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ABC apologises after FWCA complaint

Forest & Wood Communities Australia has scored a win in the battle against activism in the media with the ABC conceding that it had misrepresented the timber industry in its article Deforestation in Australia: how does your state (or territory) compare?

FWCA lodged a complaint with the ABC detailing many issues with the way the article’s author had portrayed the timber industry in effectively labelling it deforestation.

FWCA Managing Director Justin Law said it was a relief to know that there were people at the ABC still committed to fair and reasonable reporting.

“The author of the article has an anti-forestry agenda that is clearly evident in the way this article was compiled,” Mr Law said.

“To have that recognised by the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs Department is important and hopefully will lead to more balanced reporting of forestry issues.

“All we want is a fair go and for claims about forestry to be properly investigated before they are reported as fact.”

Mr Law said FWCA will continue to keep a close eye on the media’s treatment of forestry issues.

“Corporate activists have made an industry out of manipulating the media to twist public opinion about sustainable forestry,” he said.

“We will continue to hold to account the media outlets which fail to properly do their job in looking behind the sensationalism and finding the truth.”

The published retraction:

Out complaint is detailed here.

The response:

“Your complaint has been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content making areas within the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards. These standards are explained in our Editorial Policies: We have carefully considered your complaint, sought information from ABC Science and assessed the article against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and impartiality. Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that the article did not meet the requirements of the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and impartiality.

On accuracy, ABC Science accepts that:

  • the article conflated land clearing with deforestation; the inaccurate references to deforestation, including in the title of the story, have been now been corrected;
  • reasonable efforts were not made to verify images purporting to show illegal logging; that footage has now been removed;
  • inadequate context was provided regarding forestry, including that commercial forestry activities regrow / replant trees; this context has now been included in the story;
  • inadequate context was provided in the Victoria and Tasmania sections which had the effect of overstating the role of native forest logging in land clearing; this context has now been included in the story;
  • inadequate context was provided in reference to the Regional Forestry Agreements (RFAs); the fact that RFAs have environmental protections has now been made clear;
  • the definition of woody vegetation under the National Greenhouse Accounts guidelines has been corrected.

The inaccuracies and lack of context in the article had the effect of unduly highlighting the role of commercial forestry activities in land clearing, and was therefore was not in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for impartiality. In addition to the corrections noted above, an Editor’s Note has been appended to the article and a correction has been published on the ABC News Corrections & Clarifications page. In keeping with Audience and Consumer Affairs’ usual practices, a summary of this finding will be published on the Upheld Complaints page and reported to the ABC Board. The ABC apologises for these serious editorial lapses.

Your complaint also raises broad concerns about the use of the NGA data in the article, and that the rate of land clearing in the story is overstated. ABC Science have explained that the NGA data was used because it is the only available government data based on a nationally consistent methodology. Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that it was reasonable to use the NGA data, and we note that it was made clear that according to the NGA data: “there has been a net increase in tree cover” during the reporting period.

Thank you once again for bringing your concerns to our attention.”