A lot of people make the argument that the ABC is required “by law” to be impartial. Tonight Andrew Bolt was making the argument. But it’s not quite true.
It is entirely correct to point to section 6 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 when arguing about ABC bias.
Charter of the Corporation
(1) The functions of the Corporation are:
(a) to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard as part of the Australian broadcasting system consisting of national, commercial and community sectors and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, to provide:
(i) broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community; and
(ii) broadcasting programs of an educational nature;
(b) to transmit to countries outside Australia broadcasting programs of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment that will:
(i) encourage awareness of Australia and an international understanding of Australian attitudes on world affairs; and
(ii) enable Australian citizens living or travelling outside Australia to obtain I nformation about Australian affairs and Australian attitudes on world affairs; and
(ba) to provide digital media services; and
(c) to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.
Note: See also section 31AA (Corporation or prescribed companies to be the only providers of Commonwealth-funded international broadcasting services).
(2) In the provision by the Corporation of its broadcasting services within Australia:
(a) the Corporation shall take account of:
(i) the broadcasting services provided by the commercial and community sectors of the Australian broadcasting system;
(ii) the standards from time to time determined by the ACMA in respect of broadcasting services;
(iii) the responsibility of the Corporation as the provider of an independent national broadcasting service to provide a balance between broadcasting programs of wide appeal and specialized broadcasting programs;
(iv) the multicultural character of the Australian community; and
(v) in connection with the provision of broadcasting programs of an educational nature–the responsibilities of the States in relation to education; and
(b) the Corporation shall take all such measures, being measures consistent with the obligations of the Corporation under paragraph (a), as, in the opinion of the Board, will be conducive to the full development by the Corporation of suitable broadcasting programs.
(3) The functions of the Corporation under subsection (1) and the duties imposed on the Corporation under subsection (2) constitute the Charter of the Corporation.
(4) Nothing in this section shall be taken to impose on the Corporation a duty that is enforceable by proceedings in a court.
Notice a few things:
First – section 6(4) – the Charter is not enforceable in a court of law.
Second – there is no enforcement mechanism.
Third – there is no penalty for failure to comply with the section of the act.
So while the Charter is contained within a piece of legislation, it is not law. It imposes no duty to act, or refrain from acting, and it imposes no penalty for failure to comply with the provisions of the Act. In fact, section 6(4) explicitly excludes the courts from enforcing the ABC Charter. No wonder the ABC routinely ignores its charter – there is no duty upon them to follow it.
Also note the reference to section 31AA – when I refer to the ABC as being the Australian government’s official news agency, I’m not taking a cheap shot.