ABC rejects claims it was ‘swamped’ by complaints about King Charles III coronation coverage

The ABC was not “swamped” by complaints about its coverage of Charles III’s coronation, the broadcaster has said in response to media claims of an unprecedented number of complaints after the broadcast included a discussion about the impacts of colonialism.

The ABC says it received a total of 169 “good faith” responses from viewers, 59 of which have been referred to the ABC ombudsman for a possible breach of editorial standards.

According to the ABC’s official figures, the total number of audience contacts about the eight-hour coronation broadcast was 1,832 but 1,663 of those were discarded because they were comments not requiring a response – such as criticism of a presenter’s outfit – or they were “racist, abusive or insubstantial”.

The number of “good faith” complaints – defined as those which are an honest complaint about the content – has emerged after journalist Stan Grant stood down from the ABC’s Q+A program after racist abuse which escalated after he appeared on the coronation broadcast.

Last week the director of ABC News, Justin Stevens, took aim at the “usual sections of the media” for stirring up hate by distorting Grant’s contribution to the debate when he appeared on the coronation coverage panel, which was hosted by Jeremy Fernandez and Julia Baird.

Stevens said sections of the media engaged in a “piling on” with “a clear agenda” and that they played a part in “amplifying and giving agency” to racist trolls on social media.

The discussion panel was one hour within eight hours of the coronation broadcast and was programmed to ensure the Indigenous perspective on the crown was discussed.

Guardian Australia understands senior executives at the ABC acknowledge it may have been a mistake to schedule the discussion so close to the coronation, but do not resile from the discussion itself.

The remaining 110 good faith complaints of the 169 were not related to possible editorial breaches and will not be referred to the ombudsman. Some included programming matters, including the timing of when the coronation panel was scheduled.

The 59 referrals is a relatively small number when compared with some of the more contentious ABC programs over the years including The Chaser’s “Make a Realistic Wish” skit in 2009, which had 2,000 legitimate complaints investigated for editorial compliance.

In The Chaser’s case the program – in which children playing terminally ill patients were told their Make-a-Wish-style requests were excessive – was found to have breached editorial standards and apologies and demotions followed.

The ABC denies it was “swamped” with complaints about the coronation coverage.

“The ABC does not consider racist and abusive interactions as being good faith complaints, and we believe it is inappropriate for other media to report them as being good faith complaints,” an ABC spokesperson told Guardian Australia.

Complaints not requiring a response are complaints in which viewers wish to relay a comment but they don’t ask for a response or an investigation.

Related: News Corp denies it played a part in Stan Grant’s decision to leave Q+A amid racist attacks

Only complaints which involve the ABC’s editorial policies, and relate to issues of such as bias, accuracy, impartiality and diversity of perspectives, are investigated by the ABC ombudsman, Fiona Cameron.

The Australian has suggested the number of complaints about the ABC’s coronation coverage was “completely unheard of”.

In 2021 the ABC received more than 400 complaints over its coverage of Prince Philip’s death after the breaking news on a Friday night interrupted an episode of the much-loved TV show Vera.

More than three-quarters related to the interruption of Vera and other complaints were about other matters, such as the duration of the coverage.

Much of the commentary about the ABC across News Corp characterised the coronation coverage as dominated by Grant’s “successive tirades” and the “black armband” view of history.

News Corp Australia has denied it played a part in Grant’s decision to stand down from hosting Q+A and has accused Stevens of misleading and unsubstantiated claims.