ABC boss David Anderson has insisted in a message to staff that the corporation was not influenced by external pressure in its sacking of broadcaster Antoinette Lattouf – but the organisation’s union committee later said he had failed to address their concerns.
On Thursday, the ABC will confront an unlawful termination claim by Lattouf at the Fair Work Commission in Sydney in which she will allege she was dismissed for her political opinion, her race, and her Lebanese-Australian cultural heritage.
ABC staff this week demanded to meet Anderson over her sacking, and have sought assurances about the transparency of the broadcaster’s complaints process and mechanisms to support staff in the face of criticism.
With staff threatening a walk-out if a meeting did not go ahead, Anderson instead issued a statement doubling down on the ABC’s stance and cited the “paramount importance” of its independence.
“The ABC rejects any claim that it has been influenced by any external pressure, whether it be an advocacy or lobby group, a political party, or commercial entity,” Anderson’s statement said.
ABC staff “routinely perform their roles for the Australian public without fear or favour, adhering to our responsibilities of impartiality and accuracy – often in the face of significant unwarranted criticism,” he wrote.
The corporation took “legitimate” criticism, feedback and complaints seriously, but would “continue to support [staff] and their work, internally and externally”.
Soon after Anderson’s email was circulated to staff, the ABC’s union house committee told this masthead it was not satisfied with his response.
“The house committee is disappointed the MD [managing director] has not responded to member requests for a meeting, notes the response does not address member concerns and reiterated members’ request for an urgent meeting with staff and their representatives,” the committee said.
ABC staff in Sydney on Tuesday passed a resolution expressing their view that the corporation was mishandling pressure on its journalists, and did not have sufficient mechanisms to support staff in the face of criticism.
At a national Zoom meeting on Wednesday attended by more than 200, staff expressed deep concern over Lattouf’s sacking, and discussed a possible no-confidence vote in the managing director.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald reported this week how the journalist and presenter was subjected to a high-level lobbying campaign directed at the ABC in the days before her dismissal, including by a group called Lawyers for Israel.
In its defence to Lattouf’s claim of unlawful termination, the ABC says she was sacked after being told not to post anything controversial on social media – but disobeyed this by reposting a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Israel’s alleged use of starvation as a tool of war in Gaza.
‘People should not feel under threat’
Industry Minister Ed Husic on Wednesday responded to Lattouf’s sacking, saying the ability to express an opinion was “one of the things we value about a democracy,” and that people should not feel their jobs were under threat if they expressed peaceful views.
Former HRW executive director Kenneth Roth questioned the ABC’s willingness to criticise Israel in its reporting in an ABC interview.
“If she [Lattouf] had said Hamas killed a bunch of Israelis … Hamas abducted a bunch of Israelis, those are war crimes. Those would have been accurate and nobody would have complained. But when she reports comparable facts about the Israeli government, suddenly that is controversial. And that leads her to be fired.”
“So it leads me to wonder, is the ABC really willing to stand up to pressure not to criticise Israel? That is not serving the Australian public.”
A number of posts on the Lawyers for Israel WhatsApp page a day after Lattouf’s sacking appeared to claim credit, as they celebrated the removal of a TikTok post by another journalist, Amal Wehbe, whom they had also complained about.
Asked why the ABC had done those things, one of the Lawyers for Israel page’s administrators, Lindy Blashki wrote that ABC chair “Ita [Buttrose] has written to many of us. They have removed Latouff and now this content [the TikTok]. We have also written multiple letters to minister for communications and the [ABC] ombudsman. Peak bodies [of Jewish organisations] have also probably been active.”
“Well done to everyone involved,” said another group member.
Blashki has not responded to requests for comment.
Supporters of Lattouf have started a GoFundMe page for her legal fees, which has so far raised some $60,000.
The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.
Source: Thanks smh.com