A while ago now I reported on one of the rare cases where the Australian Communications and Media Authority had actually used its powers to make a finding against tabloid tv current affairs shows. The main issue, as I saw it, was slowness. It had taken almost three years from broadcast to finding.

Well, today ACMA has done it, or rather not done it, again.

In Investigation Report 1912, the regulator has made a finding against an episode of the Channel Nine program A Current Affair broadcast, wait for it, in July 2007. That is, nearly two years ago!

Justice delayed is justice denied. How is any process that is so slow moving meant to act as a meaningful deterrent or means of regulation? Producers can live or die, reporters can move on, before any penalty is applied. The process becomes a joke.

And in this case, there is no meaningful penalty. Because ACMA is in discussions with the industry over the relevant code of practice, no action will be taken in the matter – despite the finding that A Current Affair presented factual material innacurately and failed to correct significant errors of fact!

How on earth does the fact that discussions are underway about the Code alter the situation here? Is it suggested that the new code will say that misrepresentation and failing to correct errors is okay?

The complaint concerned a segment called “Foreign Doctors”, which suggested that patients were being put at risk by doctors who did not have the same level of education and traning as their Australian educated counterparts. As the presenter said:

“Australia relies on overseas trained doctors, but after a series of scandals, can we trust them?

The complainant was one of the so-called foreign trained doctors who was mentioned in the program. In fact, as he told ACMA, he possesses all relevant Australian qualifications. Channel Nine tried to get out of this by saying that  he did have foreign qualifications as well, so they weren’t actually wrong.

ACMA wasn’t buying it, finding that the program failed to present material accurately by omitting the information about the doctor’s Australian qualfiications.

Channel Nine has promised to include the findings in its regular training programs for news and current affairs, and conduct immediate training in relation to the findings for A Current Affair staff. I wonder if anyone ever follows up to see if this has actually been done? In my experience, commercial television newsrooms aren’t all that big on training.

But to take so long over a complaint, then to fail to administer even a slap on the wrist makes our broadcasting regulator look irrelevant.

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