The ABC has been accused of bias in its reporting of crisis-riddled Alice Springs after the national broadcaster aired strongly disputed claims of “racism” and “white supremacy” during a high-profile community meeting.
The Save Alice Springs meeting was held on Monday evening, with more than 3000 locals attending to show their support for a push for change.
The meeting was organised by local business owner Garth Thompson and ended after around 20 minutes.
ABC footage from inside the meeting showed Mr Thompson being sworn at and heckled after calling for residents to call the police for a welfare check if they saw “a group of kids, whoever they are, during school time”.
“We need to bring welfare to these kids, they deserve it,” he said in response to the abuse.
However, the ABC’s Indigenous Affairs correspondent Carly Williams then interviewed several attendees outside the meeting, with one woman describing it as a “total white supremacist fest” with a “scary” vibe.
More than 3000 people attended the meeting.
“Alice Springs is very racist, we feel it every day,” one Indigenous woman also told the ABC, with another urging the community to sit down and talk with Indigenous people, but insisting a large public meeting was not the answer.
Another man also threatened violence against Indigenous people in a sickening spray, using racist language while speaking with the ABC.
“The little b**** f***ers are gonna start to get belted, if something doesn’t come out of it,” the man said.
“They’re gonna start getting flogged. And they won’t come back [because] we’ll take ‘em out to the scrub and leave ‘em there.”
Speaking to news.com.au after the event, Mr Thompson, a lifelong resident, strongly denied that there was any racist element to the meeting itself, insisting it was a positive gathering focused on change which was actually supported by many Indigenous elders.
He claimed some Indigenous people had attempted to shut down hecklers in defence of the meeting, and that some had joined a community group dedicated to pushing for change in the town.
Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson said the ABC was a “kick in the teeth to residents who have put up with this for far too long”.
“It’s adding unnecessary anxiety when we are all trying to come together to address the issue and here you’ve got the ABC lighting the fuse to have a race war,” he said.
Mr Thompson told news.com.au he was “gobsmacked” by the ABC’s reporting of the event, which he claims was “biased”, and said the vast majority of the more than 3000 attendees were there for positive reasons.
“For the ABC to have their Indigenous Affairs correspondent report like that is astounding – they could have brought so much positive drive and support for the Aboriginal culture here in town, but they’re obviously not concerned with that, they’re more interested in making it look like a problem when it’s not,” he said.
“The arrogance and language and name calling and everything else came from this very small group, which were the ones reported on by the ABC. It just wasn’t needed in the room, which is why I called [the end] to the meeting.
The ABC’s Indigenous Affairs correspondent Carly Williams. Picture: ABCOne woman described the meeting as a ‘total white supremacist fest’ with a ‘scary’ vibe. Picture: ABC
“It was never going to be an open mic session, it was not about letting everyone have their say, it was to show in numbers the support we have and the need to see change.
“We had an amazing headcount and an amazing group of people who will work together to move forward and hold the government accountable [for failing to support the community].”
Mr Thompson said there was “nothing negative or aggressive” about the meeting and said he wanted to see the ABC “called out for their false advertising”.
“It’s just ridiculous – their Indigenous Affairs correspondent could have bought out such a positive story about the inclusiveness of the entire community coming together,” he said.
“The mayor is also blown away by how they reported on it. He was also at the meeting and also supports the fact there was nothing negative about it whatsoever. It was inclusive of everyone.
“It’s a sad thing our town is being shown in this light, but it is of concern … we need to save Alice Springs.”
2GB host Ben Fordham also slammed the ABC’s TV coverage of the meeting, claiming the woman who made the “white supremacy” allegations had left the meeting early, and that there was no proof that any racist comments had been made inside the event.
“Out of the thousands of people who attended the meeting, we only heard from one person in that report – a woman who had left early,” he said.
“We didn’t hear from the terrified locals or the worried mums and dads – we only heard of claims of racism from a woman who walked out [of the meeting] – someone who did not represent the whole mood in the room.
Garth Thompson insisted there was no racist element to the meeting. Picture: ABC
“And there were no examples given of the so-called ‘white supremacy’ – no quotes, no footage, no audio.
“We didn’t hear from any of the concerned locals, they didn’t play any of the comments from inside the hall – I’m not sure if [she] was inside – that was not clear from her story.’”
Fordham also took aim at the ABC’s radio show AM, claiming its coverage was “even worse” than the televised report.
“Their coverage of the meeting was reckless and ruthlessly one-sided,” Fordham said.
“They ignored the issues … And just turned into a fight between black and white. And IF racist comments were made … what were they? And where’s the proof?”
Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson has also joined the chorus of criticism, telling reporters the ABC’s version of events “couldn’t be further from the truth”.
“It’s a kick in the teeth to residents who have put up with this for far too long,” he said.
“It’s adding unnecessary anxiety when we are all trying to come together to address the issue and here you’ve got the ABC lighting the fuse to have a race war.”
However, an ABC spokesperson told news.com.au in a statement that the national broadcaster was sticking by its reporting despite the growing criticism directed at it.
“The ABC’s long-running reporting on the issues facing Alice Springs has included a range of perspectives and will continue to canvass people’s views and experiences as coverage continues,” the statement reads.
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“Many strong and conflicting views and opinions are expressed within the community, including some confronting views, and the news coverage reflects that and doesn’t shy away from it.”