This week the ABC confirmed that Weekend Breakfast co-host Fauziah Ibrahim has been benched from her on-camera duties after her social media activities raised eyebrows among the Twitter left, while the broadcaster reviews her “recent social media activity” and examines if it has breached the public broadcaster’s guidelines.
Her sin, was creating Twitter lists, which she thought were private, listing Twitter users as either “Labor Trolls/Thugs” or “Lobotomised S**theads”, unfortunately for her, everyone who was added to these lists was notified of their inclusion, causing quite the social media stir.
This goes to the inconsistency of the ABC’s scandal-plagued social media guidelines.
In October 2020 the ABC’s Chief Political Reporter for its 7.30 program, Laura Tingle, tweeted in response to her now former colleague Philippa McDonald, departing the ABC after a 30-year career.
“What a legend.. watch this,” she wrote in a late-night tweet that was then quickly removed. “It is what us mere journalistic mortals aspire to have covered in our careers.. and we grieve the loss of so many of our fine colleagues to government ideological bastardry. Hope you are feeling smug Scott Morrison.”
ABC Managing Director David Anderson then told Senate Estimates: “Laura deems that to be a mistake; I think it was an error of judgment — as I think clearly Laura did too as she took that tweet down”.
So because Laura Tingle admitted it was a mistake, the chief political reporter of the ABC’s main current affairs program can reveal her bias publicly, and no further actions needed to be taken.
The question that needs to be put to David Anderson is why Fauziah Ibrahim wasn’t offered the same opportunity.
It does seem to appear the punishment is only appropriate when those on the left of politics are offended.
As Leigh Sales said in September last year regarding the ferocity of Twitter, “Let’s not duck the common thread here – it is overwhelmingly left-leaning Twitter users who are targeting ABC journalists for abuse.”
Yet it is the same venomous trolls who continuously praise Laura Tingle – in fact #IStandWithLaura was a Twitter trend in the week after the now-deleted tweet.
The ABC’s social media guidelines, which were updated in August 2021, make it clear that “remaining impartial in the public eye is crucial to maintaining effectiveness” as a public-facing ABC employee.
But the enforcement of the guidelines seems to go in the one direction. During the 2020 Queensland Election campaign, ABC Queensland State Political Reporter Stephanie Zilman tweeted in response to an LNP policy announcement: “Dog whistling at its worst.”
“Deb Frecklington has made up a curfew policy for Townsville and Cairns where police would have the power to detain teenagers and children in ‘refuges’ for the night if they’re unaccompanied after 8pm. This will target Aboriginal youths,” the tweet read.
Dog whistling is a term used to suggest a person is using coded language that is secretly racist.
An accusation of racism is one of the most damaging accusations that you can make in modern politics, and the inappropriateness of an ABC journalist flippantly accusing a Liberal leader of being racist during an election campaign should not be understated.
There was no outrage from the Twitter left, in fact many cheered it on. Similarly, there appeared to be no punishment from ABC management.
One of the ABC’s senior journalists, Louise Milligan, was successfully sued by Queensland MP Andrew Laming for falsely accusing him of “up skirting”.
Not only was she not reprimanded for such a misjudgement, the ABC paid for her defence for a personal tweet which they assumed they were vicariously liable for, costing taxpayers upwards on $150,000 in legal fees and damages.
Other journalists and commentators who posted similar accusations as Milligan later posted humble apologies, with no further legal action taken against them. This seemed a stretch too far for Milligan.
Perhaps in a reference to these scandals, Channel 10 journalist Antoinette Lattouf wrote in reference to the ABC’s final decision about Ibrahim’s future in the Sydney Morning Herald this week that “there have been male and/or white media personalities who have breached broadcasting codes and had court rulings against them, and they have not only kept their jobs, some have been given bigger and better ones.”
In 2020 the new BBC Director General Tim Davie introduced strict social media guidelines, where employees were told not to “express a personal opinion on policy, politics or controversial subjects”.
Staff were also told to avoid “virtue signalling” and hold back from supporting campaigns “no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial”.
Repeated breaches of these guidelines gives the Director General the authority to suspend or remove staff from the platform.
Despite tweaks around the edges, no such rules exist to the same standard at the ABC. A glance at the social media accounts of ABC staff and presenters show there is no shortage of virtue being signalled.
It seems at the ABC, there are a certain group of protected species, that do get away with bias, that wiggle around clear guidelines, and management let them get away with it.
If you’re an ABC staffer and offend those on the left though, that’s another story altogether.
Make no mistake, the ABC is a collectivist staff-run collective with no one in charge.