Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Australian public broadcaster uses "Have you stopped beating your wife" question to imply that mining is allowed on the Barrier Reef
COMMUNICATIONS Minister Malcolm Turnbull says an ABC survey question about mining in waters near the Great Barrier Reef “does not appear to be accurate” but placed responsibility on the broadcaster’s board of directors.
The ABC was accused last week of “push polling” with a “mischievous” question in an online Queensland election survey, which asked voters how much mining activity they thought should be permitted in the waters around the reef.
The possible answers included “much more”, “somewhat more”, “about the same as now”, “somewhat less”, “much less” or “don’t know”.
The question was included in the broadcaster’s Vote Compass poll — an online venture with the University of Queensland and Canadian research firm Vox Pop Labs — which matches respondents’ policy leanings with the parties’ policies.
“The policy about mining on the Great Barrier Reef is quite clear and the way it was described or summarised in that question does not appear to be accurate to me,” Mr Turnbull said. “But the responsibility for ensuring the ABC news and information is accurate and impartial is up to the board of directors.”
The Whitlam government ruled the 344,400sq km Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off-limits to mining in 1975.
Mr Turnbull said he did not want to give a “running commentary” on the ABC but told The Australian: “Their act is very, very clear. “Under Section 8, the responsibility of ensuring that the ABC’s news and information is accurate and impartial lies with the board of directors.
“The ABC is a government broadcaster, it belongs to government, but we don’t control the editorial line.”
Last week, Liberal National Party senator Matt Canavan demanded the “mischievous” question be removed and accused the ABC of “push polling” by using the survey to influence votes. “That question-and-answer set indicates to any reasonable person that the Queensland government allows mining in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef,” he said. “It’s a bit like asking a question on public urination. Should you do it somewhat less, somewhat more, much less, much more? The question is absurd. “That behaviour is prohibited, the way mining in the GBR is prohibited.”
The ABC has declined to change the question, claiming “mining activity” includes more than actual mining.
Vox Pop Labs director Cliff van der Linden supported the ABC’s position, saying the LNP was sent the questions ahead of time to provide its answers and it was “implicit” the party could have challenged the wording of the questions.
In an opinion piece for the ABC’s The Drum, Mr van der Linden said the “fundamental shortcoming” with Senator Canavan’s argument was there was no acknowledgment of mining activity near the Great Barrier Reef that “extends well beyond drilling”.
“This includes but is not limited to shipping lanes through the reef for coal exports, demands by mines on the local water supply, and the recently scrapped proposal to dump dredge from coal port developments on the Great Barrier Reef,” he wrote.
“Asking Vote Compass users about how much mining activity should be permitted in the waters around the Great Barrier is thus a perfectly legitimate question.”