Senator Hollie Hughes – Estimates questions regarding bias in the ABC’s coverage of the Gaza conflict

Photo of Senator Hollie Hughe
October 24, 2023

How can those in Australia who are taxpayers that fund the ABC have faith as Tom Joyner remains a journalist in the Middle East? The expression he used was not vanilla and it was not difficult to interpret his view of the information. Can Jewish Australians or any Australians have faith that Mr Joyner is capable of fairly reporting on events in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to Israelis and Jewish citizens

CHAIR: In that case, we will just go directly to questions. We will start with Senator Hughes.

Senator HUGHES: Good afternoon, Mr Anderson. Obviously, at the moment we have a war underway in the Middle East. I’ll just start there today and try and keep to particular issues as we go through. You and I have had previous discussions. We had an instance with Mr Fouad Abu Gosh and antisemitic tweets. There were a lot of concerns expressed after comments became public by your reporter in the Middle East, Tom Joyner, and his reference to the beheading of babies being BS. It was admonished by fellow journalists. I’m just wondering whether or not you’ve had a chance to speak to Mr Joyner or if you can update us on anything that occurred post him making those comments?

Mr Anderson : Firstly, I think the ABC has moved quickly to post additional people in Gaza so that we can cover what’s happening there, the heinous atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians, then to what is effectively a humanitarian crisis that’s gone on from there. Tom Joyner was one of the people that was deployed there. He went in from Istanbul. I know the specific incident in question, where Mr Joyner was participating in a closed WhatsApp group with other journalists, looking at stories and trying to make sense of what was happening and unfolding at the time. I know Mr Joyner is quite remorseful and apologetic for the words that he used. He was at the time doing what journalists were doing—that was, trying to verify what sources could back up what claims were being made at the time. At the time, we were looking at a story that was quite awful to say out loud that involved 40 babies. We contacted the IDF about that. They were unable to verify that had happened. His language was unfortunate. He knows that he has distressed people by using that language. As I said, he is quite remorseful that that happened and he regrets it. I do think, given it is social media, it is something that we’ll be looking into and something we’ll be investigating. He has a right to procedural fairness, and I can go through that. But I do know that he is quite remorseful about it.

Senator HUGHES: Do you understand and do you accept that what occurred in Israel was a pogrom that was the worst killing of Israelis and Jews since the Holocaust ended? How can those in Australia who are taxpayers that fund the ABC have faith as Tom Joyner remains a journalist in the Middle East? The expression he used was not vanilla and it was not difficult to interpret his view of the information. Can Jewish Australians or any Australians have faith that Mr Joyner is capable of fairly reporting on events in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to Israelis and Jewish citizens?

Mr Anderson : The most heinous war crimes have happened. Terrorists have slain Israeli civilians in the way that they have, and the stories are horrendous. Mr Joyner does have a right of reply here when we do look at it. I don’t immediately rush to it being partisan rather than completely insensitive and distressing to anybody who saw or heard those comments. That said, we’re certainly looking into it and investigating it. Mr Joyner knows that as well.

Senator HUGHES: When he’s expressed remorse, has he suggested any way to rectify this or has there been any other action taken?

Mr Anderson : I know his managers have spoken to him about it. He understands the distress that he’s caused by it and does deeply regret that it happened. Again, because it’s on social media—it was not public facing—and on a closed private—

Senator HUGHES: With international journalists.

Mr Anderson : I know, yes.

Senator HUGHES: It’s embarrassing as a country that a representative of our national broadcaster referred to war crimes as ‘bullshit’.

Mr Anderson : I’m sorry that happened and that it was then distressing to other people as well. It shouldn’t have happened. But it is something, again, that we will be investigating, as it was on social media and it was then reported. Yes, there were several hundred journalists on the closed WhatsApp group; I do accept that.

Senator HUGHES: Yes. If it was just Mr Joyner and we hadn’t previously had Mr Fouad Abu Gosh maybe we could say, ‘He made a mistake; there is no pattern of behaviour.’ Are you aware of a social media producer employed by the ABC called Maryanne Taouk?

Mr Anderson : No, I am not.

Senator HUGHES: I suggest you become familiar with Ms Taouk. She reported to the ABC website on the pro-Palestinian rally outside the Sydney Opera House on 10 October, where there were calls to ‘gas the Jews’ and ‘F the Jews’. On 19 October, Ms Taouk co-authored a report, also for an ABC website, on the blast in the car park of the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. That was a bombing that was falsely blamed on Israel, which, pretty much all experts now agree, without a shadow of a doubt, was the result of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket misfiring. The report she wrote for the ABC website does not say anything about that whatsoever—this new consensus. But she also, on the same day, put an item on her Instagram page, which is social media—and I’ll make sure I get these tabled for you—where she refers to ‘stop the genocide’. There’s considerable text underneath here but she basically refers to Gaza and how densely populated it is, that Israel has held it under siege for 17 years and that in the last 11 days Israel has dropped thousands of bombs on the imprisoned population. She then goes on to genocide studies and breaches of international law. Again, I’ll get you copies of all of this. But, suffice to say, it is very anti Israel and very pro Palestinian and contains not quite accurate information. On her Instagram she has a hashtag #freepalestine. Then on 21 October she signed an inflammatory petition that was sent to Tony Burke, the federal government Minister for the Arts. Clementine Ford signed it as well. I will get you a copy of this very inflammatory pro-Palestinian letter. It is anti Israel. It is in support of the Greens’ motion that Adam Bandt put forward that was widely condemned by both sides of the House.

Here is another example of an ABC employee showing quite antisemitic behaviour, both through her work and through her social media. What was interesting, when we went through the letter and had a look at the signatures, was that a substantial number of them even had fake names. ‘Texta Queen’, ‘Ancestrous’ and ‘Lady Luck’ are some of the people who also signed this letter. It’s extraordinary that she’s breached quite a few of the guidelines. She’s a social media producer. You’d hope she knew what they were. This is yet another example of antisemitic behaviour emanating from the ABC. What is it about the ABC that attracts these people to want to work for them?

Mr Anderson : I’ll take a look at what you’ve got there and take that seriously. We’ve made it quite clear to people with regard to their personal use of social media—and those instances where people transgress, I’d say, are fewer than what they used to be—that we don’t take responsibility for it, and there is accountability on them as ABC staff that they don’t undermine their effectiveness at work or their ability to impartially report on something. With regard to what you’ve said is published material, I’ll look at it again. I’m not just saying this; I do not think the ABC is antisemitic in any way.

Senator HUGHES: You seem to certainly attract antisemites to work for you, though?

Mr Anderson : I’ll reserve judgement on whatever you’ve got in front of you that you provide to me. Fouad Abu Gosh no longer works for the ABC over his personal use of social media. I can’t answer your questions as to why you think that, because I don’t believe we are antisemitic. What we are doing in our reporting, as this situation evolves, is impartially reporting what information we have available at the time to the best of our ability. When it comes to the bombing of that hospital, we had people like John Lyons, who was out pretty early on News Breakfast and NewsRadio that morning, making sure that it was known that it was rejected by Israelis, that it was an Israeli airstrike, but, to that end, that we were still looking for the reason it happened. As we have credible sources of information, we do report it over that period of time. So I don’t see antisemitism in our reporting, but I will take on board what you have got in front of you.

Senator HUGHES: We’ll work to the next story. On ABC News, a Hamas apologist, Samah Sabawi, was interviewed by Ros Childs. You only have to go through Ms Sabawi’s Twitter feed to see what her views are. They are very, very clear. She did an interview with Ros Childs that largely implicated Israel as the aggressor who was indiscriminately bombing Palestinian civilians. In fact, she stated, ‘What do you expect from the Palestinians justifying Hamas’s attacks?’ Of course, Ms Childs did nothing to temper the conversation or discussion or propose any alternatives. Before you answer that, what’s interesting is that someone obviously realised this was a problem because ABC iview and the websites have scrubbed every interview with Ms Sabawi. They’re all gone. But some producer and Ros Childs thought it was a good idea to get a Hamas apologist on ABC News. These are just continued examples of absolutely abhorrent standards that seem to be applied.

Mr Anderson : I don’t know about that interview with Ros Childs. We did have—

Senator HUGHES: You won’t find it. I’ll have to send it to you from the Parliamentary Library.

Mr Anderson : We did have a Hamas representative interviewed on 7.30?

Senator HUGHES: I’m getting to that.

Mr Anderson : Okay. Would you like me to—

Senator HUGHES: Well, we can talk about that one now, and then we’ll come back to ABC radio.

Mr Anderson : Did you want to say something first?

Senator HUGHES: I have zero comprehension how the national broadcaster, funded by the Australian taxpayer, on one of its signature news programs, 7.30 report, gives a platform, an interview, to someone who is a prescribed terrorist under Australian law. That’s insanity! Who thought ‘This is a great idea? Let’s get confirmed terrorists on the 7.30 report?’

Senator HENDERSON: It’s a sackable offence, Mr Anderson.

Mr Anderson : In response to that question, not the sackable offence, but in response to that question—Hamas being responsible for the attack on Israel, which put them at the centre of the events that need to be understood by everybody, by interviewing one of their leaders, we’re able to test—

Senator HENDERSON: Terrorist—terrorist links.

Mr Anderson : to interview a terrorist, yes—we’re able to test some of the some of the propaganda and outright lies being spread by Hamas. We’re able to then challenge them on the lies that they are spreading, which is what happened in that interview.

Senator HUGHES: It was a platform that legitimised their existence.

Mr Anderson : It was not legitimising terrorism. It certainly something to be understood, to call them out on their lies. For instance, one of their lies was that they didn’t harm Israelis. Through that—

Senator HENDERSON: I watched it.

Mr Anderson : Through that interview we challenged them and then they admitted that they had done that. So I think that it is a terrorist organisation—

Senator HUGHES: I watched it, but they weren’t under instruction to do that. I hope there’s going to be some sort of correction. I’m not sure whether you’re aware, Mr Anderson, but the IDF and Israel have now invited a number of journalists—I’m assuming Tom Joyner was not included, but a number of journalists, perhaps he should have been—to view some of the body cam footage that was removed from dead Hamas terrorists, as well as some of the vision that was captured in kibbutz’s or where people were murdered by terrorists. It is not fit for broadcast. But perhaps if the ABC sees an interview with a known and defined terrorist, that perhaps it’s appropriate that you do show the footage of what the terrorists did, because that is absolutely abhorrent.

Mr Anderson : We have guidelines on exactly that. For instance, with what the terrorists did in New Zealand, we absolutely did not platform the act of the terrorism itself—

Senator HUGHES: Did you interview anyone from the terrorist group from the government of New Zealand?

Mr Anderson : I’m answering you seriously, Senator, and I can see the disbelief in your face, but, in this case, this was editorially justified to interview that representative, given the heinous act that they did, to challenge them on the claims and the misinformation that they spread.

Senator HUGHES: The fact that you’re legitimising someone who they prescribed—

Mr Anderson : It is not legitimising terrorism.

Senator HUGHES: Well, I think it’s highly legitimised. We’ll continue on because there’s a lot to get through. On 22 October, the ABC radio program Rear Vision broadcast ‘The Gaza Strip: How a tiny slither of land became the epicentre of a conflict in the Middle East.’ It interviewed five experts: Professor Ilan Pappe, the director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter in Britain, who has authored The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians with Noam Chomsky; academic and activist Norman Finkelstein, the author of Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom; Gideon Levy, columnist Haaretz Daily newspaper in Tel Aviv and the author of The Punishment of Gaza; Khaled Elgindy, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and director of the Palestinian Israeli affairs program and author of Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump; and Nathan Shachar, a Swedish journalist and author of The Gaza Strip: Its History and Politics—From the Pharaohs to the Israeli Invasion of 2009.

I have been reliably informed, and I’m pretty sure, reading the titles of their books, that Professor Ilan Pappe, Norman Finkelstein and Gideon Levy are well-known radical left-wing critics of both Israeli policies and Israel’s existence as a Jewish homeland and their views don’t represent the mainstream views of Israeli historians or academia. For example, Pappe is a self-declared anti-Zionist who rejects Israel’s right to exist. Khaled Elgindy, who is also one of the experts, has worked for the Palestinian Authority. Would you call this an example of balanced reporting from the ABC?

Mr Anderson : I’m not familiar with that. I will have to take that on notice, but I will take a good look at it and we’ll get our people to take a good look at it, too.

Senator HUGHES: Part of the issue with regard to this was that the comments that were made were at no point, when they were incorrect, corrected. At no point, when they were factually wrong, were the correct facts produced. It was incredibly lacking in any basic context and detail, and anyone who listened to it would have been significantly misled on what they were being told. That includes when Yitzhak Rabin was killed. The way things were working was that, all of a sudden, it went to Netanyahu as the Prime Minister, which was actually not factually correct. He was the Prime Minister in between. It then talked about the second uprising, or intifada, and the fact that there has never been the option of a Palestinian state being created—again, that’s not true. That was led by the PM Ehud Barak, who did do that, before Netanyahu. These are factual inconsistencies that play into a pro-Palestinian narrative that is anti Zionist and anti Israel in its existence. How is this part of the ABC Charter of fair and balanced reporting—providing a program from one perspective only, with incorrect information? I’m yet to find one that gives an alternative view.

Mr Anderson : Again, I’m going to have to take it on notice. Our partiality standards are such that we do need to provide a balance of perspectives over time. I don’t know that story, but I will certainly look into it.

Senator HUGHES: Again, we’ll provide the name of that program to you on notice. Perhaps someone could have a listen to it and explain to us how absolute, undeniable facts over the past 30 years of this conflict were just omitted. I’ll leave it there.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard