Audience and Consumer Affairs
After watching some outstanding interviews on Lateline recently, I really thought the ABC had begun “move on” from glorifying suicide bombers. However, on reading the transcript of PM 25 July 2005, I find Mark Willacy’s report from the Israeli prison sounds like some type of PR / propaganda piece released by the Palestinian Authority. These terms :
- “... attractive young woman ...”,
- “... big brown eyes and a large smile ...”,
- “... nursing a sparrow back to health [corrected 5/8/5] ...”,
- “... hard to believe she was caught with a suicide bomb ...”
all contribute to a very down-market sensationalist type of reporting of the situation in the Israeli prison. It could even be argued that this kind of coverage could give a bit of encouragement and support to other would-be suicide bombers.
The complaint is as follows:
- “big brown eyes and a large smile” - Mark Willacy shows his listener that he has sympathy for her. It is hard to make a case that her big brown eyes and her large smile (the accuracy of which is not in question) are fundamental to the news / caff item.
- “This attractive young woman” - Mark Willacy shows his listener that he empathises with her. The word “young” is neutral and relevant. The word “attractive” (the accuracy of which is not in question) is not fundamental to the news / caff item. The coupling of the two words masks the important word “young”.
- “... a baby sparrow she nursed back to health. It’s hard to believe this woman was caught with a suicide bomb belt.” Mark Willacy once again shows his listener the sympathy he has for her. It is not relevant to her status, unless Mark is trying to cast doubt on whether she belongs in jail. In this section of the transcript however, he has done a little worse than the two cases above. He has included the irrelevant at the expense of the relevant. He has avoided mentioning what she is serving time for. I, as a listener would like to know what her crime(s) were. Mark has not told me. He only mentions what she was carrying when she was caught. In effect he has not told me the whole story.
Your Editorial Policy (Section 5.1.4) obliges you to present “wherever possible, principal relevant viewpoints on matters of importance”. I imagine the ABC would accept that terrorism is a matter of importance. If ever there were a “principal relevant viewpoint” for an interview of a jail inmate it would have to be the crime for which she is serving time.
- “... a baby sparrow she nursed back to health. It’s hard to believe this woman was caught with a suicide bomb belt.” Another point: Mark’s wording tells the listener he questions whether she really is guilty of whatever crime it is that Mark left out of his report. It could have been worded the opposite way round like this:
“... caught with a suicide bomb belt. It’s hard to believe that she is stroking a baby sparrow she nursed back to health”. This wording questions whether her efforts on behalf of the sparrow are genuine. Both my wording and Mark’s wording are judgmental. They make a judgment in favour of, or against, the woman. There is nothing I can find in your Editorial Policy prohibiting judgmental reporting. There ought to be!
A proper way to bring the sparrow into the story would be to say in more neutral terms: “It’s hard to believe that she could at one moment be carrying a suicide bomb belt and at another moment be nursing a sparrow back to health”.
Could you please investigate the compliance of the above with your charter, especially the 5.1.4 "Principal relevant viewpoints" issue mentioned in Point #3 above.
Please do not investigate this on the grounds of “inaccurate reporting” as I make NO CLAIM that there is any inaccuracy whatsoever in Mark Willacy's reporting.
Also, since “judgmental reporting” is not proscribed anywhere as far as I can see, can you examine whether the points above contravene some other aspect of the Editorial Policy. After all, your brief is (or ought to be) to help the consumer to frame his complaint.