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Fine tuning the ABC

By Ben-Peter Terpstra - posted Thursday, 24 December 2009

It’s nice when audiences stand up for history. On the ABC’s 7:00 News, November 13, 2009, a viewer noticed a rib-tickling graph showing, “US government debt as a percentage of GDP back to the War of Independence in 1790”. Following an investigation, our “ABC acknowledged that the American War of Independence took place between 1775 and 1783”. Or to put it another way - Oops!

Junk science, both conscious and unconscious, also makes our ABC a special place. But nothing beats junk geography. Or a crap graphic.

Enter Stateline (New South Wales), October 16, 2009. A graphic of a map of Flinders Island off the coast of Tasmania looked promising enough, if one ignores the fact that the report’s yacht crashed in New South Wales, or Flinders Inlet off Port Kembla. Ironically, the “Mystery of the Sea”, story turned into the “Mystery of the Geographically Challenged Broadcaster”.


Even recent history isn’t secure. On the 7:00 News, September 20, 2009, your ABC showcased a Rudd-first report. Surprising? Hardly. But this case was a very queer example of propaganda. Oddly, a viewer raised the point that “a report on a visit to New York by Prime Minister Rudd” contained familiar-looking “footage of Mr Rudd with President Obama”.

It was Groundhog Day II. In point of fact, “the footage was actually from a previous visit” by the PM. And naturally, the suspicious-looking story “implied an exaggerated importance of Australia on the world stage,” according to the complainant. Kevin Rudd was there but he wasn’t? He was an international policy ace and a time-machine user?

Granted, the facts of the case caught up with the government-first broadcaster. Thus:

The ABC agreed that the images should have been labelled “file footage”, or that context should have been given in the voiceover to make clear that the images were not of the New York trip.

But at least our media watchdogs understand economics, right? Wrong, again. When The 7:30 Report (October 6, 2009) asserted that, “Australia’s Reserve Bank is the first central bank in the developed world to signal an end to the financial crisis by lifting rates,” a viewer scratched his head.

It was untrue. Or as the ABC grudgingly conceded, “Israel was first in the developed world to raise interest rates”. It now claims that the statement stemmed from the fact that Australia was the first G20 nation to raise interest rates.


“Yeah, that’s it,” I said. “Good call. And manmade ‘global warming’ makes whorish women throw themselves onto Tiger Woods.”

Later on the 7:00 News, November 11, 2009, the broadcaster informed Australians that “millions stopped at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour” on Remembrance Day. Except that as one viewer rightly pointed out, we observe one minute’s silence at 11am. To be fair-and-balanced, though, our ABC’s staffers know their Muslim holy days and Australia’s temperature readings for 2050.

Without a calculator too, an ABCist is very much like a bewildered kangaroo staring into the lights of a drunk’s ute. Or as another investigation of 7:00 News (October 25, 2009) stated: “A viewer complained about reference in a report to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.321 as being ‘more than six times above the legal limit’. The viewer pointed out that a concentration more than six times above the legal limit would be at least 0.35.”

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First published in Quadrant Online on December 14, 2009.

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About the Author

Ben-Peter Terpstra has provided commentary for The Daily Caller (Washington D.C.), NewsReal Blog (Los Angeles), Quadrant (Sydney), and Menzies House (Adelaide).

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All articles by Ben-Peter Terpstra

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