The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has caused a furore down under after firing Lebanese Australian journalist Antoinette Lattouf on December 20, 2023 for sharing a post on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Her employment as a short-term radio host was abruptly ended for allegedly breaching social media policy by reposting a Human Rights Watch (HRW) video on Instagram.
Lattouf added the comment: “HRW reporting starvation as a tool of war.” The ABC justified their decision, saying that “she failed or refused to comply with directions that she not post on social media about matters of controversy.” The ABC itself covered the HRW claim on TV News.
The corporation is a government-funded national broadcaster, which has independence within a legislated charter. Its board and chair are appointed by the government.
Subsequently, ABC journalist Nour Haydar resigned over the broadcaster’s coverage of the Gaza conflict and treatment of culturally diverse staff. She posted on X (formerly Twitter):
Does this mean all ABC employees can’t share info from @hrw?
What if it’s about the treatment of Uyghurs in China or protestors in Iran?
Does this rule exist exclusively for findings that are critical of Israel?
— Nour Haydar (@NourHaydar) January 16, 2024
Haydar also has Lebanese heritage.
Mastodon user MilennialZero posed a question that was concerning many people on social media:
Artemis went further in their response:
Journalists at the ABC threatened to take strike action. Their union, the MEAA (Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) has given Lattouf strong backing:
The decision to sack Antoinette Lattouf from her role as an ABC radio presenter over sharing a social media post from a reputable human rights organisation is incredibly disturbing. Read the full statement: https://t.co/B1IAkQkl3W #MEAAmedia pic.twitter.com/a2Xt7wyft3
— MEAA (@withMEAA) December 21, 2023
There were accusations that the ABC management was influenced by a campaign by pro-Israel lobbyists via a WhatsApp group called Lawyers for Israel.
Antoinette has taken an unlawful termination case to the Fair Work Commission. However, mediation talks between Lattouf and the ABC have failed to resolve the issue. Lattouf posted a video response on X. She not only raised the question of free speech but said that her dismissal involved racism:
— Antoinette Lattouf (@antoinette_news) January 18, 2024
Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism, canvassed some of the issues at The Conversation:
One is the issue of how to deal with journalistic staff posting on social media about issues in the news. Another is whether it has the backbone to protect its journalists and presenters from external attack. A third is whether the organisation is culturally capable of respecting and supporting staff from diverse backgrounds.
The Lattouf story shows that the same level of white colonial supremacist attitudes that have forged the bond of western leaders on the Middle East issue permeates the leadership of public broadcasting.
… A one sided narrative in the media cultivates ignorance in the public and enables our leaders to maintain unquestioned entrenched support for Israel, not only with words but with supplies and intelligence, and possibly with armed forces should they see fit to do so. Attempts to interfere and prevent the interrogation of our foreign policy are anti democratic.
The ABC managing director, David Anderson sent an email to all staff, denying Lattouf's claims and rejecting any influence by external pressure.
At the Fair Work Commission mediation, the ABC denied that race or political opinion were part of their decision to terminate her contract.
There is a GoFundMe fundraiser for her legal fees, plus a couple of online petitions calling on ABC to rehire Lattouf.
In the latest twist, the ABC is now claiming that it did not sack Lattouf, according to a Guardian report:
In its submission, the ABC wrote it decided “not to require” Lattouf to perform the last two of her five shifts as a casual presenter of Sydney’s Mornings because she had “failed or refused to comply with directions that she not post on social media about matters of controversy during the short period she was presenting”.
On X, Lattouf mocked what she called the use of a euphemism:
“If I wasn’t sacked what was it? I’m keen to hear all the creative euphemisms that will be used to try and explain this backflip to me, ABC staff and Australians who are very concerned about their public broadcaster. Was I unshackled? Liberated? Untied?”
— Antoinette Lattouf (@antoinette_news) January 22, 2024
A meeting of ABC journalists overwhelmingly passed a motion of no confidence in Managing Director David Anderson. The resolution included:
Winning staff and public confidence back will require senior management:
1. Backing journalism without fear or favour.
2. Working collaboratively with unions to build a culturally informed process for supporting staff who face criticism and attack.
3. Take urgent action on the lack of security and inequality that journalists of colour face.
4. Working with unions to develop a clearer and fairer social media policy.
5. Upholding a transparent complaints process, in which journalists who are subject to complaints are informed and supported.
David Anderson has agreed to meet with staff in the coming weeks to discuss their concerns.
Meanwhile, Pedestrian TV has reported claims of another coordinated lobbying campaign against Lattouf on WhatsApp group J.E.W.I.S.H. Australian creatives and academics. Australian researcher and journalist Claire Connelly posted:
‘Screenshots show a coordinated letter campaign that encouraged the group’s 628 members to complain to Buttrose, ABC Managing Director David Anderson and Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland over the ABC’s hiring of Lattouf.’ pic.twitter.com/hSj831HGKQ
— Claire Connelly (@_ClaireConnelly) January 22, 2024
An emergency ABC board meeting on January 23, passed a unanimous vote of confidence in the managing director.
The dispute is ongoing for now. In the meantime, the satirical website The Shovel has a lighthearted take:
The ABC says it is simply adhering to its charter by ending journalist Antoinette Lattouf’s employment, but also not sacking her.
“It is incumbent on us to provide both sides of the story,” an ABC spokesperson said. “So while some may say Ms Lattouf has been fired, others would say she has been freed up to pursue other opportunities. Some will say she has been let go, others will say has been de-hired. All of those views deserve to be heard.