The Guardian August 29, 2001


Unions demand withdrawal of
ABC memo on reporting industrial disputes

An ABC management memo dictating the way journalists should report 
industrial disputes is an outrageous attempt to censor news, say union 
leaders The leaked memo written by Mark Henderson, Network Editor should be 
withdrawn immediately says the Finance Sector Union (FSU), the Media 
Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and the Victorian Trades Hall 
Council (VTHC).

The FSU is concerned the ABC may have been approached by the banks who are 
concerned about their image during the ongoing dispute over enterprise 
bargaining negotiations.

The memo tells journalists that "the main angle on our coverage should be 
the impact on the public". It is not clear whether the memo was distributed 
in NSW alone, or across all States and Territories.

"The details of the dispute, for example, rates of pay, are very much 
secondary and our coverage should reflect that", says the memo.

The memo makes particular reference to industrial action in the banking 
industry saying: "a dispute in the banking industry should focus on whether 
banks will be closed". The memo concludes by suggesting that, "if an 
industrial dispute does not impact on the public we should be immediately 
considering why we should be covering it".

FSU National Secretary Tony Beck has written to Jonathan Shier, ABC 
Managing Director seeking an assurance that the memo be withdrawn and that 
the "banking industry has not influenced the ABC's news reportage 
criteria".

Mr Beck said the ABC directive appeared to act in favour of powerful 
sectional interests.

"The details of our disputes, pay, service standards, branch closures, 
community access to retail banking, etc are of intense interest to the 
community and therefore the ABC has an obligation to report them. To treat 
these issues as secondary, denies the public access to critical 
information."

VTHC Secretary Leigh Hubbard said the memo was an outrageous attempt to 
limit the way complex disputes are reported by the ABC.

"We have had a large number of industrial disputes recently, particularly 
in Victoria and I would like to ask ABC management why they see fit to 
dictate the 'angle' rather than giving the facts and letting readers and 
viewers make up their own minds."

MEAA, the union representing ABC journalists said the memo was taking a 
"populist" approach to reporting of industrial issues.

Pat O'Donnell, MEAA Victorian Branch Secretary said: "We expect journalists 
to act independently and use their news judgement. This memo interferes 
with news judgement. We've had a number of disputes recently and I can't 
think of any where it would not be in the public interest to report the 
details."

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