Opinion

Coverage found to be unfair

By Country News

Two accuracy breaches were identified in the broadcasts. Parts one and two of the series, and a website summary of part two, referred to a Senate vote on changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and stated that, if passed, this would effectively end further water recovery for the environment in the river systems.

Included in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, as part of the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) Adjustment Mechanism, is the potential to recover a further 450Gl of water through efficiency measures.

Reference to this potential recovery of 450Gl was omitted in parts one and two and although there is considerable dispute about how, when and if this will be achieved, Audience and Consumer Affairs considered that the 450Gl was required material context when considering what further environmental water may be recovered under the basin plan.

Part two included a discussion about environmental water savings; Audience and Consumer Affairs concluded that it was misleading to suggest within the context provided in the broadcast that as a direct result of infrastructure subsidies additional water licences were being created which was equivalent to ‘‘printing notes’’.

A portion of an existing entitlement, permitting the irrigator to use actual water, is transferred to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and no new entitlement is created.

Audience and Consumer Affairs found a breach of the ABC’s impartiality standards in part one: given the high contention of the matters to hand; the failure to put alarming conclusions from research on return flows by Quentin Grafton and John Williams to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority specifically and directly and include their response in the broadcast; and at times the tone and use of language in the narration, this edition of Background Briefing unduly favoured the view of critics of the basin plan.

Audience and Consumer Affairs also found a breach of the impartiality standards in part two: a misleading characterisation of how water entitlements relate to infrastructure subsidy schemes, together with the structure of this section and the conclusion drawn by the reporter: ‘‘Why are we printing money? …’’ unduly favoured the views of critics of the basin plan.

A video on return flows was posted on ABC Facebook pages and embedded in a number of stories about the Murray-Darling Basin.

The video was largely an explanation of the research findings of Grafton and Williams, however rather than clearly attributing it as their analysis and estimates, their research was at times presented as fact. In this regard, the content was not in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy.

Given the high contention of the basin plan, the lack of clear attribution to Grafton and Williams for a number of factual statements, the conclusive language used by the reporter and the omission of any alternative substantive perspective on the issue of return flows, Audience and Consumer Affairs concluded that the video unduly favoured the critics of the basin plan.