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Déjà vu on the ABC

By Roger Underwood - posted Wednesday, 24 January 2007

What happens to ABC journalists found to have performed unprofessionally?

In August 2006, a Four Corners program on forestry in Tasmania was found by the The Australian Communications and Media Authority to be biased and inaccurate.

This program attacked the management of Tasmania’s forests and timber industry. “Lords of the Forest” was found by the independent adjudicators to fail almost every test of professional journalism; it did not even meet the ABC’s own Code of Practice on impartiality and accuracy in current affairs reporting.


Subsequent to the ACMA findings, I have been asked by several people: "What will now happen to the journalist in question Tikki Fullerton?”

Well might they ask. If history is any guide, she will probably go on to stardom.

Sixteen years ago, Four Corners made an equally clumsy foray into Western Australian forest management. This was “The Wood for the Trees”, broadcast by ABC TV on June 18, 1990. I was then a forester working for the WA Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), also a senior officer of the department.

CALM had recently published management plans which provided for the full balance of forest uses from “locked away” nature reserves, to national parks, to state forests where timber cutting and regeneration were permitted. We also had significant programs of plantation development and wildlife management, and we provided extensively for forest visitors and recreationists. Our forestry work in those days was fully endorsed by state and federal governments and by the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority. This will surely resonate with Tasmanian foresters in 2006.

In spite of all this, CALM was deeply unpopular with extreme environmentalists. Four Corners was sooled onto us by Perth green activists, who saw this as a way to discredit us nationally, and tip the political balance against the timber industry and the forestry profession.

One of WA’s most rabid environmentalists admitted subsequently in a radio interview that she had mapped out the Four Corners interview schedule for their program. It became obvious later that the activists not only suggested the interviewees, but also the lines of questioning and field stops.


Four Corners worked in WA with them for some weeks before even contacting anyone in CALM. When eventually they did meet up with us it was clear that their position had been rigidly determined. They were out to get us.

The resulting program was diabolical, even worse than “Lords of the Forest”. All the most reprehensible traits of agenda-driven journalism emerged: the presentation of unsupported and incorrect statements by environmentalists as if they were indisputable facts; failure to check statements by our critics, or to show our refutation of them; uncritical acceptance of the most palpably absurd assertions made by political activists; and failure to interview anyone (including CALM scientists) who might have provided an alternative view to some of the most outrageous claims.

One of the guest interviewees was the owner of a small art gallery. Another interviewee given plenty of air-time was a small-time disgruntled sawmiller, who (surprise, surprise) was uncomplimentary about CALM’s allocation of logs, just possibly because of our failure to allocate a large number of really good ones to him.

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First published on Jennifer Marohasy on September 14, 2006. It is republished as part of "Best Blogs of 2006" a feature in collaboration with Club Troppo, and edited by Ken Parish, Nicholas Gruen et al.

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About the Author

Roger Underwood is a former General Manager of CALM in Western Australia, a regional and district manager, a research manager and bushfire specialist. Roger currently directs a consultancy practice with a focus on bushfire management. He lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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