ABC managing director David Anderson says the national broadcaster has “consistently” received complaints from lobby groups over its coverage on the Israel-Gaza war conflict, after being accused of “hiding away” from allegations that a journalist was sacked due to lobbying pressure.
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi grilled Mr Anderson over the firing of casual ABC radio presenter Antoinette Lattouf during a heated Senate hearing on Tuesday.
Ms Lattouf was let go by the broadcaster on December 20, just hours after sharing a social media post about the war in Gaza.
In a matter now before the Fair Work Commission, she alleges she was unlawfully sacked in the middle of a brief presenting job due to pressure from a group of pro-Israel lawyers.
Refusing to give details as to how, why and when a decision was made to cut Ms Lattouf’s contract short, Mr Anderson said he was acting under legal advice to remain quiet.
“Senator, this is with absolute respect, but my advice is that at Fair Work, they are legal proceedings and that they are precursor to the federal court,” he told the hearing.
Senator Faruqi accused Mr Anderson of “hiding away.”
“Frankly I don’t care what legal advice you have,” she said.
“Mr Anderson – have you ever heard any journalist being terminated for sharing facts – because I haven’t.”
There have been a total of 3,000 complaints received by ABC about the Israel-Gaza war, with the majority accusing the broadcaster of having a pro-Israel bias, the Senate hearing was later told.
ABC’s editorial director Gavin Fang said about 58 per cent of complaints have accused the ABC of either being pro-Israeli or anti-Palestinian, with 42 per cent claiming the broadcaster of being anti-Israeli.
When asked if any ABC staff who signed a letter against ABC’s reportage of the war in Gaza in November faced repercussions, Mr Anderson said he “wasn’t aware” of any limitations placed on reporters.
“Impartiality and objectivity are foundational to the ABC and it’s important that we maintain our ability to perform that job,” he said.
“To put your name to a petition would potentially undermine that … but I don’t believe that anyone was otherwise constructed in regards to what they would do.”
Mr Anderson was also forced to deny the ABC has a problem with institutionalised racism, after Senator Faruqi accused him of failing to address a culture of racism during his five-year tenure.
Referencing the number of journalists who’ve recently left the national broadcaster, namely Stan Grant, Nour Haydar, Ms Lattouf and Sami Shah, Senator Faruqi asked why “people of colour” were not supported by management.
“Will you be remembered as the managing director of the ABC … who allowed racism to flourish at the ABC,” she asked.
Mr Anderson replied: “No”.
“But we are not without problems, and not without the need to improve,” he said.
Mr Anderson said the ABC did not have the manpower to monitor employees’ individual social media accounts.
“We’re not wasting energy looking at people’s personal use of social media,” he said.
“We don’t take responsibility for it … So under our code of conduct, which is not an editorial matter, it’s an employment matter.”
He said there were “obligations” on employees “not to bring the ABC into disrepute, or undermine their ability to do their job”, and added he had confidence employees understood their obligations.
“Doesn’t mean they are happy about it,” he added.