US anchors cut Trump’s conference. Would local reporters have done the same?

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Under normal circumstances, veteran political reporter David Speers prefers to challenge rather than censor the dubious assertions of our elected representatives. But as the host of ABC's Insiders points out, recent events in the United States are anything but normal.

On Friday, Speers' counterparts at several major US broadcasters – including MSNBC, NBC, CNBC, CBS, ABC and NPR – halted their live coverage of President Donald Trump's press conference. It was a decision prompted by Trump's unsubstantiated claims that the Democratic Party used "illegal" votes to deliver a fraudulent victory to Joe Biden.

Donald Trump made unsubstantiated claims of election fraud from the White House briefing room.Credit:AP

"The risk is that these [media organisations] will be perceived to be censoring one side of politics," Speers says. "A large section of the US population has already been led to believe that mainstream media can't be trusted and this will only feed that perception.

"But countering this is a very real need to present the truth and the facts. You have to look at the context: the situation in the US is already very volatile, so you have to factor in the consequences of tipping more fuel on those flames by spreading false information."

Nine News political editor Chris Uhlmann describes Trump as "undoubtedly a liar" and a "disaster for democracy at home and abroad". Nevertheless, he insists US networks ought to have aired his press conference in full.

"I don't think journalists are in a position to make constant decisions on what people are saying," Uhlmann says. "What's the line you draw? Is it obvious untruths? Is it hyperbole? Is it personal abuse? [Trump is] guilty of all those things but he's not the only one.

"Dare I say it, there are people on the left … who've swerved into hyperbole. Do we cut away from them?"

‘You have to factor in the consequences of tipping more fuel on those flames by spreading false information’: Insiders host David Speers.Credit:Justin McManus

Professor Catharine Lumby, a media academic at Macquarie University, believes broadcasters must strive to inform the public while limiting hate speech and misinformation.

"There are risks if you start cutting live coverage routinely," Professor Lumby says. "But this was an extraordinary circumstance in which Trump was openly undermining democracy on the basis of a series of outrageous falsehoods. For me, it all comes back to the duty of the fourth estate, which is to hold our elected officials and other institutions accountable.

"Sometimes, the only way of doing that is to say, 'We're not going to air this.'"

On Friday, 7.30 host Leigh Sales tweeted a video of MSNBC anchor Brian Williams telling viewers, "Here we are again in the unusual position of not only interrupting the president of the United States but correcting the president of the United States", while ending the network's live coverage.

"Heartening to see American media immediately calling out lies," Sales wrote.

3AW morning presenter Neil Mitchell can't imagine Australian broadcasters regulalry doing the same. (Nine is the owner of 3AW and this masthead.)

"The audience wouldn't cop it," Mitchell says.

"We're a bit more sensible in our politics. [America] is a country that gives you a right to carry semi-automatic weapons in the street but then censors the president. It baffles me a bit."

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