Macworld Australia are quite passionate about the NBN if recent comments are to be believed. Many of us rely on our national broadcaster for coverage of important events so it would be somewhat surprising to hear that coverage of the NBN prior to the 2013 federal election might have been stifled, of not outright censored.
The ABC’s former Technology and Games editor, Nick Ross, has said during a recent Reddit AMA that he was directed to not publish stories relating to the NBN roll out.
Specifically, Ross researched and wrote an article commenting on the ability of the existing copper network to be used for a high-speed network – revelations that have since been found to be true with significant remediation required to upgrade the copper to support high-speed communications.
During the AMA, Ross said “I recorded subsequent meetings. I’ve literally got them on tape saying “the NBN is dead and so there’s no point in making a fuss” four months before the election and using that as an excuse not to publish the copper article”.
This is on the back of pressure and direction, according to Ross, to not publish articles critical of the Liberal/National Party coalition’s NBN policy.
This is clearly a very complex debate. Having read Ross’ long thesis on the NBN and the subsequent treatment he received on MediaWatch, which found Ross crossed a line between reporting and advocacy, it’s clear Ross was passionate about the NBN and took a particular position.
In the AMA, there’s also a suggestion the workplace counselling he received, which ought to have been confidential was used against him. He was also not given any right of reply or an opportunity to present his own side of the story following the MediaWatch story.
It’s important, in my view, to note that it’s not a journalist’s responsibility to consider two sides of an argument to be equal. Where one side of an argument is stronger than the other, as supported by research and evidence, it is entirely reasonable for the writer to draw a conclusion.
Did Ross go too far? In my view he may have crossed a line but his research stands up and has been scrutinised by many.
What is of great concern to me is that a media outlet, the state outlet in this case, might have stifled debate and withheld information that was important to the electorate. It’s worth noting that in 2013 it was obvious to everyone that a change of government was imminent and previous clashes between Ross and then Communications Minister (and the super-boss of the ABC) Malcolm Turnbull might have impacted the ABC’s funding.
It’s telling that in three subsequent appearances on the ABC’s Q & A program, Turnbull, who subsequently rose to the office of Prime Minister, was not asked once about the NBN.