Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sinking islands: Part 3 Down the memory hole

ACMA reply to a complaint about an ABC report that omitted key historical information. Based on ACMA's finding it seems ABC have carte blanche to throw important historical facts and context down the memory hole.

A number of low lying islands in Torres Strait are prone to inundation during king tides and storms. No surprise, that's what happens when your front door is only a few feet above the high tide mark. In the late 1940s the islands of Saibai and Boigu near the PNG coast were evacuated following tidal erosion caused by summer storms. The islanders were resettled on Cape YorkFor some reason ABC chose not to include this critical historical information in a report broadcast by The World Today in January titled "Fears Islanders may soon be forced out of their homes". In their alarming report the ABC claimed:
"The rise in sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events in the region make the islands at this time of the year particularly vulnerable."
While we agreed the islands are vulnerable to inundation, the historical information makes it clear that the vulnerability is not new, and does not arise as a consequence of any change in local or global climate, as ABC's report would have us believe.

Our complaint to the ABC about the missing information critical to placing the recent inundations into historical context was rejected (see earlier posts HERE and HERE and HERE) and we applied to ACMA for a review contending that:
The report failed to include reference to previous devastating inundation of the islands that occurred in 1948 that was so extreme that it resulted in the evacuation of islanders to the Queensland mainland... This information appears highly relevant to the report and l suggest it is highly remise of the ABC to have omitted mention of it in their report. This is especially so, given the facts surrounding the 1948 inundation and evacuation could have been conveyed so simply... 
The audience would rely on ABC‘s reporters to include all the relevant information. including reference to previous similar events of relevance (such as the previous inundation and resulting evacuation in 1948). If the audience put weight on the claimed reputation of The Worid Today as a comprehensive current affairs program it may have been lead to the false conclusion that no such previous events existed. 

As such, through the omission of critical, relevant historical information, that constitutes a lack of accurate reporting, it is my contention that AEC has mislead its audience. This is in breach of its Code of [Practice] standard 2.2...

ACMA's Kathleen Silleri ruled in favour of the ABC finding:
"The ACMA notes the complainant’s concerns that the reporter could have provided more specific historical context, such as citing the occurrence of a flood of significant magnitude to the islands in 1948.3 However, it is the ACMA’s view that previous flooding was referred to, either directly or indirectly, and that the matters covered in the interview were appropriate given the duration of the report (3 min 11 sec) and the nature of the report. The ACMA does not consider the lack of any direct reference to the previous inundation in 1948 materially misleading. 
The ACMA considers the ordinary reasonable listener would have concluded the program was, on the whole, concerned with the current issue of funding for restoration of island seawalls and the consequences of the seawalls not being repaired as a matter of urgency. The ACMA is satisfied that the presentation of factual content would not have misled the ordinary reasonable listener when presented in context."

What a weird media landscape we currently reside in, where a self described  "comprehensive current affairs program" can send key facts to the furnace and get away with it.

ACMA: as effective in upholding journalistic standards at the ABC, as a wet sponge is at fending off hungry lions.

ACMA's Investigation Report No. 2787 should be able from their website soon (ed. why does it take so long???)

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