ABC’s election coverage balanced: Rehame monitoring study

The verdict is in from Rehame on the ABC’s contentious election coverage monitoring.

Rehame found the ABC provided 44.6% ‘share of voice’ to the Coalition and 43.5% ‘share of voice’ to the Australian Labor Party, a difference of only 1.1%. The Greens received 4.4% share of voice and the
Democrats received an average of 3.5%.

According to Rehame: “These results demonstrate an even balance in the ABC’s media coverage for
the duration of the 2004 Federal Election campaign.”

Every election, the ABC routinely establishes a monitoring group (ECRC) to assess coverage, and each editorial team assesses share of voice by candidates and party officials as the campaign progresses, with the aim of ensuring balanced coverage.

During the most recent election campaign an extra element was added when the ABC requested that an outside company, Rehame, also monitor its coverage. Many ABC staff saw this as a vote of no confidence in the old internal system, while ABC management argued that it would provide a neutral ‘third party’ assessment of coverage.

In its detailed coverage Rehame concluded:

“Principal daily national election coverage programs achieved high levels of
equity in terms of share of voice for candidates from parties with the capacity
to form government.

AM, for example, with nearly four hours of candidates
speaking, achieved a share of voice of 48% for the Coalition and 48.3% for the
ALP. PM, with nearly four and a half hours of candidate speech, achieved
45.7% for the Coalition and 45.8% for the ALP.

“With nearly 50 hours of candidate voice time, NewsRadio had 43% to the
Coalition and 42.1% to the ALP.

“On ABC TV the current affairs
programs had a wider variance with the 7.30 Report having 48% share of voice
to the Coalition and 43.6% to the ALP.”

Research was also undertaken on ‘party favourability,’ which was one of the most contentious issues for staff.

‘Favourability’ measures how party spokespeople use their airtime whether to speak favourably about their party and policies or to speak unfavourably about other parties and
their policies.

The results for Radio were:

Coalition favourable – 33.6%

Coalition unfavourable – 12.0%

ALP favourable – 30.9%

ALP unfavourable – 8.8%

Complaints from listeners and viewers in the 2004 campaign amounted to 993
contacts (telephone, email and letter). This contrasts with the 2001 Federal
Election when 1542 contacts were received.

The Chairman of the Election Coverage Review Committee, Murray Green says:

“The ABC’s coverage of the 2004 Federal Election was extensive,
comprehensive and competent. Overall, the editorial expectations of accuracy,
impartiality and balance were met.

It was unprecedented, to my knowledge, in ABC federal election coverage
that, for the 2004 campaign, no written complaints were received from the
campaign headquarters of any party.”