Did the ABC really stifle discussion on the NBN?

Did the ABC really stifle discussion on the NBN?

Explosive allegations by a former ABC Technology journalist are fanning the flames of a three year old dispute.

In a series of tweets yesterday, former ABC Technology journalist Nick Ross explicitly claimed that the ABC had “gagged” him by refusing to publish articles both in support and critical of the NBN on the now defunct ABC Technology and Games, which he until this week headed. This was based on a number of factors – mainly that three years after he published this critical article entitled “The great NBN fail”, which lamented the poor explanations by Labour, the FUD by the Coalition and the poor reporting from the media in general, not a single article was published on the subject.

In an article posted in the Australian on March 8, 2013, it was reported that he ABC found that his articles did not meet their requirements in regards to “Standards of objective journalism”, in that it favoured Labor’s then FTTH policy over the Coalition’s MTM policy. This turned out to be disputed by the ABC in a report on ABC TV’s program Media Watch, where then host Jonathan Holmes refuted the claim that ABC management had come down on Ross for the content of his pieces.

Instead, Media Watch chastised Nick for not following ABC procedure on separating comment from information display (also known as He Said She Said Journalism), but stopped short of claiming what he had written was incorrect. A battle line was drawn: between those who found his work to be sound, well researched and correct, and those who claimed he was corrupt, inept and biased. All of Nick Ross’s articles published that month were extraordinarily detailed, factually sound and technologically correct. They were essential reading then and now.

But in an AMA hosted on Reddit today, Nick broke down his personal experiences both before and after the airing of that Media Watch episode, claiming that once the allegations were in the air, his colleagues at the ABC ostracised him. He was told not to complain or reply to interview requests on behalf of the ABC. He lost credibility across his readership, as well as friends and family, who figured he had been working unethically. And, most importantly, he claimed he was no longer allowed to publish NBN-related content on the portal.

In a statement sent to The Australian, an ABC spokeswoman said that the broadcaster does not gag its journalists on any issues or topics of public importance (we do not have a copy of this statement so this is paraphrased from the article).

“As our record makes clear, the ABC covers all issues of public importance thoroughly and independently,”

“The only “restrictions” on the issues the ABC covers and the way we cover them are our Editorial Policies, which set standards for things like accuracy, impartiality and fair dealing. All of our journalism is required to adhere to these standards at all times.”

“Nick Ross has resigned from the ABC and we are not in a position to make any specific comment about his situation or circumstances other than to wish him well. He was a valued and respected staff member,” it said.

Additionally, in a statement to Buzzfeed News, the ABC also note that they repeatedly asked Nick to “not be an advocate, be a reporter” - another reference to the strict code of objectivity that found Ross as the subject of his very own MW episode. The statement also made reference to the fact that Ross was offered a chance to write about the NBN as part of the business unit, which Nick backs up in his AMA, but declined as he felt this was not an appropriate banner in which to report under.

Many had hoped that Ross’s AMA would have either named employees or provided internal documents that would back up his claims but none of these had surfaced at the time this article was written. Much of Ross’s accounts on his AMA flipped between 1st and 3rd person, detailing the breakdown in his mental and physical health due to the lack of support he feels he received from the ABC during the period starting three years so. There may be possible legal ramifications, but the lack of information supplied by Ross has made the water fairly muddy when it comes to the truth.

His claims are fruitful in that very little technical scrutiny on the NBN has been published, either on the ABC or in the mainstream media over the past three years, especially on the technology portal. Instead, much attention has been focused on the costings and business case for the network, which, while equally important, is generally bereft of context. People need to know what is being bought for their billions. I also disagree that in technical discussions there are two valid “sides” when there are objectively better options. This isn’t a war of social benefit – this is whether something works better/faster than the other.

As such, this debate has been largely carried by industry specific publications that have very little exposure to the wider community and are largely viewed in a bubble. Most of us in the local tech community already know the massive number of deficiencies in the current offering, as noted in our recent coverage, and it’s imperative that his information is provided to the community at large so they can understand.

We have reached out to Nick Ross for comment. 

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