The ABC’s outgoing technology editor today claimed he had been “gagged” by the broadcaster from publishing further articles about the National Broadband Network, after several initial articles heavily criticised the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix model.
Since April 2010, experienced technology journalist Nick Ross (pictured, right) has been the leading technology journalist at the ABC as the editor of its Technology and Games sub-site. Ross is considered a veteran tech writer in Australia, having worked for a number of other outlets, including serving as the editor of PC Authority Magazine.
In 2013, the journalist came under heavy fire from other media outlets and political figures for publishing a number of articles which were heavily critical of the Coalition’s rival NBN policy, developed by then-Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
At the time, The Australian newspaper published several articles claiming Ross had failed to meet the ABC’s editorial policies. Turnbull himself accused the ABC in mid-2012 of “creating relentless propaganda” to support Labor’s NBN policy and singled out Ross for particular criticism.
The issue was raised during the regular Senate Estimates process, and then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy heavily criticised both The Australian newspaper and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for what they said were “outrageous” attempts to vilify and discipline Ross.
Since the events, Ross has published no new articles about the NBN, leading to speculation that ABC management had requested him not to cover the topic.
Ross has stated that he has taken a “scientific” approach to analysis of the NBN, and many Australian technologists hold a strongly positive view of the journalist’s NBN coverage, regarding him as one of the few journalists in the mainstream media to have taken an evidence-based approach to analysing the rival NBN policies.
However, Ross is regarded by Coalition figures and some independent industry figures as being broadly biased towards Labor’s near-universal fibre model for the NBN and against the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix approach.
The ABC’s own Media Watch investigated Ross’ coverage in March 2013, largely vindicating Ross’s approach (with a few caveats).
Host Jonathan Holmes found that Ross, using his expertise and specialist knowledge of the NBN topic, had delivered analysis grounded in reporting work, using hundreds of reports and other sources; and had no political affiliations to weigh him down. In addition, he noted that mainstream media outlets such as The Australian Financial Review and The Australian newspapers had taken a broadly negative approach to the NBN; in contrast, he noted strong ABC reader support for Ross’s work.
However, Holmes also found that Ross had stepped a little over the line with his coverage, entering into the realms of advocacy for the NBN. But that conclusion was mainly a technicality in terms of the ABC’s stringent internal guidelines, he said.
Today on Twitter, Ross noted that he had “left the ABC” and could “potentially write about NBN again”. Asked point blank whether he had been “gagged”, Ross answered: “Yes”.
“I also don’t have to let any public lies/criticism about me go unanswered anymore, can be more active on social media and also I have no requirement to fend off all your questions about what happened to me over the past three years any more,” he added.
Ross is considering carrying out a questions and answer-style ‘AMA’ with social networking site Reddit to go through the issues with his NBN coverage.
In the wake of Ross’s departure, the ABC has deleted the Technology and Games sub-site which he had edited, forwarding readers instead to the technology section of its news website.
“At the end of the day I’ve already been lied about and had my reputation sullied by major media entities & pollies already,” he wrote.
The ABC has issued the following statement in response to Ross’s claim:
“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.
The ABC does not “gag” the coverage of any issues or topics of public importance. 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.”
Delimiter believes it was ABC head of current affairs Bruce Belsham who spoke to Ross about the NBN coverage issue.
The furore around Ross’s NBN articles are not the only time the ABC’s coverage of the NBN has come into question.
In May 2014, for example, Delimiter revealed that the ABC delayed publishing an article by Lateline co-host Emma Alberici starkly critical of the Coalition’s rival National Broadband Network policy until after the 2013 Federal Election.
An analysis conducted by Delimiter in May 2014 of the NBN-related coverage of three of the ABC’s top flagship current affairs programs over the preceding 18 months found that only one — Lateline — covered the issue regularly or in any detail, while others such as 7:30 and Q&A have almost completely ignored the issue in that period, despite regular appearances by the Coalition’s communications policy leader Malcolm Turnbull.
For example, in April 2014, the ABC’s flagship panel discussion program Q&A appeared to actively censor the National Broadband Network issue from being discussed on an episode featuring Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull; ignoring a flood of questions from viewers prior to its filming, leaving the issue out of pre-show briefing documents and shutting down discussion on air.
I suspect we will be hearing more from Ross shortly on this topic.