The former technology editor of the ABC's website has claimed he was gagged from writing about the National Broadband Network because management "didn't want to upset" Malcolm Turnbull.
Nick Ross, the ABC's Technology and Games Editor, announced on Thursday he had left his job of five years. In posting the news on his Twitter account, he set off a storm when he alluded that he had not been allowed to write about the NBN.
Ross has made headlines over the years for his vocal opposition to the Liberal broadband network plan and his support for Labor's alternative model, including a lengthy segment on the ABC's own Media Watch TV program in 2013.
Among Ross' criticisms of the Liberal plan was the (for a journalist) unusually strong declaration that "in just about every case the Coalition's alternative compares unfavourably to the current plans - and usually in dramatic fashion." (read that whole article here)
Ross didn't give much detail around his departure, but the Twitter reception to his initial tweet encouraged him to hold an 'Ask Me Anything' session on Reddit on Friday afternoon, where he expanded on his claims about how the ABC treated his NBN stories.
"In early March 2013 I was told by a senior ABC manager that ABC Management was expecting the Liberals to win the next election and that Malcolm Turnbull would be in charge of the ABC and that they didn't want to upset him. From this point on I documented everything," Ross wrote, under the screen name 'teheditor'.
The Liberal party would go on to win the 2013 election, with Malcolm Turnbull assuming the Communications portfolio, which includes oversight on the ABC. Turnbull would go on in 2015 to assume the mantle of Prime Minister.
"After that I had articles held back (one wasn't published at all) and heavily pressured not to write anything on the matter," Ross continued.
"On one occasion, four months before the election, with regards to this article which raised huge questions about the viability of the copper network I was told that "there was nothing wrong with the article per se" but that 'The NBN was dead and so there's no point in causing a fuss.' I published it when I saw Emma Alberici had published hers right after the election. But it got buried and I only got social media traffic."
He also claimed the ABC's 2013 election guide included information on the NBN planted by Turnbull's staff.
"When it came to doing the ABC's pre-election guides to party policies, the NBN one was done without me. It looks like it came from Malcolm Turnbull's office. When I spoke to the creator of it (I forget who) about the fact we'd posted something that we knew was untrue, he said the team had decided to go with a 'he said she said' line to avoid trouble," Ross wrote.
The Huffington Post Australia attempted to contact the ABC for this story but calls to the corporate affairs team were not answered. In a statement to Mumbrella yesterday, an ABC spokesperson said they could not comment on the reasons for Ross' departure from the public broadcaster.
"The ABC does not 'gag' the coverage of any issues or topics of public importance. As our record makes clear, the ABC covers all issues of public importance thoroughly and independently," the statement to Mumbrella read.
"The only 'restrictions' on the issues the ABC covers and the way we cover them are our Editorial Policies, which set standards for things like accuracy, impartiality and fair dealing. All of our journalism is required to adhere to these standards at all times."
During his Reddit AMA, Ross resisted several questions about which specific managers had pressured him to leave the NBN alone, simply saying directions came from "very senior management" and "it will be out soon in the media if it's not already"'
He claimed he had suffered personally from the pressure placed on him.
"I knew when I was told to stop publishing on the NBN (three years ago) that this day would be inevitable. It's been a constant source of amazement that management have acted like people wouldn't notice me going from full-on NBN coverage to absolute zero and not ask why," Ross wrote.
"They've been asking me constantly throughout this time - such is the interest in ABC and NBN - to the point where it's literaly made me ill and I'm still recovering. I hope this will start drawing a line under things and let me move on, but let's face it, the stink caused here will linger."
He also claimed other ABC staff may have received similar treatment.
"The best outcome for me would be for other people to come forward. I can't and don't believe I'm the only one. But I also know all to well just what pressure and vindictive methods are used to defend core management... I've got it all documented after all. It's very unpleasant," he wrote.