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Statement: ABC responds to Pell 'witch hunt' claims

David Knox, 21 April, 2020

The ABC has posted a lengthy response to claims it led a “witch hunt” in its coverage of Cardinal George Pell, citing examples of Pell supporters in ABC broadcasts.

Media Watch also assessed ABC coverage and while it concluded the coverage could have demonstrated more balance, it also dismissed claims of a with hunt. You can see that report here.

Last week Pell told The Bolt Report, “I believe in free speech, I acknowledge the right of those who differ from me to state their views. But, in a national broadcaster to have an overwhelming presentation of one view and only one view, I think that’s a betrayal of the national interest.”

“The ABC has always acted in the public interest in reporting on the police investigation into Cardinal George Pell and in investigating other allegations made against him. The ABC firmly rejects claims that it pursued a “witch hunt” against Cardinal Pell, that it engaged in “vigilante” journalism or that it’s coverage was one-sided or unfair,” ABC said in its statement.

“At every stage of this story the ABC has presented a wide range of opinions on the case. At every stage of the court process the ABC has reported the legal proceedings objectively, accurately and impartially. In discussions and analysis it has always sought a full range of perspectives on related issues.”

ABC stated it always sought responses from Cardinal Pell, his supporters and independent experts.

It was Melbourne’s Herald Sun in 2016 that revealed that a police investigation had begun, and 7:30 subsequently covered the story.

ABC claimed an exhaustive review by senior ABC management and legal counsel were followed, including for major investigations by Four Corners and the recent Revelation series.

ABC maintains 80 different voices/interviews/reactions were used across RN Breakfast, RN Drive, the Religion & Ethics Report website, 7.30, AM, The World Today, PM, The Drum, ABC Melbourne Mornings, ABC Melbourne Drive and in the analysis/opinion section in ABC News Digital.

“A rough breakdown reveals the following broad categories:

“26 of those interviewed could reasonably be categorised as independent, impartial reporters and observers either here in Australia or overseas (notably including Vatican watchers) 14 were sexual abuse survivors or their family members 13 were unofficial voices from within the Catholic Church – priests or parishioners 10 were lawyers or legal experts providing dispassionate analysis 8 were experts in the field of child sexual abuse generally 7 were lawyers representing the accusers 5 were official church or Vatican spokesmen”

ABC also claimed Archbishop Comensoli and Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge both declined invitations to appear on 7:30 and added that Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, former Prime Minister John Howard and Father Bob Maguire all declined invitations or were unavailable.

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