.

The Ombudsman attributes this to the medium’s prolific nature: “Online news is readily accessible and widely shared, making it more susceptible to criticism and complaints.”

The report provides a detailed breakdown of the nature of complaints. 

A significant 45% of the grievances revolve around perceived bias, revealing an ongoing debate over the broadcaster’s impartiality. 

Another 26% were related to factual inaccuracies, suggesting a need for heightened fact-checking measures.

“The complaints reflect a diverse range of concerns, from concerns of bias to factual inaccuracies,” notes Cameron, highlighting the broad spectrum of issues viewers raise.

The COVID-19 pandemic played a pivotal role in shaping viewer sentiment. Around 2,000 complaints registered between 2020 and 2022 were centred on ABC’s COVID coverage. 

Viewers expressed allegations of bias towards or against government health advice and concerns that anti-vaccine perspectives were inadequately challenged.

2023: New Year, Same Problems

The first six months of 2023 saw no respite for the ABC. Complaints continue to pour in, with ABC News online taking the brunt of the criticism. 

Three hundred ninety-four complaints were lodged, with a striking 72% centred on allegations of inaccuracies or bias. 

Cameron observes, “The consistent influx of complaints in 2023 suggests a need for the ABC to revisit its editorial standards and engagement with viewers.”

Several specific programs and segments drew considerable criticism. ABC’s flagship program, “7.30,” received 137 complaints, including accusations of anti-Russian bias and defamation, although none were upheld.

Landline faced 86 complaints, mainly concerning industry bias in stories about the live sheep export trade. 

In addition, 66 complaints were related to content surrounding the Coronation, with a staggering 1,996 complaints about a panel discussion held ahead of the proceedings.

Comments Echo Viewer Concerns

The report highlights the significance of public comments and opinions. 

Critics argue that the broadcaster needs to pay closer attention to viewers’ concerns and engage more proactively in addressing them.

“Viewer feedback is essential for maintaining trust and integrity in our journalism,” emphasises Cameron. “We must heed these concerns and strive for continuous improvement.”

ABC Twitter Misstep

Even ABC’s social media presence didn’t escape viewer scrutiny. ABC News’ Twitter account faced 40 complaints over a now-deleted tweet regarding the shooting of a Palestinian girl. 

The ABC acted swiftly by deleting the tweet and re-headlining the story, even before the Ombudsman could investigate.

The report concludes that while the three-year average of complaints remains high, only a tiny percentage are related to content. 

However, the increasing number of complaints in 2023 signals a pressing need for ABC to reevaluate its approach and enhance viewer satisfaction.

ABC’s journey to address these concerns is just beginning as it grapples with maintaining its editorial standards while satisfying its diverse audience.

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