ABC Sydney staff threaten to stage walkout after termination of radio host Antoinette Lattouf

LONDON: Journalists at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC, threatened on Tuesday to stage a walkout unless the organization’s leadership urgently meets with them in the wake of the termination of radio host Antoinette Lattouf.

Lebanese-Australian broadcaster Lattouf was dismissed from ABC Radio Sydney on Dec. 20, only three days into her short-term contract filling in as a host for the show, Sydney Morning.

She was told the reason for her immediate termination was a Human Rights Watch Instagram post that she had reshared.

The NGO’s post read: “The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war in Gaza.”

According to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, some 80 staff members at ABC’s Sydney office warned that they would go on strike after details emerged that pro-Israel lobbyists could have been behind the dismissal.

In an Instagram post on Tuesday, members of the MEAA called on David Anderson, ABC’s managing director, “to urgently meet with staff and address growing concerns about outside interference, culturally unsafe management practices and to stand up for journalism without fear or favour.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported it had obtained leaked WhatsApp correspondence alleging that pro-Israel campaigners had pressured ABC’s management to make the decision.

Members of a group called Lawyers for Israel, according to the leaked WhatsApp messages, had written to Anderson, ABC’s managing director, and Ita Buttrose, the corporation’s chair, asking them to sack Lattouf.

Deeming her dismissal unlawful, Lattouf has raised the matter with Australia’s Fair Work Commission, with the support of Maurice Blackburn’s employment lawyer principal Josh Bornstein.

“Even for non-diverse journalists, my sacking and the sacking of others has a chilling effect on journalism. People are now too scared to report without fear or favour,” she said in an online statement by Maurice Blackburn on Jan 11.

Bornstein, in an X post, stated that Lattouf’s “sacking was based on both political opinion and race.”

Pledging to advocate for “a well-funded, fair, independent and representative ABC,” Lattouf said she found it “disheartening to not only witness the horrendous treatment of people of colour by the ABC over the years, but now to personally — and so publicly — feel its wrath.”

“Despite the ABC’s rhetoric about diversity and inclusion, it is currently an unsafe workplace for journalists who are people of colour. I’m aware of several diverse journalists who have either resigned or are on the brink of resigning because they are unfairly scrutinised and don’t believe their employer will back them and fear they will be next to be thrown under the bus,” she added.

In its response to Lattouf’s application to the Fair Work Commission, ABC claimed the award-winning presenter “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.”

The broadcaster also denied in its response, which Lattouf shared with Arab News, any connection between her termination and her political opinions or race.

Kenneth Ross, former executive director of Human Rights Watch, weighed in on the dismissal of the award-winning journalist.

He wrote in a post on X: “Australia’s ABC has fired a journalist for posting on social media a Human Rights Watch video summarizing a report on starvation in Gaza — all 100% true. Can ABC not stand up to pressure to censor criticism of Israel?”

Lattouf’s lawyer Bornstein told the Sydney Morning Herald that he sought to show how “the ABC has not sacked white journalists for expressing political opinion even where those journalists worked in news and current affairs.”

“Antoinette’s role at the ABC was not a news or current affairs role. She shared four posts during her employment, and was told at her dismissal that sharing the Human Rights Watch post was somehow a breach of the ABC’s social media policy. Then she was suddenly and humiliatingly sacked.”

He added that since “October 7 and the ensuing conflict in the Middle East, it has become notorious in the media industry that Arab and Muslim journalists are being intimidated, censored and sacked.”

Since the start of the current Israel war on Gaza, there have been several incidents in which Arab and Muslim journalists have been suspended or censored.

In November, MSNBC canceled Mehdi Hasan’s weekend TV program amid what was described by Palestinian rights supporters as a crackdown on criticism against Israel. Subsequently, Hasan left the news channel in early January.