Race and politics were not factors in Lattouf’s sacking, says ABC

Antoinette Lattouf was sacked three days into a short-term radio-hosting contract with the ABC because she shared a controversial social media post, the public broadcaster says in denying allegations her race or political opinion played a role in her departure.

In its response to Lattouf’s Fair Work claim, the ABC filed a legal defence, describing her application as “fundamentally and entirely misconceived”.

The ABC says Antoinette Lattouf was asked not to present her final two shifts following a controversial post to her Instagram page.
The ABC says Antoinette Lattouf was asked not to present her final two shifts following a controversial post to her Instagram page.Credit: Marija Ercegovac

The ABC rejected Lattouf’s unlawful termination claim, arguing she was directed not to post about “matters of controversy” during her five-day contract while covering the mornings show on ABC Radio Sydney in December. The broadcaster says she failed or refused to comply with this directive.

The post in question was a Human Rights Watch report reposted by Lattouf on the afternoon of December 19, two days into her five-day contract. The ABC also denied any involvement from managing director David Anderson in the decision to remove her.

The ABC says any political opinion expressed by Lattouf during her contracted period, or any matters relating to her race and national extraction/social origin were “entirely irrelevant” in its decision.

“The suggestion that the ABC took action against the applicant on the basis of her race, national extraction or social origin is abhorrent,” the ABC says in its response.

The events according to the ABC

The ABC alleges in court documents that there was a phone conversation between station content director Elizabeth Green and Lattouf after her first show on Monday, December 18, during which Lattouf was informed that several complaints had been received with concerns raised over her presence on the channel and her perceived stance on the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Lattouf was directed by Green not to post anything on her social media accounts that could be considered “controversial”, to avoid any perception of bias for the four remaining days of her contract as presenter of Sydney ‘mornings’.

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Lattouf sought to clarify what would be appropriate to post the following day, the ABC claims, with a conversation between Lattouf and Green. The ABC claims Lattouf said words to the effect of: “What can I post? What if another journalist dies, can I post that?”

Green is alleged to have responded: “Well that would be fact-based. But really it’s probably better that you don’t post anything while you’re with us because of the risk of the perception that you are biased and not balanced.”

The post made by Antoinette Lattouf on December 19 which was deemed to be relating to a controversial topic.
The post made by Antoinette Lattouf on December 19 which was deemed to be relating to a controversial topic.

At midday on December 20, the ABC became aware of a post made to Lattouf’s Instagram account the previous day. The post included a link to a Human Rights Watch video, with a comment “HRW reporting starvation as a tool of war” attached.

The ABC says it was of “serious concern” that Lattouf had posted about a “controversial topic” after being specifically directed otherwise.

Despite the broadcaster having deemed this post controversial in nature, it also covered the report in question twice that same week.

On December 18, the ABC News online posted an article with the headline: “Israel-Gaza war: Human Rights Watch says starvation is being used as ‘a weapon of war’ by the Israeli government”.

ABC chair Ita Buttrose with managing director David Anderson.
ABC chair Ita Buttrose with managing director David Anderson.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

On December 20, ABC News Breakfast on ABC TV interviewed Omar Shakir from Human Rights Watch on the subject of the report, republished online with the headline: “VIDEO: Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of weaponising starvation in Gaza”.

According to court documents, the application alleges that a meeting between ABC chief content officer Chris Oliver-Taylor, head of audio content Ben Latimer, editorial director Simon Melkman and the acting head of the ABC’s capital city network, Steve Ahern, resulted in Oliver-Taylor taking the view Lattouf was in breach of the directive she was given and was subsequently not required to return for her final two shifts.

Leaked WhatsApp messages obtained by this masthead show a co-ordinated letter-writing campaign from pro-Israel lobbyists directly targeting Anderson and the corporation’s chair Ita Buttrose in the week commencing December 18 in an attempt to get Lattouf dismissed.

In the chain of messages, correspondence from Buttrose was shared, confirming on the morning of December 20 that Oliver-Taylor was addressing complaints lodged by members of the Lawyers for Israel WhatsApp group.

An ABC spokesperson said the broadcaster has “a transparent complaints process and responds accordingly, regardless of the source of the complaint”.

The ABC also denies Anderson was involved in the decision, and rejects the claim in Lattouf’s application she was told Anderson was behind the decision.

The ABC alleges that in an attempt to comfort Lattouf, Green said words to the effect of “these types of matters are taken very seriously and decisions like this can be referred all the way up to the MD’s office”.

Lattouf’s legal team is seeking a detailed public apology, compensation for harm to her reputation, distress and humiliation. Lattouf will also seek an order that the ABC offer her a commensurate role back on air.

The ABC claims Lattouf was paid for all five shifts, and therefore suffered no financial loss.

Lattouf and her lawyer, Josh Bornstein, declined to comment.

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