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ABC Errored in Asylum Seeker Story: Mark Scott

The ABC has admitted it could have been more precise over its reporting of claims that asylum seekers allegedly

ABC managing director Mark Scott

ABC managing director Mark Scott

received burns at the hands of the Australian Navy, the reports of which have drawn fire for the public broadcaster from the Prime Minister.

Managing director Mark Scott and director of news Kate Torney issued a statement Tuesday, acknowledging more robust reporting could have been made but  saying that the national broadcaster did not support the asylum seekers claims and that the broadcaster would not apologise for running the story.

The reports centred around recent asylum seeker boats being turned around and claims by Indonesian police that the hands of asylum seekers had been burnt while on board Australian navy vessels taking asylum seekers back to Indonesia. Video was presented purporting to support those claims.

In the statement Scott and Torney said “There have been allegations from asylum seekers that Navy personnel mistreated and caused injury to some of them – allegations that have been strongly denied.

“This is an important story and the ABC makes no apologies for covering it. In the course of carrying out its work, the ABC’s own reporting has come under criticism. It is important to be clear about how we have gone about covering this story.”

“Claims of mistreatment by the Australian military are very serious and a responsible media, acting in the public interest, will need to seek an official response and pursue the truth of the claims. This is exactly what the ABC has done throughout.”

The ABC’s initial reports on a video which emerged of asylum seekers with burnt hands said that the vision appeared to support the asylum seekers’ claims and was the first concrete evidence that the injuries had occurred.

“What the video did not do was establish how those injuries occurred,” Scott and Torney admitted.

“The wording around the ABC’s initial reporting needed to be more precise on that point. We regret if our reporting led anyone to mistakenly assume that the ABC supported the asylum seekers’ claims.

“The ABC has always presented the allegations as just that – claims worthy of further investigation,” the statement said.

The acknowledgement follows a week of criticism of the national broadcaster’s reporting of the issue by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, foreign minister Julie Bishop  and its media rivals.

Abbott last week accused the national broadcaster of being unpatriotic in its news coverage, saying , “A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s. I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but its own and I think it is a problem.”

He added to that criticism on the ABC’s 7.30 program last night that both the Navy -asylum seeker story and the reporting of the Snowden intelligence leaks along with The Guardian late last year were not “fair, balanced” or “accurate”.

He also confirmed to 7.30 that he was looking at scrapping Australia Network, the ABC-run Asia Pacific based TV network that’s funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs.  (separate story).

And while the Prime Minister derided the ABC last week, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced — quite co-incidentally according to Turnbull- that the department of communications would conduct an efficiency review into the costs of the running both the ABC and SBS. (link)

It was also revealed yesterday that the editor of The Australian’s media section, Nick Leys, has been appointed the ABC’s new media manager.

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