ABC reverses editorial decisions on Capitol breach and Craig Kelly Covid posts

Ben Butler
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Danny Casey/AAP</span>
Photograph: Danny Casey/AAP

The ABC has reversed two editorial decisions about its reporting on the assault on the US Capitol and misinformation about Covid-19 spread by the MP Craig Kelly.

On Tuesday Mark Maley, the ABC’s manager of editorial policy, banned unattributed use of the word “insurrection” in news reporting to describe the 6 January attack.

But by Wednesday afternoon the ABC had reversed its position, with Maley issuing fresh guidance admitting there was “overwhelming prima facie evidence” that the Capitol attack, in which five people were killed, qualified as an insurrection.

Related: Craig Kelly decries censorship but blocks dissenting voices from his Facebook page, constituents say

In an email to news and current affairs staff sent on Tuesday morning, Maley said that “many US Democrats and a small number of Republicans are calling the events of 6 January an ‘insurrection’ and that is what is going to be alleged in the impeachment [of Trump]”.

“But the term is disputed and it is not established as fact that what happened fits the definition of insurrection,” he said. “We should not be using the word without some form of attribution.”

However, on Wednesday afternoon Maley withdrew his edict.

Citing reporting by US media overnight and “what everyone saw at the time”, he said there was “now overwhelming prima facie evidence of ‘insurrection’ as defined in US law and in the Macquarie Dictionary”.

He said the word could now be used without attribution in news analysis pieces but in straight news reporting he “still strongly preferred that use of the word ‘insurrection’ is attributed or qualified”.

Maley did not explain to staff why they should continue to attribute the word insurrection to another person or qualify its use when the ABC now accepted that an insurrection had taken place. Maley did not respond to Guardian Australia’s request for an explanation.

“The ABC routinely provides editorial guidance to staff to ensure the highest standard of reporting,” an ABC spokesperson said.

The move came after the US joint chiefs of staff issued a statement describing the attack on the Capitol as “violence, sedition and insurrection”.

The national broadcaster also described government backbencher Kelly’s untruths about Covid-19 as “unofficial information” in the headline of a news article published on Tuesday.

The article was later updated to replace the reference with “misleading coronavirus information”.

The article, which was about acting prime minister Michael McCormack and health minister Greg Hunt’s response to Kelly’s use of social media, was initially headlined “McCormack, Hunt, refuse to condemn Liberal MP for spreading unofficial Covid-19 information”.

However, this was later changed to “Senior Government figures refuse to condemn Craig Kelly for spreading misleading coronavirus information”.

The ABC’s spokesman declined to say when the change was made or why.