Editorial complaints management
Audience and Consumer Affairs
Written complaints that are potentially editorial – about issues such as factual inaccuracy, bias or inappropriate content – are referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit independent of ABC program areas.
Where a written complaint suggests that the ABC may have breached its Editorial Policies or Code of Practice, Audience and Consumer Affairs further assesses the complaint to determine appropriate handling in accordance with the ABC Complaint Handling Procedures. Audience and Consumer Affairs may investigate the complaint and determine whether ABC editorial standards have been met.
Where the matters raised are less serious, Audience and Consumer Affairs may refer the complaint for direct handling to the content area responsible. In cases where a complaint is investigated and the ABC’s editorial standards have not been met, the complaint will be upheld (either fully or in part). Complaints can also be resolved where prompt action is taken to remedy a matter.
Overall complaint handling
During 2019-20, Audience and Consumer Affairs assessed and finalised 6,057 written complaints. The unit provided a personal response to 2,422 of these complaints while 2,137 complaints were referred to other areas of the Corporation for direct response. No substantive response was required for 1,498 complaints.
Editorial complaint handling
Of the 6,057 complaints assessed by Audience and Consumer Affairs, 3,252 were determined to be editorial (raising 3,461 issues). The unit investigated 1,538 editorial complaints (raising 1,743 issues), provided responses to 32 editorial complaints that did not require investigation, referred 1,679 editorial complaints to content areas for direct response, and closed 3 editorial complaints without response.
Nature of editorial complaint issues 2019–20
Bias (other than party political)*
Party political bias
Lack of balance
*Includes claims of bias in relation to issues such as international coverage, sport and religion.
Outcome of investigated complaints
During 2019-20, 104 editorial complaint issues were upheld (6% of all investigated issues) in cases where Audience and Consumer Affairs determined that ABC editorial standards had not been met.
A further 424 issues were resolved (24.3% of all investigated issues) after the relevant content area took prompt and appropriate action to remedy the cause of the complaint. 239 of these resolved complaints were in relation to one episode of Q&A: https://about.abc.net.au/complaints/qa-13/
All findings in relation to upheld and resolved complaints are brought to the attention of the senior editorial staff responsible. In 2019-20, actions taken in response to upheld and resolved complaints included written apologies to complainants; on-air corrections; counselling or other action with staff; removal of inappropriate content or correction of material on ABC Online; and reviews of and improvements to procedures.
Summaries of upheld and resolved complaints are published on abc.net.au as individual complaints are finalised, providing timely access to complaint decisions. The ABC also publishes a quarterly statistical overview of audience contacts on its website.
Audience and Consumer Affairs seeks to respond to all complaints as quickly as possible, and aims to respond within 30 days of receipt, in accordance with the timeliness standard for complaint handling that is specified in the ABC’s Complaint Handling Procedures.
Of the 2,422 complaints that Audience and Consumer Affairs responded to directly between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020, 2,081 (85.9%) received responses within 30 days.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
Members of the public who complain to the ABC about matters covered by the ABC Code of Practice and who are dissatisfied with the ABC’s response, or who do not receive a response to their complaint within 60 days, may seek review from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
During 2019-20, the ACMA advised the ABC that it had finalised investigations into 2 such matters (compared to 7 in 2018-19). The ACMA found that an episode of Compass breached standards 6.1 (privacy) and 7.5 (avoid causing undue distress) of the ABC Code of Practice. The ACMA was satisfied with the remedial action taken by the ABC to address the breach.
During 2019-20, the ACMA also finalised an own-motion investigation into whether Australian television broadcasters breached content rules in covering the March 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack. The investigation report made no criticism of the ABC and it was clear that, by comparison with some other broadcasters, the approach taken by the ABC was careful and consistently appropriate. The ACMA made no breach findings in relation to any broadcaster.
The Ombudsman’s office did not notify the ABC of any investigations into the ABC’s handling of complaints that it commenced or finalised during the 2019-20 reporting period.