Questioned whether it is appropriate for ABC staff to sign and open letter calling for fair reporting on Israel and Palestine and alleged bias in ABC reporting.
You’re aware of that letter? Thank you. The letter argues that media reporting on these issues presents ‘the same discredited spokespeople’, relies on ‘passive formulations and weasel words (clashes, etc)’ and fails to ‘make space for Palestinian perspectives’. Do you agree that this is how the ABC reports on Israel and the Palestinian territories?
Whole interaction with Mr David Anderson (Managing Director, ABC) and Mr Craig McMurtrie (Editorial Director, ABC) during Senate Estimates (Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Communications and the Arts Portfolio).
Senator ABETZ: Allow me to move on to whether or not you’re aware of the existence of a letter that has circulated amongst journalists calling for a change to the way the conflict between Israel and Palestine has been reported.
Mr Anderson : Yes. Was this the petition?
Senator ABETZ: You’re aware of that letter? Thank you. The letter argues that media reporting on these issues presents ‘the same discredited spokespeople’, relies on ‘passive formulations and weasel words (clashes, etc)’ and fails to ‘make space for Palestinian perspectives’. Do you agree that this is how the ABC reports on Israel and the Palestinian territories?
Mr Anderson : No.
Senator ABETZ: You don’t? Good. Now, there are a number of ABC staff members who have signed that letter. I’m just wondering whether they have passed on that concern to ABC management—that they are of the view that this is the style of reporting which they have signed off on?
Mr Anderson : I think those people have put their names against that petition as individuals not representing or presuming to speak for the ABC.
Senator ABETZ: Have there been any directives by ABC management in relation to the coverage of the conflict?
Mr Anderson : Yes. We have provided advice—
Senator ABETZ: Is that written?
Mr Anderson : I might defer to Mr McMurtrie.
Senator ABETZ: If it’s written, you can provide it to us on notice; that’d be very helpful. If it’s not written, you can provide us with a written description of that which was provided verbally. Do you think it’s appropriate for ABC editorial staff to be signing an open letter of this nature?
Mr Anderson : These are people acting as individuals. Where I get concerned is: if it’s an individual that has to report on the matter impartially, it’s problematic. If it is a name on a petition they are exercising their own judgement for, I’d want to see that their reporting is impartial and accurate, as it should be.
Senator ABETZ: Let’s move to the actual reporting of the conflict. There’s a Ms Zena Chamas. At first glance, her article appears impartial; she’s gone to three Palestinians and three Jewish people commenting. One of the Jewish people is the Executive Council of Australian Jewry CEO, Alex Ryvchin, but the other two are Jewish but both publicly reject the expression of Israel as the Jewish homeland. So it’s hardly a balance of three Palestinians, three Jewish; it’s in fact three Palestinians, one Jewish person who supports the Israel side and two others of Jewish ethnicity who are opposed to the claim of Israel being the Jewish homeland. So it’s really five against one. How do we claim that that is somehow providing balance?
Mr Anderson : I’ll defer to Mr McMurtrie, because I think he’s looked at the story.
Mr McMurtrie : I have. As I’m sure you know, it’s an extremely complex issue and there isn’t one Jewish view, just as there isn’t necessarily one Palestinian view.
Senator ABETZ: How many various Palestinian views were therefore provided, and how many Palestinian views were provided condemning the Palestinian action? We know the answer, don’t we? Zero. So my point remains, does it not?
Mr McMurtrie : It’s one story in hundreds of stories that have been filed on this issue.
Senator ABETZ: And was there balance in that story, when you have five against one?
Mr McMurtrie : We don’t start from a proposition that says that, on any issue, there must be perfect balance. The importance is that we get the balance of perspectives right over time. You can’t include every facet on every story and every source. It’s just not feasible.
Senator ABETZ: But it is in every story that emanates in relation to Israel. Let’s get to ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner. He told us via tweet that he would stop using the word ‘clashes’ because of concerns by pro-Palestinian activists that the word ‘clashes’ implies conflict between two parties and removes agency, allowing blame to implicitly be spread evenly amongst those involved. Mr Joyner, to explain his decision, said, ‘Israel have been the instigators of virtually all the violence during recent weeks.’ Mr Joyner seems to studiously avoid reporting Hamas political bureau member, Fathi Hammad, a former interior minister, who was filmed last week shouting at a rally, ‘People of Jerusalem, we want you to cut off the heads of the Jews with knives.’ Hamad even pointed at his throat to show just where to stab and said ‘cut their artery from here. A knife costs five shekels. Buy a knife, sharpen it, put it there, and just cut off their heads’. He also said the Jews have spread ‘corruption’ and have acted ‘with arrogance’ and their moment of reckoning has come. We don’t seem to be able in our balanced reporting from the Middle East to report these facts. Why not?
Mr McMurtrie : I’m not familiar with the detail that you just read out. I would need to look at it. I will come back to you.