Ita Buttrose backs David Anderson after ABC board passes unanimous vote of confidence | Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Comments follow week of internal unrest at national broadcaster after journalist Antoinette Lattouf lodged unlawful dismissal claim

Tue 23 Jan 2024 08.37 CET

The ABC’s board has rejected a union vote of no confidence in managing director David Anderson, with chair Ita Buttrose saying the suggestion he did not support the broadcaster’s journalists was “abhorrent and incorrect”.

It comes after a week of internal unrest at the national broadcaster after the journalist Antoinette Lattouf lodged an unlawful dismissal claim against the ABC.

On Monday, in a meeting of more than 200 ABC union members, it was claimed that the broadcaster’s leadership team had failed “to defend the integrity of the ABC and staff from attacks”. A motion of no confidence in Anderson was passed.

The ABC board met on Tuesday to discuss the unrest and the claims lodged by Lattouf in the Fair Work Commission (FWC), before passing a unanimous vote of confidence in Anderson.

“David Anderson has always been strong a 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,” Buttrose said in a statement after the meeting.

“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.

“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.”

Last Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported it had seen a chain of leaked WhatsApp messages showing a letter-writing campaign from pro-Israel lobbyists targeting Anderson and Buttrose in the week starting 18 December over Lattouf’s fill-in job on ABC radio in Sydney.

On 20 December, Lattouf was summoned to a meeting with senior management and told she was terminated immediately because she had reposted on Instagram a post from Human Rights Watch that said: “The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war in Gaza.”

In a defence filed to the FWC, the ABC claimed Lattouf was warned about posting on social media about controversial topics before she was dismissed from her role. The ABC also objected to Lattouf’s claim that her firing was unlawful, writing “with respect, the application is fundamentally and entirely misconceived”.

Lattouf has claimed unlawful termination on the grounds of “political opinion or a reason that included political opinion” and later expanded the claim to include race due to her Lebanese heritage.

She is seeking a detailed public apology and compensation for harm to her reputation and for distress and humiliation. She will also seek an order that the ABC offers her a commensurate role back on air.

The ABC later advised Lattouf’s lawyer, Josh Bornstein, that it was now claiming it did not terminate her employment and she was not entitled to make an unlawful termination application.

On Tuesday, ABC news director Justin Stevens sent an email to staff, seen by Guardian Australia, saying members of the public are entitled to make complaints about the ABC’s journalism, but said the broadcaster never buckles to “external pressure”.

“During my time at the ABC, I have dealt with multiple complaints and representations – some from powerful vested interests looking to influence our publications,” he said. “Our guiding principle is that we listen to all complaints but we never buckle to external pressure over our journalism.”

Stevens also responded to allegations that “the News Division does not defend its journalists” and the motion of no confidence in Anderson, saying he believes Anderson is a person of “utmost integrity”.

“I take this very seriously. We work constantly to defend our journalists against unjustified attacks, often multiple times in a day,” he wrote.

“Some of this you can see publicly. What you won’t see is the advocacy and pushback done behind the scenes on your behalf.

“I have seen [Anderson] back our journalism to the hilt on countless occasions, privately and publicly.”

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