An interesting landmark in Australian media ethics today, particularly given the headlines about Rupert Murdoch’s troubles and the News of the World.

Today is the day that the new ABC editorial policies come into force. As covered by Crikey previously, this is the product of a comprehensive shake-up, with the pre-existing large and wordy booklet, which it is probably safe to say was not exactly carried next to the heart of ABC staff, replaced by a slim 22 page booklet of principles and standards, reinforced by non-binding guidance notes.

And what would the ABC Ed Pols say about what Rupert Murdoch’s lieutenants are accused of doing?

Principle Five, which about Fair and Honest Dealing, is of relevance. It prohibits secret recording devices, misrepresentation and other types of deception except where

“justified in the public interest and the material cannot reasonably be obtained by any other means; or consent is obtained from the subject, or identities are effectively obscured.”

And as well as this there is the golden ABC oldie of upward referral, which makes it clear that the boss would have to sign off on any use of material gained through deception or secret recording. The guidance note suggests this would be Managing Director Mark Scott himself. ABC Legal would also be involved. That, I would say, makes phone hacking a complete no-no.

The booklet also has something to say about privacy. It is “necessary to human dignity” and the ABC seeks to balance the public interest with right to privacy. Any intrusion must be justified by the public interest, and “proportionate in the circumstances”. Again, phone hacking would seem to be ruled out.

Common sense really. But then it is also the case that the ABC is one of the only media organisations that actually takes  things like ethics policies seriously.

So much for that. What’s new in the ABC zoo?

The many ABC reporters who are concerned about what constitutes balance in reporting climate change are particularly excited about the explicit statement that in applying impartiality standards, the ABC is guided by hallmarks of objectivity including:

“a balance that follows the weight of the evidence” (emphasis added)

Now, these new Ed Pols have been signed off by the Board, which must mean that Chairman Maurice Newman regards them as consistent with his concern that ABC reporters not be guilty of “group think” on climate change.

What a relief. I’d say the weight of evidence should also put paid to the idea that climate sceptics are automatically entitled to the same shake of the stick as that given to the weight of scientific opinion. ABC types have been claiming that this is the case for a while, as I reported a week or so ago. But now it is explicit.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out in practice, particularly given the propensity of some sceptics to scream bias, and use the ABC’s complaints procedure to do so.

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