Skip navigation
test 3

Antoinette Lattouf and the ABC’s independence

Thumbnail image

ABC Alumni is an association of former staff of the ABC who support a vigorous, independent national broadcaster.

 

We note with concern the recent controversy surrounding the ABC’s decision to relieve Antoinette Lattouf of on-air duties, after three days of a five-day contract to present Mornings on Sydney metropolitan radio. 

Although Ms Lattouf was paid for the full five-day contract, she has lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission. ABC Alumni makes no comment about the merits of that claim.

However, the issue has caused widespread concern, anger and confusion both inside and outside the ABC. It has been linked by staff to the recent resignation of Ms Nour Haydar of the ABC’s Parliament House bureau, who complained about the ABC’s coverage of the Gaza conflict, and about lack of support in the face of attacks on her in social media.  It has also been linked to the resignation of Stan Grant following similar complaints.

ABC Alumni’s prime concern about this particular incident is the perception that the ABC has ‘buckled’ to outside pressure.

Reports in Nine media outlets have revealed a coordinated campaign by a group known as Lawyers for Israel, addressed to the Chair and Managing Director of the ABC, seeking Antoinette Lattouf’s removal from an on-air role. 

The campaigners were motivated not by anything Lattouf said or did on air, but by content she had posted on social media and elsewhere before she was employed by the ABC.

ABC Alumni understands and respects the principle that staff at the ABC should not allow their personal opinions to intrude on their work. This applies not only to journalists in the News division but to others whose work involves covering current issues, particularly sensitive or controversial ones. No genuine supporter of public broadcasting should dispute that. 

If the ABC believed that Ms Lattouf’s earlier social media posts raised questions about her perceived objectivity, it should not have appointed her to an on-air role, on a program in which the Gaza conflict would almost inevitably be covered, at this particular time.

Having appointed her, however, in our view the ABC should have robustly resisted outside pressure until and unless Ms Lattouf had breached the ABC’s editorial policies during her broadcasts.

The ABC has told Fair Work that it did warn Ms Lattouf not to post “controversial” material while on contract to the ABC. It maintains that a single Instagram post, linking to a Human Rights Watch video that claims that Israel is using hunger as a weapon of war, constituted a sufficiently serious breach of that instruction to warrant her immediate removal from her on-air duties.

We note the statement by ABC Managing Director David Anderson (17.1.24) rejecting “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”. 

Given the precipitate nature of the decision-making in this instance, and the apparent disproportion between the severity of the “offence” and the ABC’s response, ABC Alumni thinks that statement leaves many questions unanswered.

As Mr Anderson himself said in his email to staff, the ABC’s independence is of paramount importance to the role it performs for the Australian public.

Staff who live in constant fear of retribution, rather than confidence in the procedurally fair processes of accountability, can quickly become self-censoring. Instead of being fearless as required by the ABC Act and ABC Charter, they can become fearful. 

An ABC Board and management which does not deliver both a collegially supportive and professionally accountable internal culture will fail in their duty to protect the ABC’s independence.

Issued by the Board of ABC Alumni: Jonathan Holmes (chair), Janet Clayton, Quentin Dempster AM, Gael Jennings AM, Sandra Levy AO, Alan Sunderland.

Contact: Jonathan Holmes 0417 280 038


Continue Reading

Read More