ABC journos threaten walkout as Lattouf dispute escalates

Journalists at the ABC have threatened a walkout amid concerns over the dismissal of Antoinette Lattouf.

Journalists at the ABC have threatened a walkout amid concerns over the dismissal of Antoinette Lattouf. Photo: Instagram

ABC journalists have threatened to walk off the job as the wrongful dismissal case launched against the broadcaster by radio host Antoinette Lattouf escalates.

Also on Wednesday, a federal Cabinet minister was drawn into the dispute.

About 80 employees at the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters in Sydney cited concerns of “outside interference” and issues in its handling of complaints against staff as the dispute escalated beyond Lattouf on Wednesday.

“MEAA media members at the ABC today called on managing director David Anderson 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,” the media union posted on Twitter on Tuesday.

Lattouf, an award-winning Lebanese-Australian journalist was three days into a five-day stint in December, filling in for ABC Sydney’s Mornings host Sarah Macdonald, when she was sacked.

She was reportedly fired over a Human Rights Watch post she shared on social media on December 19 about Israel “using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war in Gaza”, after she had been directed not to post about “matters of controversy”.

She has since filed a Fair Work Commission claim for wrongful dismissal.

On Tuesday, secret texts from a private WhatsApp messaging group emerged, showing discussion between Lawyers for Israel members, including a call to action to pressure Anderson and ABC chair Ita Buttrose to sack Lattouf.

“It’s important ABC hears from not just individuals in the community but specifically lawyers so they feel there is an actual legal threat,” one message reads.

“I have basically written to them and told them I expect a proper response, not a generic one, by COB today or I would look to engage senior counsel.

“I know there is probably no actionable offence against the ABC but I didn’t say I would be taking one – just investigating one. I have said that they should be terminating her employment immediately.”

Another read: “Why is the ABC allowing this woman to host a radio show?” and a member responded: “Exactly, which is why we need to stamp it out.”

The messages were published by the Nine newspapers.

On Wednesday, Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic was asked directly about the dispute. Husic, a Muslim, has been vocal on the issue of Palestinian civilians killed and displaced by Israel’s bombing campaign.

He said the legal proceedings made it “difficult” to comment specifically on Lattouf’s case, but offered a general comment.

“One of the things we value about our democracy is the ability for us to express our opinion and what we think should happen. There’s always room for opinion in the public square, there is no room for hate speech, no room to create that division,” he said.

“Where people feel, based on their faith, whether Jewish or Islamic, that it’s unsafe for them, that has to be dealt with. The way we conduct ourselves through the course of this debate is important.”

Husic added that, as long as people expressed their views peacefully and “if it conforms to what we think is acceptable in a democratic country, they shouldn’t feel like their jobs are on the line”.

Asked about the Lattouf’s case and the leaked text messages later on Wednesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese refused to offer any comment.

“Those are matters for the ABC and the ABC is an independent body from government,” he said.

“It’s publicly owned but I don’t want to create another issue which is for sitting parliamentarians to try to direct, or even be seen to be directing, the ABC.”

A crowd-funding campaign has been launched for Lattouf’s legal fees in the ABC Fair Work Commission dispute. The GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $56,000 of its target of $60,000 by Wednesday afternoon (AEDT).

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