Australia’s media regulator has not published its “quarterly” reports on complaints and investigations for almost a year and in October last year stopped publishing the figures in its annual report altogether.
The Klaxon can also exclusively reveal that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has reviewed just one of the 23 complaints that it has received over Sky News Australia’s Covid-19 coverage since the start of last year.
Two weeks ago, on July 28, US internet giant YouTube issued Sky News with a seven-day ban for spreading Covid-19 misinformation.
The move has drawn international attention, in part because Sky News it is owned by global media giant News Corporation, which in the US broadcasts Fox News.
Fox News has been widely criticised for spreading disinformation around climate change, Covid-19 and other issues.
The ban has prompted Australia’s ongoing senate inquiry into media diversity to call Sky News, You Tube and ACMA to give evidence, with appearances scheduled for this Friday.
Users of YouTube are permanently banned from uploading content to the site if they breach the platform’s content rules three times in a 90-day period.
Media regulator ACMA publishes on its website “quarterly reports” on the “complaints we have assessed and the investigations we have undertaken”.
However The Klaxon can reveal that ACMA has not published any of the reports since the period for September 30 last year.
The most recent “quarterly” report the regulator has published is for “July to September 2020”.
ACMA’s website yesterday, August 8. Source: ACMA
The Klaxon put this to ACMA in writing on Tuesday last week.
We didn’t receive an answer.
We wrote again on Wednesday, and then again on Thursday, and called and spoke with the regulator twice.
On Friday, ACMA came back with a response:
“The October-December 2020 and January-March 2021 reports for actions on content complaints and investigations are scheduled for publication on Monday 8 August.”
ACMA did not say why it would not also be publishing the figures for the March-June quarter (despite June 30 being more than five weeks ago, and that the figures relate only to what happened up to June 30), or why it would now be releasing two data sets at once.
The regulator did not respond when asked why its quarterly reports, titled “Action on content complaints and investigations”, hadn’t been made public for almost a year.
The Klaxon can further reveal that ACMA has stopped publishing its “broadcasting investigation outcomes” in its annual reports.
On October 23, in ACMA’s most recent annual report, ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin writes:
“We have removed previously published appendixes on our programs and content and broadcasting investigation outcomes. This information remains available at acma.gov.au”
ACMA had previously published this information, in collated format each year.
In the annual report O’Loughlin writes that ACMA had “removed previously published appendixes” to “ensure it continued to meet legislated requirements”, “publication principles” and “(minimise) duplication with information presented on our website”.
“We have removed previously published appendixes on our programs and content and broadcasting investigation outcomes” — ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin
The Klaxoncan also reveal that, since the start of 2020, just one of the 23 complaints that ACMA has received about Sky News Australia’s coverage of Covid-19 has been reviewed by the regulator.
That’s because, under a so-called “co-regulatory system”, every one of the viewers who has made a complaint has been instead directed to Sky News – the entity alleged to have engaged in the wrongdoing.
ACMA says that whenever it receives a complaint, the person making the complaint is directed to the company they are complaining about.
Only if the viewer, having already written to ACMA, then writes to the broadcasting company involved in the alleged wrongdoing – and then writes to ACMA a second time – will ACMA “review” the complaint and decide whether or not it will investigate.
Broadcasters have 60 days to respond to complainants.
That means that if a viewer sees something they are concerned about on a television or radio program, in order to have their concern even considered to be investigated by ACMA, the person has to write to the alleged perpetrator, wait up to 60 days, and then write to ACMA a second time.
At this point ACMA will, for the first time, “review” the complaint.
Last year, up to September 30, 130 complaints made it to the point of actually being “reviewed” by ACMA.
Of those 130 surviving complaints, ACMA decided to investigate 23, and “declined” to investigate 107.
That meant that even after a viewer wrote to ACMA; then wrote to the broadcaster, waited for up to 60 days; and then wrote again to ACMA, there was only an 18% chance their complaint would be investigated by the regulator.
No records are published regarding how many complaints proceed beyond the first complaint to ACMA (ie how many go on to lodge their complaint with broadcasters), what responses viewers are provided with it they do – or whether responses are provided at all.
That ACMA had received 23 complaints regarding Sky News Covid-19 coverage was only disclosed by ACMA after You Tube implemented the Sky News ban.
The ban started on Thursday July 29, but only became public knowledge three days later, on Sunday August 1, when it was reported by media.
ACMA disclosed the Sky News Covid-19 complaints information in response to media inquires.
The regulator has long faced criticism for failing to ensure media standards such as “accuracy and impartiality” in “news and current affairs” are enforced or abided by, and has been accused falling to “regulatory capture”.
Regulatory capture is where regulatory agencies come to be dominated by the industries they are responsible for regulating.
Since news of YouTube’s Sky News ban emerged, ACMA has come under further pressure, with many experts asking why it apparently fell to a foreign internet company to pull Sky News up on spreading Covid-19 misinformation in Australia.
After the Sky News ban became public knowledge, ACMA provided a statement to media (including, on Monday August 2, The Klaxon).
ACMA said that under “Australia’s legislated co-regulatory scheme for commercial broadcasting” licensees are required to “have mechanisms in place” to comply with industry codes of practice “covering matters such as accuracy and impartiality in news and current affairs”.
“Since the beginning of 2020, the ACMA has received 23 complaints about Sky’s coverage of the Covid pandemic. Most recently, the ACMA received seven complaints relating to a broadcast on 12 July 2021 of a segment on the Alan Jones program featuring Mr Jones and Craig Kelly MP,” the statement says.
“The complainants were referred to Sky in the first instance and the ACMA will consider the matter and take the broadcaster’s actions to correct and remove the segment into account if any of the complainants refer their complaint back to the ACMA.”
Last week, after four days of requests for further information, ACMA told The Klaxon that it had investigated one of the 23 Sky News Covid-19 complaints.
All of the Sky News Covid-19 complaints were redirected to Sky News, which is required to respond to the complainants themselves (and not to ACMA) within 60 days.
ACMA received seven complaints relating to the 12 July 2021 Alan Jones program broadcast featuring Jones and MP Craig Kelly.
Should those viewers pursue the matter with Sky News, the broadcaster has 60 days to respond, meaning that Sky News has until mid-September, at the earliest.
That timeframe will most likely be longer after accounting for the time between the program being aired and a viewer lodging a complaint with ACMA, ACMA responding to the complainant, and Sky News receiving the complaint from the viewer, if one eventuates.
More to come…
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