Senator Eric Abetz – Estimates question about guest appearances by Antony Loewenstein on ABC programs

October 16, 2012

Questioned guest appearances by Antony Loewenstein on ABC programs.

I assume, Mr Scott, you are aware of one Antony Loewenstein, who appears regularly on the ABC Drum website and on the Drum program, and is an occasional guest and regular interviewer on Radio National and on Triple J. You know the person I am talking about?

Whole interaction with Mr Mark Scott (ABC Managing Director) during Senate Estimates (Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Communications Portfolio).

Senator ABETZ: Thank you. I assume, Mr Scott, you are aware of one Antony Loewenstein, who appears regularly on the ABC Drum website and on the Drum program, and is an occasional guest and regular interviewer on Radio National and on Triple J. You know the person I am talking about?


Mr Scott : I know of him, yes.


Senator ABETZ: Right. On 22 August, speaking at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to promote his book, Mr Loewenstein—


Mr Scott : In London, Senator?


Senator ABETZ: yes, whilst he was in London—was asked how many people had to die to create one state of Palestine and Israel, and his answer was: ‘Six million. That’s my answer. Write that down. Now, I am sure the significance of the figure of six million is not lost on us’. I simply ask: do you find that to be an outrageous comment, and unacceptable?


Mr Scott : Senator, I have just seen references to this; I think there was a reference to it in Mr Bolt’s blog that somebody pointed out to me. It was a comment that I understand Mr Loewenstein has apologised for, and I am certainly not going to attempt to defend it. I should point out that Mr Loewenstein is not an employee of the ABC. As you pointed out, he has appeared as a guest on our programs, but he is not an employee.


Senator ABETZ: But he gets paid a fee from time to time for those appearances?


Mr Scott : I would have to check on that. I do not know. The ABC, as you know, Senator—with, domestically, our four television networks, our 60 local radio stations, our five national networks—have thousands of people rolling through our programs. From time to time, I am encouraged to discipline or remove from our staff people who appear as guests. They are guests, Senator, and, in a sense, our accountability for what people who appear as guests from time to time say is very different to our accountability for our staff.


Senator ABETZ: I understand that. It took Mr Lowenstein five weeks to apologise. Finally, on 28 September, he apologised. Mr Scott, do you remember telling us once before: ‘It is essential that the ABC can have confidence that all panellists’—this was talking about Insiders—’will behave in a professional and editorially sound manner’?


Mr Scott : Yes, I think I recall the circumstances we were discussing there.


Senator ABETZ: Of course, that was part of the rationale as to why Mr Milne would no longer be engaged, because of the column he had written in the Australian newspaper.


Mr Scott : There were a number of columns. I have not refreshed myself on the material but, as I recall, there were a number of columns and issues that had been raised that had caused a level of disquiet amongst the production team there in Insiders, so they made that editorial judgement.


Senator ABETZ: But it was connected with his column in the Australian about Ms Gillard and the AWU scandal—and I do not want to go there.


Mr Scott : As I recall, there had been a number of columns. I do not want to disparage Mr Milne in any way, but, as I understand it, there had been a number of columns and, of course, the nature of the commentary on Insiders would go centrally to the substance that he was covering in his columns, as I recall—this was a while ago now. So that was the context of that.


Senator ABETZ: It was within the week of that column that the ABC took that decision. Compare Mr Milne’s column to Mr Lowenstein’s offensive comment, which remained in the ether for five weeks before an apology was finally dragged out of him. Is the ABC willing to continue to have Mr Lowenstein appear as a credible panellist on its programs?


Mr Scott : That decision was made, I think, at the editorial level of Insiders. The first I have become aware of this incident was this afternoon. I can take that question on notice, but I understand this was a very offensive statement made—


Senator ABETZ: Very.


Mr Scott : and I also understand an apology was made. But I will also say to you that, of course, he is not an employee of the ABC.


Senator ABETZ: Alan Jones apologised how quickly? But this is five weeks later and—


Mr Scott : Alan Jones is not an employee of the ABC either.


Senator ABETZ: We understand that, but just in the scheme of things and time frameworks let us just remember that it took five weeks for that apology. It offended a substantial proportion of the Australian population it, if not all of it, and yet we seem to be willing to have him continue as an ABC panellist.

Link to full Hansard transcript.

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