The ABC board has strongly backed its managing director David Anderson in the wake of a union-led vote of no-confidence on Monday with chair Ita Buttrose rejecting claims that the organisation was bowing to external influence when it sacked broadcaster Antoinette Lattouf.
The ABC board passed a unanimous vote of confidence in Anderson, and in a statement, Buttrose said claims from staff that he did not support the broadcaster’s staff were “abhorrent and incorrect”.
The ABC has been in crisis since Lattouf’s dismissal in December, and its complaints handling process has been under fire after this masthead revealed a series of leaked WhatsApp messages documenting a letter-writing campaign from a group of pro-Israel lawyers. The lobbying was directed to both Anderson and Buttrose in the lead-up to, and on the day of, Lattouf’s sacking.
Also on Tuesday, the ABC’s director of news Justin Stevens issued a long email to staff acknowledging that, “regrettably, internal issues are once again in the headlines”, but strongly defending his division and Anderson.
Speaking on behalf of the board on Tuesday afternoon, Buttrose savaged critics of Anderson and the broadcaster after senior editorial staffer John Lyons criticised the broadcaster’s management in a staff meeting on Monday.
“David Anderson has always been a strong supporter of the independence of the ABC and its journalists. He has encouraged them to report without fear or favour and has never weakly surrendered to criticism as some critics have alleged.
“The ABC regularly receives, and responds to, complaints from individuals or organisations and the assumption that either the managing director as editor-in-chief or I would be influenced by any sort of lobbying pressure is quite simply wrong,” Buttrose added.
In a statement published late on Tuesday afternoon, the board also rejected claims put forward by Lattouf in her Fair Work case against the ABC, alleging unlawful termination.
“The board, including the managing director, recognise that this is a very difficult environment for our staff with many societal issues that threaten to divide us. We will continue to prioritise actions that support our staff, ensure our journalistic independence, and protect the trust that Australians place in the ABC,” Buttrose concluded.
Stevens’ email to staff insisted it was wrong to suggest – as a number of staff including Lyons did in a speech to staff on Monday – that the ABC news division did not defend its journalists.
“The claim that the News Division is unsupportive of its staff members is … wrong. The safety of our employees, defending and supporting our people against unwarranted attack and criticism and ensuring the quality of our work are fundamental to who we are,” Stevens wrote.
He said it was his priority to make ABC news a more inclusive place to work.
On the Israel-Gaza coverage, Stevens insisted it was “inaccurate to assert that the ABC’s coverage … has been one-sided”, and that the broadcaster was doing “a very good job of covering a complicated story”.
“If you spend too much time on Twitter/X, which represents a minuscule portion of our audience, you wouldn’t know that. You should be proud of the job we’ve done so far. I am.”
“We are impartial and do not take positions. We inform the public so that they can form their own views,” he wrote.
On the issue of complaints he said that, in dealing with complaints, “some from powerful vested interests looking to influence our publications … our guiding principle is that we listen to all complaints but we never buckle to external pressure over our journalism”.
He added that, “we’ve received many complaints about our coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict and we have robustly defended the work of our journalists”.
He also directly contradicted the suggestion from staff and Lyons that the ABC did not do enough to defend its journalists against “unjustified attacks”. The division did so “often multiple times in a day,” he said.
“We all acknowledge the environment is difficult and getting harder to navigate. I will continue to work with all of you to evolve and improve how we operate in the face of external criticism.”
He also defended Anderson, who was the subject of a unionised staff vote of no confidence on Monday. Stevens said Anderson was “a person of the utmost integrity”.
“I have seen him back our journalism to the hilt on countless occasions, privately and publicly.”
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