Media Analysis

Something stinks at Ita’s ABC and it’s not just the journalism

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Will ABC staff threatening a walkout following the sacking of journalist Antoinette Lattouf be a wake-up call for the national broadcaster?

We have published often about the demise of the ABC. We have pointed out its perpetual pandering to and gradual infiltration by conservative forces. The loss of its independence and the shrinking media landscape under which it operates have been frequently discussed on this website.

However, even after former PM Morrison told us that "Australians trust Ita" when ex-Murdoch executive Buttrose was appointed as chair, the day when an ABC journalist was booted out to appease the demands of powerful lobbyists did not feature in our wildest imaginings.


The ABC’s official story is that Antoinette Lattouf was sacked for sharing a "controversial" item on her personal Instagram account. The “provocative” post involved a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, which alleged Israel was using starvation as a weapon of war — a report about which the ABC had also published two news items.

But messages from a WhatsApp group called Lawyers for Israel released by Nine tell a different story. The messages indicate pro-Israeli lobbyists launched a coordinated campaign, directed at the ABC chair and managing director and threatening legal action if Lattouf wasn't fired.

So much for that old public broadcasting charter, then.

Lattouf filed an unlawful termination claim to the ABC, on the grounds of “political opinion or a reason that included political opinion”, later expanding the claim to include race, due to her Lebanese heritage.

As Rosemary Sorensen wrote in IA:

‘One of the most shocking revelations from the Lattouf affair is that the group of lawyers who targeted the journalist were able to get access via email to the chair of the ABC board, Ita Buttrose, and to managing director David Anderson, with demands that were louche and loud.’

Unsurprisingly, on Tuesday (16 January), about 80 staff met at ABC headquarters in Sydney to demand a meeting with managing director David Anderson to discuss Lattouf's termination, and the broadcaster’s complaints process and mechanisms to support staff in the face of powerful pressure.

As HRW’s Asia director Elaine Pearson told The Guardian:

“Human Rights Watch reporting is used by the media, government officials and courts the world over – including the ABC. Journalists should be encouraged to amplify human rights reporting not penalised for doing so.”


Growing up, many young women idolised Ita Buttrose. This is because, long before she became lobbyist-kowtowing ABC chair, she was a trailblazer.

There were few female role models when Ita was founder and editor of Cleo magazine, which was famous for championing sexual freedoms for women. Cleo discussed previously taboo topics such as abortion and shock, horror, even female orgasms.

It challenged gender biases in every form, chipping away at the ever-present glass ceiling, featured men as sex objects in its sealed, nude centrefold section, and effectively gave a collective and much-needed, feminist “fuck you” to the patriarchy.

But although the exact timing can’t be proven, it was likely sometime after her move to Murdoch's News Limited in 1981, as editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, that led to Ita leaving behind all that progressive idealism, once and for all.

Ita became a household name — helped somewhat by the Cold Chisel song released in her honour. You could say she was one of the first female "influencers", long before social media was a thing.

Pop songs and sexual revolutions notwithstanding, by the time Ita came to head the ABC, her transformation from trailblazer to flag-flying sell-out appeared complete. If Australians really do or did "trust Ita", then this episode highlights the fact that influencers are often illusory.

Certainly, she has moved from progressing the human rights of women to sacking women for reporting on human rights. 

Ita Buttrose needs to go. The whole predominantly Right-wing-sympathising board needs to go. If ever a Federal Government needed to get involved, the Albanese Government needs to make good on its promise to restore the ABC’s independence and health.

The sacking of a journalist simply for sharing information from a credible source about a human rights catastrophe on their personal social media account is not okay.

The public broadcaster dismissing a journalist for non-transparent reasons is not okay.

But the removal of a journalist from our taxpayer-funded broadcaster because powerful forces demanded it, is not only contemptible, it directly contravenes the ABC Charter. And it epitomises the parlous state of the Fourth Estate and Australia's democracy.

This is not the whole story! Subscribe now to read the full version online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and Facebook HERE.

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