Investigation Report No. 3162File No. / ACMA2014/78
Broadcaster / Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Station / 3RN – ABC Local Radio
Type of Service / National Broadcaster
Name of Program / PM
Queensland Country Hour
Date of Broadcast / 30 July 2013 (PM)
14 October 2013 (PM)
17 October 2013 (Queensland Country Hour)
Relevant Code / Standards 2.1, 2.2, 4.1 and 4.2of the ABC Code of Practice 2011
Date finalised / 16 May 2014
Decision / No breach of standards 2.1, 2.2 [factual accuracy]
No breach standards 4.1, 4.2 [impartiality and diversity of perspectives]
- In January 2014, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) commenced an investigation intotwo segmentsofthe PM program broadcast on 30July and 14 October 2013, and a segment of theQueensland Country Hourprogram, broadcast on 19 October 2013 by 3RN – ABC Local Radio for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
- PM is a news and current affairs radio program broadcast every weekday on ABC Local Radio and Radio National. It is described on its website as follows:
PM covers a broad spectrum of issues relevant to all sections of Australia's geographically and culturally diverse community.
- Queensland Country Hour is a radio program broadcast daily on radio station ABC Rural. It provides news and current affairs reports relating to topical rural issues in Queensland. It is described on its website as follows:
The Country Hour is Australia's longest running radio program. It's broadcast daily at midday on local radio.
- A transcript of the three segments is at Attachment A.
- The complainant’s submissions, as set out in its complaint to the ABC, are set out at Attachment B.
- The complaint is that the use of the terms ‘plague’ and ‘explosion’ when referring to kangaroo numbersis inaccurate and that the data used to support assertions about increases in numbers may be inaccurate and flawed, casting doubt over claims about population increases.
- Aspects of the complaint concern ABC online articles which accompanied audios of the segments on the ABC’s website. As the ACMA does not have jurisdiction over online news material, the investigation has been confined to the material broadcast in the segments. Further, the investigation is limited to those matters that were complained about to the ABC in the first instance.
- The ABC’s response to the complainant is set out at Attachment C.
- The investigation has considered the ABC’s compliance with standards 2.1, 2.2, 4.1 and 4.2of the ABC Code of Practice 2011 (the Code):
2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.
4. Impartiality and diversity of perspectives
4.1 Gather and present news and information with due impartiality.
4.2 Present a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented.
- In assessing content for compliance withthe Code, the ACMA considers the meaning conveyed by the relevant material that was broadcast. This is assessed according to the understanding of an ‘ordinary reasonable’ listener.
- Australian courts have considered an ‘ordinary, reasonable’ listenerto be:
A person of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. That person does not live in an ivory tower, but can and does read between the lines in the light of that person’s general knowledge and experience of worldly affairs.
- In considering compliance with the Code, the ACMA considers the natural, ordinary meaning of the language, context, tenor, toneand inferences that may be drawn. In the case of factual material which is presented, the ACMA will also consider relevant omissions (if any).
- Once the ACMA has applied this test to ascertain the meaning of the material broadcast, it then determines whether or not that material has breached the Code.
Issue 1: Accuracy
The ABC did not breach standards2.1 or 2.2of the Code.
- The principles relevant to standards 2.1 and 2.2 include:
The ABC requires that reasonable efforts must be made to ensure accuracy in all fact-based content. The ABC gauges those efforts by reference to:
- the type, subject and nature of the content;
- the likely audience expectations of the content;
- the likely impact of reliance by the audience on the accuracy of the content; and
- the circumstances in which the content was made and presented…
The ABC accuracy standard applies to assertions of fact, not to expressions of opinion. An opinion, being a value judgement or conclusion, cannot be found to be accurate or inaccurate in the way facts can. The accuracy standard requires that opinions be conveyed accurately, in the sense that quotes should be accurate and any editing should not distort the meaning of the opinion expressed.
The efforts reasonably required to ensure accuracy will depend on the circumstances. Sources with relevant expertise may be relied on more heavily than those without. Eyewitness testimony usually carries more weight than second-hand accounts. The passage of time or the inaccessibility of locations or sources can affect the standard of verification reasonably required.
The first segment
- The segment of PM on 30 July 2013 (the first segment) opened with: ‘An explosion in kangaroo numbers in Western Queensland is proving too much for graziers, and they’re calling for a cull.’ It referred to the Queensland’s Environment Department estimates of a 45 per cent increase in numbers every year for the past three years and then featured interviews with an AgForce officer representing Queensland farmers, a representative of the conservationist group Wildlife Queensland and the Queensland Environment Minister discussing the need for a cull due to increased numbers and the setting of quotas for a cull. The Minister referred to population surveys and stated his view that ‘It certainly appears that numbers are increasing’.The duration of the segment was four minutes.
- The term ‘plague’ is not used in the first segment.
- The term ‘explosion’ is defined in the Macquarie dictionary as including ‘any sudden, rapid, or large increase: the population explosion.’
- The ACMA considers that the ordinary, reasonable listener would have understood from the segment that there had been a large and rapid increase in kangaroo numbers.
- This was a factualassertionfor the purposes of standard 2.
- Departmental figures broadcast in the remainder of the segment supported the factual assertion.
- The assertion was also supported by the interviewees,who considered numbers to have increased significantly enough to support proposals for a cull.
- Under standard 2.1 of the Code, the ABC is required to make ‘reasonable efforts’ to ensure that material facts are presented accurately. The ABC submitted that it ‘consulted widely with the Queensland Department of Environment, the Department of Environment and Resource Management as well as a range of landholders and their representatives’ in compiling the segments.
- The ACMA is satisfied that the ABC met its obligations under standard 2.1. The ABC’s obligation is to make reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy.The ACMA accepts the ABC’s submission that consulting with government departments who have access to relevant data on the subject of kangaroo population numbers, as well as landholders and their representatives, constitutes ‘reasonable efforts’ in this instance.
- For the above reasons, the ACMA also does not consider that the segment was ‘materially misleading’ for the purposes of standard 2.2 of the Code.
The second segment
- The segment of PM on 14 October 2013 (the second segment) opened with: ‘…kangaroos are becoming a pest of plague proportions in south-west Queensland. The region was once a hub for kangaroo meat exports…now locals want the trade deal reinstated.’ It then featured an interview with the Mayor of the Paroo Shire who referred to the impact of ‘the sheer numbers of ‘roos’ in compounding the drought, before discussingthe economic arguments for reinstating the export of kangaroo meat from the area. The reporter referred to the Queensland Agriculture Minister and the Federal Agriculture Minister’s efforts to negotiate trade deals in this regard. Towards the close of the segment, the Mayor referred to the impact of animal welfare lobby groups on the export of kangaroo products. The duration of the segment was three-and-a-half-minutes.
- The term ‘plague’ is defined in the Macquarie dictionary to include: an acute infestation of insects, rodents etc. a plague of mice; any cause of trouble or vexation; to annoy, bother or pester; to trouble or torment in any manner.
- The ACMA considers that the ordinary, reasonable listener would have understood from the segment that there had been such an increase in kangaroo numbers thatresidentsconsideredit was having an impact on the local environment.
- There were no statistics provided.Thecomments about the increase in numbers were supported by accounts of the large numbers of kangaroos locals had seen travelling in mobs, as well as the Mayor’s views including that ‘Just the sheer numbers of ‘roos mean the kangaroo numbers are dwarfing the actual livestock grazing pressure to the point where all animals in the whole ecosystem out here are suffering enormously’.
- There is no dispute that the viewpoints of the Mayor were accurately reported.
- The ACMA considers that the relevant factual assertion was that there was a perceived increase in kangaroo numbers. This was clearly based on observations by locals and the Mayor and was not based on thestatistical studies which the complainant claims were flawed.
- There were no further assertions concerning kangaroo numbers or statistics.
- In this context the ACMA considers that the material concerning kangaroo numbers was accurate and presented in context.
- The ACMA also considers that the relevant factual content was not presented in a way that was ‘materially misleading’ for the purposes of standard 2.2 of the Code.
The third segment
- The segment on 17 October 2013 (the third segment) of The Country Hour opened with ‘Both the state and federal governments say they are working on opening up a kangaroo trade to China’. It featured interviews with Agriculture Minister the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP and Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh about the re-opening of the Southern Queensland kangaroo meat export industry. The interviews had a combined duration of two and a half minutes.
- The third segment contained no references to the increase ofkangaroo numbers in Queensland or to statistics forany increase.
- As the material complained about did not feature in the broadcast,the ACMA finds no breach of standards 2.1 and 2.2 in relation to the third segment.
- Accordingly, the ABC did not breach standards 2.1 or 2.2 of the Code.
Issue 2: Impartiality and diversity of perspectives
The ABC did not breach standards 4.1 or 4.2 of the Code.
- The complainant cited standard 4 in its complaint, and stated that the segments did not ‘appear to be impartial or provide a diversity of perspectives having not sought the opinion ofanimal welfare groups, kangaroo experts/scientists or even spokespeople from the government departments responsible for surveying/managing kangaroo populations’.
- Relevant Principles set out in the Code in relation to impartiality and diversity of perspectives include:
Judgements about whether impartiality was achieved in any given circumstances can vary among individuals according to their personal and subjective view of any given matter of contention. Acknowledging this fact of life does not change the ABC’s obligation to apply its impartiality standard as objectively as possible. In doing so, the ABC is guided by these hallmarks of impartiality:
a balance that follows the weight of evidence;
opportunities over time for principal relevant perspectives on matters of contention to be expressed.
Impartiality does not require that every perspective receives equal time, nor that every facet of every argument is presented.
Assessing the impartiality due in given circumstances requires consideration in context of all relevant factors including:
the type, subject and nature of the content;
the circumstances in which the content is made and presented;
the likely audience expectations of the content;
the degree to which the matter to which the content relates is contentious;
the range of principal relevant perspectives on the matter of contention; and
the timeframe within which it would be appropriate for the ABC to provide opportunities for the principal relevant perspectives to be expressed, having regard to the public importance of the matter of contention and the extent to which it is the subject of current debate.
- The presenters and reporters did not convey a prejudgement about the merits or otherwise of reinvigorating the Southern Queensland kangaroo trade, and did not display any enmities in this regard. Questions were posed to interviewees in a measured and even-handed manner, and those who featured in the segments was given a fair opportunity to give uninterrupted responses to the questions being asked of them. As discussed above, the factual assertions were accurate and presented in context.
- The ACMA considers that the segments met the hallmarks of impartiality in that the balance followed the weight of evidence, interviewees received fair treatment and the interviewers demonstrated open-mindedness.
- The complainant has argued that principal relevant perspectives on an issue of contention were not provided. However, as noted in the principles, impartiality does not require that every perspective receives equal time, not that every facet of an argument is presented.
- Given that such organisations as the Queensland Department of Environment and AgForce had referred publicly to the increase in kangaroos populations in the area, the ACMA considers that the issue was a legitimate topic of discussion in news items of this nature.
- The first segment included comment from the Wildlife Queensland Group’s campaigns manager; an organisation that is specifically concerned with the well-being of Australian wildlife. The campaign’s manager was quoted as having said that ‘the increase in kangaroo numbers is so large they are also pushing native animals out of their natural habitats’. It also included his view that ‘we're not opposed at all to the commercial harvest of kangaroos, provided it's done in accordance with a scientific base and animal welfare issues are addressed’.
- The first segment also included the views of AgForce, the Queensland Environment Minister and the Federal Minister for Agriculture. It therefore presented a number of views from different perspectives on the issue under discussion, being the need to cull kangaroo numbers humanely in response to rapid population increases.
- The ACMA considers that a range of principal relevant perspectives was presented during the first segment.
- The second segment included the perspectives of the local Shire Mayor and reported on the Queensland Agriculture Minister and the Federal Agriculture Minister’s positions on proposals for the re-establishment of the kangaroo meat export trade in response to an increase in population numbers. It also included reference to past objections by animal welfare lobby groups. Given that the focus of the segment was not the increase in numbers or reasons for such an increase, the ACMA considers that it was not necessary to provide additional perspectives on that issue.
- The third segment featured interviews with the Ministers in a report on the export of kangaroo meat to China and Russia and did not refer to increases in kangaroo numbers. The ACMA considers that it was not necessary to include perspectives on the question of the increase in that context.
- Accordingly, the ABC did not breach standards 4.1 or 4.2 of the Code.
The first segment – PM with Mark Colvin, 30 July 2013
Presenter: An explosion in kangaroo numbers in western Queensland is proving too much for graziers, and they're calling for a cull.Two seasons in a row with plenty of rain have led to the rapid rise.Queensland's Environment Department estimates a 45 per cent increase in their numbers every year for the past three years. [Reporter’s name] reports.
Reporter: Millions of kangaroos are now overwhelming the western Queensland landscape, and farmers are warning that those kangaroos now face an agonising death unless something is done to reduce their numbers.
AgForce Policy officer: In these circumstances when you're experiencing drought, you do have to control numbers through culling, you know, so that you don't find them perishing in the paddock, which is a slow painful death.
Reporter: AgForce represents thousands of Queensland farmers, many of whom are struggling with the effects of that drought which now covers more than 40 per cent of Queensland.A recent survey of AgForce members found that almost 90 per cent of them were experiencing problems with an explosion in kangaroo numbers and increased pressure on their pasture.Livestock policy officer [name] says millions of kangaroos are at risk of starving to death.
AgForce Policy officer: With the number of roos that we've got throughout Queensland, and much of the state is now drought-declared, obviously they're competing, well the kangaroos are competing for feed with our grazing industry.Our farmers do control the numbers of stock that they carry in conjunction with the amount of paddock feed that they have, however they can't control the kangaroos and it will become a significant welfare issue for the kangaroo species.Because obviously, if there's no feed in the paddocks, we're going to see a lot of kangaroos starving to death. So it's going to be a significant welfare issue.
Reporter: The Wildlife Queensland group agrees that a cull of kangaroos is needed, in something of a rare alliance between pastoralists and conservationists.Campaigns manager [name] says the increase in kangaroo numbers is so large they are also pushing native animals out of their natural habitats. He says his main concern is that any culls are humanely done.
Wildlife Queensland Group campaigns manager: There's obviously major welfare concerns from our perspective. We'd hate to see a reversion to the bad old days where some unscrupulous graziers used to drop a bag of urea in the drinking trough and the kangaroos just die a horrible death. You have to achieve a balance.