In the past six months, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has commenced the publication of its Investigation Concepts papers. The Investigation Concepts papers aim to identify and explain how various important principles of broadcast content regulation have been exemplified, clarified or applied in previous ACMA decisions.
A brief outline of the two Investigation Concepts papers which have so far been published is set out below.
Is that "accurate"? The ACMA's paper on accuracy
Commercial, subscription, national and community television and radio broadcasters are each governed by a specific set of broadcast codes, which set out the obligation for broadcasters to ensure that fact-based content broadcast is accurate.
A key issue explored in the ACMA's accuracy paper is the difficulty faced by broadcasters in distinguishing factual material, which must comply with industry accuracy obligations, and other content. The paper addresses the complexity of the interpretation of "accuracy", "factual material" and "reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy". It also includes examples of pitfalls which may trigger a viewer or listener complaint and an ACMA investigation.
Broadcasters are advised to be wary, not just of the accuracy of the content broadcast, but also its manner of delivery when considering whether an ordinary reasonable viewer or listener would observe the content to be factual. Important factors to consider in relation to the obligation of accurate broadcasting include:
- the context of the segment;
- the rhetorical construction of the broadcast;
- the accuracy of supporting imagery, footage or re-enactments;
- whether the material is capable of independent verification; and
- distinctions between factual material and commentary or analysis.
Is that "fair"? The ACMA's paper on fairness, impartiality and viewpoints
The second paper in the Investigation Concepts series considers the requirements for fairness, impartiality and viewpoints that are set out in the broadcasting industry codes of practice.
Although the specific obligations in the various codes differ, each is directed towards promoting accuracy and fairness in news and current affairs programs. In most of the broadcast codes, news programs (which are distinct from current affairs programs) are subject to an additional requirement of impartiality.
In summary, the ACMA's second paper provides the following guidance regarding considerations of fairness, impartiality and viewpoints:
- Were various significant viewpoints presented?
In its investigations as to whether significant viewpoints have been presented on a particular issue the ACMA will have regard to, in particular, whether:
- the principal viewpoints expressed in the program are balanced (the concept of balance is addressed explicitly in the codes of the two national broadcasters);
- the overall presentation of the program portrays false balance by elevating one viewpoint in such a way that the ordinary reasonable viewer or listener could be misled; and
- reasonable efforts were made or reasonable opportunities were given by the licensee for significant and diverse viewpoints to be presented in the program.
- Was the program presented with impartiality and fairness?
The ACMA observes that impartiality and fairness are overlapping concepts. In assessing whether a program has been presented with impartiality and fairness, the ACMA will consider relevant elements of the program such as:
- the reporter or presenter's demeanour and the extent to which they convey any prejudgment; and
- the overall presentation and construction of the program, which will include considerations including whether there were any material omissions or unfair selection of the content which was broadcast.
- Were each of the viewpoints given fair treatment?
Under the broadcasting codes, broadcasters either have an obligation to represent viewpoints fairly or not to misrepresent a person's viewpoints. For instance, the commercial television code in clause 4.3.1 requires fair representation of viewpoints.
The ACMA considers that the overriding requirement is that the program in its entirety must represent viewpoints fairly. For example, circumstances including misleading editing or inappropriate juxtaposition of material in the representation of a viewpoint can contribute to a representation being rendered unfair.
The Investigation Concepts papers aim to assist stakeholders in the broadcasting industry to better understand and adhere to their compliance obligations under the broadcasting code provisions.
The full Investigation Concepts papers may be found here...
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