ABC’s Justin Stevens defends Four Corners investigation after ACMA finds Fox News episodes breached code of practice

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ABC’s Justin Stevens defends Four Corners investigation after ACMA finds Fox News episodes breached code of practice

The ABC’s director of news, analysis and investigations has defended a Four Corners report after the Australian media watchdog found parts of it had breached the ABC’s code of practice.

The double episode, presented by Sarah Ferguson and titled Fox and the Big Lie, aired in 2021 and examined the role of US media outlet Fox News in propagating and legitimising Donald Trump’s allegations of election fraud in the 2020 US presidential election.

Fox made a formal complaint to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) after the program aired, alleging it had lacked impartiality, failed to present a diversity of views and contained “numerous provable falsehoods”.

After a year-long investigation, the ACMA failed to uphold most of Fox’s complaints, and found the program had not breached what it called the “high bar” set by the ABC’s impartiality standards.

However, it did find that the episodes had omitted relevant contextual information in two instances, firstly regarding the culpability of social media in encouraging the January 6 riots, and secondly regarding Fox’s censuring of two of its presenters for appearing at a 2018 Trump rally.

A mass of Donald Trump supporters swarm up the steps of the US Capitol as some attempt to gain entry through a blocked archway.
Donald Trump supporters storm the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021.(Reuters: Shannon Stapleton)

It also found that Four Corners had failed to sufficiently inform Fox host Jeanine Pirro of the nature of her participation in the program when approaching her with questions outside Fox News’ headquarters in New York.

“By omitting key information, the ABC did not give its audience the opportunity to make up their own minds about Fox News,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.

ABC has ‘serious concerns’ over findings

The ABC’s statement in response to the ACMA report said it had “consistently disagreed” with the three adverse findings during the course of the investigation.

Speaking to the ABC’s PM radio program on Wednesday afternoon, ABC news, analysis and investigations director Justin Stevens defended the Four Corners episodes, calling them an “outstanding piece of journalism” and raising concerns the findings could have serious implications for public interest journalism.

A man wearing glasses with his arms crossed looks at the camera in front of a city background.
The ABC’s director of news, analysis and investigations, Justin Stevens.(ABC News)

“The ACMA investigation rejected most of the wide-ranging complaints made by Fox News … [but] with the findings today we have serious concerns about them,” Mr Stevens said.

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