ABC RMIT fact checking partnership ends. Will the new service fare better?

ABC RMIT fact checking partnership ends. Will the new service fare better?

This year the ABC ended its seven year Fact Check collaboration with RMIT University, despite it being the most trusted of Australian fact checking services

ABC RMIT Fact Check Logo

Cost was a factor. The ABC may also have been influenced by intense criticisms by conservative politicians and commentators over fact checks during the voice referendum campaign. 

In February, ABC management informed staff that RMIT ABC Fact Check would be replaced by an internal fact-checking team, known as ABC News Verify. This new team of specialists will be part of the Investigative Journalism and Current Affairs team led by Jo Puccini, Head of Investigations and Current Affairs.

The ABC has so far not commented on whether this new team will fact check claims made by MPs, which was a strong and popular focus of RMIT ABC Fact Check, whose brief was to investigate the “accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate”.

“Throughout its history the ABC has been pestered, bullied and threatened by politicians. At a time when trust in the media is at an all-time low, it is essential that it continue to expose lies and misinformation. We expect no less from our public broadcaster,” said Cassandra Parkinson, President of ABC Friends. 

At the time of the announcement, the ABC was contributing $350,000 a year to the RMIT partnership.

The ABC’s previous internal fact checking unit was disbanded due to budget cuts in 2016, one year before the RMIT ABC collaboration revived the service under the leadership of Russell Skelton.

During the Voice referendum, RMIT ABC Fact Check was wrongly drawn into a public row fuelled by conservative commentators and MPs of accusations of bias against RMIT FactLab, which is not connected to the RMIT ABC partnership. 

A combined fact checking service and research hub, RMIT FactLab, seeks to check viral misinformation and disinformation and raise awareness of the resulting harm. After demands that Facebook remove it from its misinformation program, RMIT FactLab was temporarily suspended by Meta.

La Trobe University Professor Andrea Carson – a former ABC radio journalist – said a recent study of public trust in RMIT ABC Fact Check, RMIT FactLab, AAP and Reuters Fact Check showed that the soon-to-be disbanded service was the most trusted.

Writing in The Conversation, Professor Carson said, however, that this was not the response of respondents who identified as politically right-wing, with many such respondents saying that facts being presented to them would not prevent them sharing posts they still believed to be true. 

Professor Carson said that such resistance may be a key reason behind a global move away from public broadcasters funding fact checking services. 

And, she warned, the “politicisation” of fact checking will also have an impact on the success of ABC News Verify.

“Our study’s findings suggest that accusations of left-wing bias levelled at the ABC, particularly by right-wing partisans, may intersect with its fact-checking role with RMIT, and foreshadows criticisms that its new unit might encounter.”

Fact checkers, Professor Carson writes, are one of the necessary tools to mitigate misinformation and disinformation, along with “bolstering public media literacy, regulating platforms, supporting quality journalism, and fostering collaboration among policymakers, politicians, academics, technology platforms, and civil society to promote responsible discourse”.

Read the full article here.

Sophie Arnold
Enews Editor