Mideast - AFP
Australian radio admits to sarcasm but denies bias in Iraq war coverage
Mon Jul 21,12:31 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's public radio broadcaster conceded some of its reports on the Iraq war were sarcastic and excessive but denied government allegations its coverage of the conflict was anti-American.
The Australian government lodged 68 complaints against reports on the "AM" program, the flagship current affairs show of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), alleging anti-American bias.
The broadcaster rejected all but two of the complaints in a report issued Monday following an investigation by its complaints review committee.
"None of these instances amounted to evidence of systemic anti-American or anti-coalition and partisan reporting," investigators said in the report.
"The supported complaints were cases of speculative reporting that did not have any evidentiary support in the story that followed or a tendency towards sarcasm."
Communications Minister Richard Alston declined to comment until he had read the report.
Alston accused the ABC's Washington correspondent, John Shovelan, of adopting an anti-American bias during a story on US President George W Bush and another on the Pentagon.
The ABC conceded Shovelan's report about the Pentagon was sarcastic in tone and excessive.
Shovelan introduced the story with: "Oh the civility of this US military. The daily Pentagon briefing begins with an illustration of its mercy and kindness."
The ABC said the comment was "mocking in its manner and judgment".
In the second story, the ABC concluded the sensitivities of Bush could have been better expressed.
Shovelan said in his introduction: "White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the President hadn't watched the opening of the air offensive on television, an indication of just how sensitive he is to launching a massive bombing campaign in an area so heavily populated."
The ABC's report found that Fleischer had acknowledged Bush's sensitivity to launching the strike.
But it said "to link that sensitivity with the President having not watched television because he was sensitive about civilian casualties is speculative."
"None of these instances amounted to evidence of systemic anti-American or anti-coalition and partisan reporting," the ABC concluded.
The broadcaster's managing director, Russell Balding, described the coverage of the war by the "AM" program as "second to none".
"Overall, I believe our coverage of the conflict was balanced and delivered in a professional manner upholding the standards of objective journalism," Balding said.
Australia's opposition Labor party said Monday that Alston's attack on the ABC had "blown up in the government's face".
"The ABC found that Senator Alston was advocating a more passive if not deferential form of reporting. This is a major embarrassment for Senator Alston," said communications spokesman Lindsay Tanner.
The government's charges against its public broadcaster follow similar allegations by the British government against the BBC.
British Cabinet Minister John Reid has accused the BBC of acting like a 'friend of Baghdad' while Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the round-the-clock coverage distorted the public's view of events.
Australia sent some 2,000 troops to support to US-led military assault on Baghdad, with coalition sources claiming victory against the regime of Saddam Hussein in April.
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