ABC loses plot on ethics and news, citizen journos shine


by Margo Kingston

21 June 2013


 Update 22 September 2013

Dear ABC Insiders,
I note that you had Piers Akerman back on the Insiders program this morning after a three month hiatus following his heinous comments about Prime Minister Gillard’s sexuality on June 16th this year which resulted in many members of the public (including myself), complaining directly to the ABC. I think it’s fair to say, many viewers of the show have enjoyed this hiatus, and in fact, we had been hoping it would be permanent.

This is evidently not the case.

You waited until two weeks after the federal election to have him back on which I feel is a sign that the producers felt his presence prior to the election would be a distraction. So clearly, you are aware of the divisive nature of his commentary on your show.

This morning, true to form, Mr Akerman used several opportunities to do nothing but provide the very opposite to what any reasonable person would describe as “balance”. So I ask, what exactly is the purpose of having this man on your show?

Mr Akerman does not behave like a journalist when he is on Insiders. He behaves like a Coalition politician, and is perhaps the only person you regularly have on your panel that comes armed with an agenda. How is this journalism?

This morning, Mr Akerman came prepared with allegations against former Prime Minister Gillard that asked that she be charged with illegal car use. I find this behaviour defamatory. He used a (fabricated) analogy with a Victorian MP to allege criminal activity. Even if these accusations are warranted, Mr Akerman failed completely to point out and then acknowledge Barrie Cassidy’s assertions that several Coalition MP’s including Tony Abbott had been found to misuse public funds, proving his off-the-charts bias. He repeated this allegation multiple times including one last stab when he was asked for his final observations at the end.

So I ask again, what is Mr Akerman’s purpose of being on this show? If his purpose is to consistently smear the previous Prime Minister of this country, then he achieves this aim with aplomb. But this does nothing positive for the reputation of your program. Why is it that a review of the many complaints against Mr Akerman by the ABC, has resulted in him being asked back on the show, only to continue the smearing of people of the opposite side of his political persuasion?

Insiders is supposed to cut through the political rhetoric of the week, not enforce it!

Yours sincerely,

Kiera Gorden



Update 29 June 2013

ABC program: The Insiders 

Response required: true 
Date of program: 16th June 
Contact type: Complaint 
Location: ACT Subject: Piers Ackerman on The InsidersComments:This revolting peddler of smut and false rumours needs to be removed immediately from the panel on The Insiders. His flagrant lies on todays show needs to be substantiated. He talks about “rumours that have been in the Canberra press gallery for years” he needs to name names. Ackerman flagrantly used the opportunity to repeat false rumours on the sexuality of the Prime Ministers partner – Ackerman was intent on embarrassing the Prime Minister by repeating and mocking her partner.Get rid of him. He does not belong on the ABC – Get him on the Bolt report where he belongs.


From: ABC Corporate_Affairs3
Sent: Friday, 28 June 2013 2:58 PM
To: Sarah Harmer
Subject: C37602-13 – Sarah Harmer: Insiders – Piers AkermanDear Ms HarmerThank you for your email about the Insiders program broadcast on 16 June.Please be assured that your concerns have been noted by our unit and conveyed to ABC News management who have provided us with the following advice:

The comments made by Piers Akerman about the Prime Minister’s partner on Insiders on the 16th of June were inappropriate. This was immediately made clear to Mr Akerman by Insiders host Barrie Cassidy and the other panellists. Before the program was over, Mr Akerman had issued his own apology for the remarks.  Because Insiders is a live program,  ABC News expects all of its guests to be capable of operating in a professional and appropriate manner.  ABC News will be reviewing when and under what circumstances any future invitations for Mr Akerman to appear on Insiders might be issued.

Thank you for writing and providing the ABC with the opportunity to respond to your concerns.
Yours sincerely

Anna Uszko

ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs


I was cyber-bullied by then journo turned indie-blogger, now News Limited columnist Tim Blair long before the term became mainstream. He targeted my work on the Sydney Morning Herald’s Webdiary in the early noughties and published comments that questioned my gender, asked whether I was human or ape, denigrated my looks and suggested I should be in a mental institution or drug rehabilitation facility.

It hurt, and I decided that ignoring the insults was best for my health and would not inflame my tormentors.

My journalism can be tough and pointed, but I argue my case on the merits, strive to comply with the Media Alliance Code of Ethics and ground my practice in the search for truth. If I get a fact wrong, I admit and correct. That’s what gives me the right to call myself a journalist.

But by around 2003 I found myself being asked by the ABC and Network Nine to appear on discussion panels with Mr Blair. I refused, on the grounds his work was unethical. Back then, MSM didn’t go online much, and his blog behaviour was not known outside the blogosphere.

Fast forward to 2013. It almost passes without comment that Piers Akerman, a person who does not pass the ethical tests of journalism, is a regular commentator on Insiders. His mendacity was on show in spades last Sunday, when he suggested that the government had leaked the famous menu but was unable to produce any evidence under questioning from Lenore Taylor. His other journalistic sin that day is well known – proclaiming alleged press gallery rumours about the PM’s partner’s sexuality and thereby the nature of their relationship.

Barrie Cassidy slapped him down, remarking that he had behaved in exactly the same unethical way as had Howard Sattler just days before. I expected that the ABC would follow the example set by Fairfax – immediately apologise to the PM and her partner and announce that Piers would no longer appear on Insiders.

I was mistaken. ABC news and current affairs, including The Drum on Monday, went for silence and censorship; see Don’t walk past, @abcmarkscott and @dailytelegraph
and #Mediawatch honest broker for silent, censored Piers’ ABC.

The ABCs editorial policies are clear, and Piers was in clear breach of them, as well as News Limited’s code of ethics.

I am coming to believe that ABC news is cowed by the intimidatory stance of News Limited, as so eloquently described by Press Council chief Julian Disney in recent evidence to the Senate media reform inquiry – see Absolute freedoms destroy freedom: Disney and Journalist @MargaretSimons stands up to Oz intimidation, speaks out on media reform.

Note that News Limited has not only felt no need to comment upon the matter or discipline Piers, but made his vicious diatribe against his critics after the show its official statement through its publication outside paywalls in the Oz and its tabloids.

Also note that the ABC has, at least for now, the capacity for internal challenge. On Monday night Mediawatch publicised the silence and the censorship, and Q and A permitted an audience member to ask if Piers would appear again on Insiders, to which Tony Jones replied, send an email to Barrie Cassidy. On Thursday Jon Faine asked Cassidy the question, to be told that the matter was being discussed by ABC management.

Online audience complaints and emails to Cassidy have, as I write, remained unanswered.

There were near unanimous calls to lift the standards of public discourse after Sattler’s disgrace. The ABC, as the nation’s public broadcaster, is on the frontline. It must do better, and it must get clarity on the standards it expects from journalists it puts on air. They must be ethical and if they are not they should not be broadcast.

I contacted Insiders this morning using its online contact form:


I am doing a column on the ABC’s response to Mr Akerman’s remarks on the PM’s partner.
Could you advise whether or not the ABC has apologised to the PM or her partner, and whether Mr Akerman will continue to be a guest on Insiders.


Margo Kingston

No reply.

In another sad, bad week in the MSM, my heart soared in my little corner of social media, where No Fibs had its highest hits since Tony created her six months ago. I thank Peter Parker-Smythe, who in the depths of the gender debate last week tweeted:

I suggested he join @jointdestroyer, and a Tweep suggested a new group called @StoppingSexism. I made contact, and co-founder Fiona Armstrong, a journalist, wrote Sexism: I’ve had a gutful which quickly became our most popular post. A great story at the perfect time – it may never happen again so I enjoyed the moment.

While she was writing over the weekend, the ABC made its contribution to the gender wars with Piers’ remarks and comments by Grace Collier on Radio National’s Outsiders that the PM had diminished her office by showing her cleavage. Citizen journo David Marler got to the bottom of that myth in a great fact-checker which Destroy the Joint promoted on Facebook as part of its #convoyofcleavage protest, which in turn received international coverage and brought No Fibs an international readership.

I’ve noticed since my return to journalism that the MSM tends to flit from story to story without grounding stories in facts or pursuing them in depth, and that at least some MSM websites don’t produce archives to allow readers to explore a story. There is thus a gap developing which David exploited this week by straight, careful news gathering with help from Tweeps.

Noelle Kebby also put the citizen journalism bit between her teeth after we chatted last week about her wish to cover Lyne for the election campaign. Because she is a current member of a political party she did not meet my criteria, but when she mentioned Ray Hadley’s deep involvement in Lyne politics, I suggested she report it for me. The result, after careful research which included listening to hours of Hadley audio to get his quotes exactly right, was a fine piece of straight, informative reporting.

The other big hitter was the piece I commissioned from Catherine Deveney  on the issues surrounding Piers’ job at Insiders after Mark Colvin suggested, to my surprise, that if Piers was sacked as an #Insiders guest then Catherine would have to be expelled from Q and A.

So our top four in a top week comprised two pro-writers and two citizen journos, an excellent @NoFibs mix.

In a week where I ignored the endless #leadershit, we published the valedictory speeches of two wonderful female politicians, Judi Moylan and Nicola Roxon.

We also posted our first four citizen journalist scene-setter seat reports, Shane Willsmore on Sturt , Alison Parkes on Mitchell, Jan Bowman on Griffith and Margaret O’Connor on Eden-Monaro. Wikileaks Party campaigner Greg Barns posted on the many new parties having a go.

Sarah Capper bookended the week in gender with a personal review of her lows and lows as a media consumer.

And amid all that, I published a piece by University of Melbourne politics lecturer Sally Young on why she is a Twitter sceptic. Sally let slip her Twitterphobia while asking me for a piece for the University’s Electionwatch site debut next month (@electionwatch_). So I asked for a piece on that in return. I felt old and tired and out-of-touch with modern journalism after the ABC’s non-response to Piers until I read her last paragraph:

“My scepticism about Twitter is balanced by an enthusiasm for new outlets that use new media to provide competition, independence and diversity in news reporting. Margo Kingston is a pioneer in this area in Australia. So, Twitter sceptic or not, I wish her every luck with her twitter-based election coverage. It will be a very welcome addition to the political reporting landscape and, I am sure, a much more successful Twitter experiment than mine!”

Stick with me, folks. Let’s have fun.


Margo’s columns

1. @NoFibs new directions

2. Immersion journalism for democracy 

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  1. Good on you Margot your passion and integrity are an inspiration, and you’re really making a difference.

  2. So good to have you back writing. We missed your input.

  3. Lovely to see yo9u back holding the buggers to account, Margo

  4. Tony Falkner says

    Yu still got it!

  5. Thanks Margo for your writing, I must say it is a relief to read when i have started to feel a great sense of despair whenever i listen to the news, or other programs covering political issues.

  6. Thanks Margo, it is good to hear things are going so well at No Fibs. Keep it up as we need such writing in our lives as an antidote to all the garbage floating around out there.

    Had never heard of the oaf Tim Blair so I Googled him. Turns out I have never read any of the publications he has written for so I am a blissfully Blair-free zone & I fully intend to remain so.

  7. Thank you Margo. Such a pleasure to read balanced articles without all the hype and spin of LNP media releases which is all some journalists seem to rely on now days. It is a sorry fact that very few of them took the PMs advice “Don’t write crap! Can’t be that hard”. You prove time and time again that it’s not.

  8. Seeing Tim Blair’s longtime connections with the right-wing ‘think’-tank the Institute of Public Affairs is enough to show what sort of a person he is – a dangerous man.

  9. Your country needs you.

  10. Margot – Great Work. Agree totally.

    Apart from general blatant issues in media (particularly MSM) against Govt – that are widely discussed in independent media – there is another major issue for public interest that has got little discussion.

    ABC editorial bias

    The quality of balance, critical analysis & independent reporting in the public interest on the ABC has become a joke.

    This is important for ABC is perceived as an independent voice of reason & balance.against the MSM bias & propaganda that has always existed. (Always biased Murdoch/News/Mining/Tycoons – now Fairfax/Gina. Previously Fairfax was considered reasonable.)

    Questions not answered:
    – Who is setting the agenda for content & talking points for ABC media’s website & programs?
    – Is it the producers, the journalists, management?
    – What happens at their production meetings – that all appear to have similar content & approach?

    ABC has had a corporation wide “coincidence” that it has not been reporting (at all) on Coalition as an electoral contender.

    All of its media outlets & programs (apart from Radio) have an all consuming focus on Labor. Down to the selective smallest detailed analysis of “selected” Polls & Leadership. (Recently there was no reporting of Polls showing positive results for Labor)

    And yet ABC had already all “elected” the Coalition as the next Govt months ago.

    So why have they not had any investigation of what the Coalition would do if they were actually elected?

    Why do they focus on Labor? Not in a good way – with any discussion of their policies. But with a targeted selective agenda that reduces any real discussion to “sound bites & imagery” that focus on negative leadership speculation.& polls.

    The only reporting of Coalition is when they are shown giving their “unquestioned” view of Labor – which is also then cut up into a negative diatribe sound bites – that often is unsubstantiated.rubbish.

    Programs that should have decent analysis of POLICY (like The Drum, Insiders, 7:30) have all been totally consumed with irrelevant white noise about Labor, leadership & polls. The only other issue discussed is the black hole that is “Boat People”.. (which is basically irrelevant for the election – as there is no simple solution).

    ABC’s Political Journalists reporting from Canberra also always have the same bias. Leadership, leadership, leadership. Particularly Chris Uhlmann – who should know better (seems to sing from the KRudd backer song sheet & continually knifes Labor on the flagship current affairs show NOT in an objective balanced way)..

    MSM headlines are repeated as if they are fact. Thus giving them airplay to a wider audience on the ABC.

    Where is the discussion of LNP slogans & policies? What is in the pamphlets that Tony Abbott is waving around in press releases?

    Apparently Tony Abbott has his own photographers/film crew – to make sure his image is managed to their satisfaction. (Insiders – Talking Pictures mentioned.) How do we find out if this is true?

    Tony & image is being micromanaged to a fault. He will not do interviews. Why? No one is asking?

    Realise this is a long rant expressing my long term & growing frustration.. And it should make me feel better. But it doesn’t.

    This week – being last week of Parliament – will be the a frenzy of this mindless biased rubbish that will be layered on from every possible direction & build to a peak at the week’s end. Aimed at destabilising & dividing Govt, & creating white noise in media that will drown out any possible positive stories or reflection about this Govt’s term.

    How can normal people cut through this crap? How can message get out to average person that this is all spin & distraction from LNP’s lack of ideas or substance?

    Whatever you can do to get message out is great.

    All the independent voices really need a ‘collective” media voice that can get some traction – to a mainstream public who vote.

    There are a growing number of disenfranchised & dissatisfied people posting on independent media websites eg Guardian, Crikey, The Hoopla, etc

    There needs to be a way to show mainstream Aust that it isn’t all bad news & spin.

    People’s vote will still count. Remember to also vote seriously in the Senate (if you live in a blue ribbon seat)

    The Election has not been decided yet – except in MSM.

    (You get the sense the election result isn’t as clean cut as some would have public believe & that MSM must still be worried – because they are going all out to destroy the PM.)

  11. Thanks Margo, I visit your site everyday for a dose of sanity. Keep up the fabulous work. Totally agree with your feelings Jan. Kate Ahern over at Fair Media Alliance has some great things happening, might be worth a visit if you haven’t been there yet.

  12. Well done Margo. I am a 70 year old bloke that has nursed slow burning fury at Murdoch and his shonky so called journalists over their treatment of Gillard. They appear to have almost zero respect for ethical journalism. Couple this with an opposition that has abandoned integrity in favor of victory at all costs as is epitomized by their mendacious, attack dog leader. My rage comes to a head when I have to argue with moronic Andrew Bolt fans over their stupid Conservative ideology and blind belief in global warming denialism.

  13. daveOponic says

    Keep up the great work Margo. I hope that one day we can again say its our ABC.

  14. Thank you Margo. Saw you in action at Storyology. You have my vote. Life is full of twists and turns and I expect Fairfax et al will rue they did not pursue Web Diary. Yours is a voice of reason and ethics in a swirling soup of excrement that brings to my mind the contents of my septic tank. The metaphor being that MSM has had its “race to the bottom”, and this is now where it resides. Hail to the new News Chief!. This is now a new era without “gatekeepers” and the voice of thousands must surely overwhelm those of position, power and celebrity. Surely. #nofibs. Thanks.

  15. Is there anything lower than a News Limited journalist ???

  16. I was just thinking about you yesterday Margot & wondering where you had got to. Today I find an email from the Wheeler Centre & a para about you & this website. Woo hooo!!! wonderful to see you back telling it like it is and encouraging others to do the same.

  17. Welcome back Margot. I feel a sense of relief that all is not lost with you around. With your help and a few others such as New Mathilda, The Conversation, Castlemaine Independent, Crikey, VWT Sheilas, I honestly believe that Abbott cannot win. He does not have the ‘ticker’ to last another 2 weeks without making some shocking blunder. He cannot get off with his ‘leadershit’ any longer. Got to answer the unanswered very soon surely. What does he mean by ‘Jobs, Jobs;’ Jobs’? How will he do it? Fixing the economy stupid! But How Tony? Tell us how, please. We need to know now before it is too late for you!
    Good health Margot.

  18. Geat to see the 5th Estate being created now that the 4th Estate has so convincingly bastardized itself into irrelevance..Margo for PM! As we used to say as kids “skitch em”…