ABC’s Sarah Ferguson slams media regulator’s ‘nonsensical’ findings on Fox programme

The ACMA eventually dismissed Fox’s complaint about Ferguson’s tone during the report, but agreed that she used “emotional and strident language” and held up her description of the January 6 rioters as a “mob” as an example.

“That’s just silly, that was a mob, we all saw it, everyone calls it a mob. What is it if it’s not a mob?” Ferguson asked.

Four people died on Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the riots, and a Capitol Police officer died the day after they defended Congress.

Four people died on Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the riots, and a Capitol Police officer died the day after they defended Congress.Credit:AP

“I don’t understand how an organization as reputable as ACMA, with such an important role, could come to such a nonsensical conclusion. I’d really like to know what the process was like and the conversation that led to some of the language being included in it and certainly to the creation of the press release because that doesn’t sound like normal ACMA to me.”

The ACMA also blamed the ABC for not reporting that two Fox hosts, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, had been reprimanded for appearing at a Trump rally in 2018.

Then-US President Donald Trump watches Fox News' Sean Hannity at a Trump rally in 2018.

Then-US President Donald Trump watches Fox News’ Sean Hannity at a Trump rally in 2018.Credit:Caroline Kaster

“This omission left viewers open to the conclusion that Fox News either supported the performances or at least did not object to them,” the ACMA said.

A Fox News spokesperson released a statement at the time, saying the “unfortunate distraction” had “been addressed” and “Fox News does not condone talent attending campaign events.”

But Ferguson said that statement was “empty PR.”

“That statement didn’t name Hannity, she didn’t name Pirro, she didn’t say anything about any form of censure or consequences or punishment or behavior change — nothing,” Ferguson said.

“We went to Fox and said, ‘We know about this statement, but can you tell us what actually happened? What did you say to Hannity and Pirro, what were the consequences?’”

Jeanine Pirro at the CPAC conference in Sydney in 2019.

Jeanine Pirro at the CPAC conference in Sydney in 2019.Credit:Edwina cucumbers

She said Fox declined to answer questions, referencing the 2018 statement.

“We felt that an old press release that said nothing wasn’t good enough for the Australian audience and so we decided not to include it and that remains my view,” Ferguson said.

The agency also said an exchange in which Ferguson approached Pirro on the streets of New York and asked the Fox personality if she still believed the voting machine companies had rigged the election violated the code because they ” failed to adequately inform them of the nature of their participation in the program”.

Ferguson said this was “remarkably excessive” and a “black” application of the code to an exchange that was spontaneous and routine in journalism.


“She didn’t take part in the program, she had seen who we were, she’s an experienced performer, she chose not to say anything – to make sure I didn’t have material to make sure she didn’t take part,” said you.

“The idea that I would be out on the street at this point and say a whole bunch of things about who we were and what the program was is just not how journalism works.”

ACMA also said that Ferguson violated the ABC code by not including the role of social media in the riot.

But Ferguson said the whole point of their investigation is to focus on News Corps Fox’s role.

“The opening words of my opening piece on camera in episode one were, ‘Fox didn’t send the mob,'” she said.

“We live in a complex world where people are bombarded with information and decisions about editorial focus are more important than ever.

“The idea that ACMA should be taking action against us for not taking up other issues actually has repercussions and we need to look at that and make sure they aren’t in a position to do that again.”

Ferguson said that while all television content producers wish they had done something differently or better, she hasn’t strayed from the way she approached her investigative journalism.

“We were very proud of it, and I still am,” she said.

A spokesman for the ACMA said that when investigating programs, the agency generally evaluated the complaint material, the broadcaster’s submissions and the content of the program “in accordance with the relevant provisions of the broadcasting industry’s code of conduct.”

The spokesman said that in this case, the agency assessed the episode against the standards of accuracy, impartiality and fair and honest dealing in the public broadcaster’s code of conduct.

“The Standard 4 rating [impartiality] asked the ACMA to consider a number of factors, including the reporter’s questioning style and her use of language,” the rep said, adding that Ferguson “posed probing questions throughout the interviews but maintained a measured tone overall.”

“Your presentation style corresponded to what viewers would expect from an investigative current affairs program such as four cornerswhere the audience would expect the solid presentation of an argument involving contentious issues.”

A spokesman for FOX News said the ruling reinforces the company’s view that the ABC program’s central premise was “built on the basis of patent bias and lack of impartiality.”

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Brian Lowry

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