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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 3020

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

(Question No. 583)

Senator Abetz asked the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, upon notice, on 8 April 2011:

Given that:

(a) an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report on a European Union (EU) declaration inserted inverted commas around the word 'terrorist', whereas the inverted commas were not present in the EU declaration;

(b) the ABC explained that, as was the case with the three other instances in the report, inverted commas had been added to indicate that it was a direct quote from the report and not to indicate non-acceptance of the usage of the term;

(c) however, for the cited instance the inverted commas surrounded the word 'terrorist' and only the word 'terrorist' (notwithstanding that there were also other words extracted from the very same section of the EU declaration) whereas in the three other instances, the inverted commas surrounded a significant amount of contiguous text from the EU declaration;

(d) additionally, there are other ABC reports that have also placed terms such as 'terrorist' or 'terrorism' within inverted commas in circumstances where the possibility of a direct quote does not arise (for example, the report headed 'Top cleric urges "blind, deaf, dumb" Mubarak to go', 30 January 2011); and

(e) in contrast to its practice when the victims or intended victims are Israeli, the ABC routinely uses the term 'terrorist' and similar where the civilian victims are not Israeli:

(1) Can an explanation be provided by the ABC justifying its evident non-acceptance of the term 'terrorist' and similar terms, and its acceptance of the term 'resistance fighter' (response to question on notice no. 41) in circumstances where the actual or intended victims are Israeli civilians.

(2) Can an explanation be provided by the ABC justifying its discriminatory practices regarding the use of such terms.

Senator Conroy: The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

The Editorial Policies are applied consistently across all areas of reporting, as are the specific guidelines and advice in relation to labelling.

In relation to terrorism, the ABC News Style Guide advises journalists that:

"Reporting terrorism and other contentious issues brings the need for fair and non-judgemental language into sharp focus. There will always be sectional groups in the community that disagree with the way an issue is reported and with the language used. Middle East reporting is a typical example.

Generally, clear, thorough r eporting is better than labels.

Our reports should rely first on facts and clear descriptions of events, rather than labels that may seem too extreme or too soft, d epending on your point of view.

When reporting a conflict, such as in the Middle East, we avoid partisanship, or the perception of it, by not adopting for ourselves the preferred labels of one side or the other. It is usually more appropriate to describe specific acts: " a car bomb has exploded in Baghdad, killing 20 people " rather than " a terrorist attack in Baghdad has left 20 people dead " . If it is necessary to refer to an organisation in such a way, it is best to attribute that label to a particular person, group or government: " the US President described the group as a terrorist organisation ".

The use of violence, including against civilians, in a political cause is not new. Terrorism - violence targeting civilians and not necessarily in a clear political cause - is not new. We won't resile from using the word " terrorism " or " terrorist " in appropriate cases. If something is clearly a terrorist act, the act and the group responsible for it can be labelled " terrorist " . That does not mean that you have to describe the group as " terrorist " in every context in which you refer to that group.

Be judicious in the use of the expression " war on terror ".

That is the policy and practice of ABC News. The ABC responded to the issue of the EU report in its response to Senator Abetz ' question on notice from the Additional Estimates hearing in October 2010 (q157).