ABC's $670,000 to RMIT fact-checkers 'a waste'

September 25, 2023

25 September 2023
Sophie Elsworth
The Australian

The ABC has paid more than $670,000 to RMIT University as part of its joint fact-checking venture which examines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures and advocacy groups, but it has been described as a waste of Australian taxpayers’ money.

New figures reveal the ABC has paid the Melbourne-based institution $165,000 annually since 2020 to help fund staffing, equipment and operational resources.

The figures, obtained via a question on notice through the Senate from Liberal senator James Paterson, come as the fact-checking units remain under scrutiny after censoring editorial content published by Sky News Australia relating to the upcoming voice referendum.

The RMIT ABC Fact Check and RMIT FactLab departments, run by director Russell Skelton, came under fire last month after Sky News Australia revealed the hubs did not hold International Fact-Checking Network certification – it expired on December 2.

Senator Paterson said the public broadcaster was wasting Australian taxpayers’ money.

“More than half a million dollars of taxpayers money has been paid to a fact checker we now know isn’t even accredited to do its work and has been credibly accused of bias in the referendum,” he told The Australian.

“The ABC should urgently review its relationship with RMIT before any more dubious fact checks are used to silence the legitimate opinions of Australians about Anthony Albanese’s divisive Voice.”

The RMIT ABC Fact Check unit said its work “determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate”.

While it is a signatory to the IFCN’s code of principles, operations are not dependent on having signatory status with the network.

The RMIT’s FactLab hub states on its website that it’s a “fact-checking organisation and research hub dedicated to fact checking viral misinformation and disinformation and building critical awareness of the real-world harm that they can cause”.

Tech giant Meta last month suspended its partnership with the organisation after complaints about voice referendum bias.

A video editorial by Sky News presenter Peta Credlin was slapped with a “false information” tag after it stated the Uluru Statement from the Heart was not a single page, but 26 pages long.

The tag meant the video could no longer be viewed. Meta’s regional director of policy, Mia Garlick, said once the tech giant became aware the organisation did not

have current IFCN accreditation and the company received complaints about voice bias, a decision was made to suspend their partnership, effective immediately.

The RMIT FactLab has previously said it worked “hand-in-hand” with RMIT ABC Fact Check but this reference has since been deleted from its website.

The ABC will receive $5.5bn over the next five years and an RMIT spokeswoman said the money paid by the ABC to the fact-checking departments was important.

“RMIT ABC Fact Check is a jointly funded partnership between RMIT University and the ABC,” she said.

“Its work focuses on the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate.

“The funding from the ABC to RMIT University contributes to the operation of the RMIT ABC Fact Check team, including staffing, equipment, library resources, office space and facilities, and operational costs.”

The unit is advertising for a senior fact checker and in the online job description it states: “We are not about pushing any agenda but arming the public with the facts to make informed decisions.”

The RMIT ABC Fact Check department on Friday issued a fact-check on comments made by Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price about the negative impacts of colonisation.

In the article published on the ABC’s website it said she also, “dismissed the notion of intergenerational trauma, that is, where a person’s traumatic experience affects their children and other descendants — as a result of colonisation.

“But experts disagree, and numerous scientific studies and articles contradict her comments.” The ABC would not comment.

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