Senator Hollie Hughes – Estimates questions relating to a guide for ABC staff reporting on Israel and Gaza

Photo of Senator Hollie Hughe
February 13, 2024

I might start now with Israel-Gaza and the guide for staff on reporting it. How is that compiled? Who put it together? How is it disseminated to staff?

Senator HUGHES: I might start now with Israel-Gaza and the guide for staff on reporting it. How is that compiled? Who put it together? How is it disseminated to staff?

Mr Fang : The Israel-Gaza guidance notes that we put up internally for staff to access on our intranet system came out of questions from staff about this fast-moving story and the need for us to continue to update and support our staff to making the right decisions about how they are reporting. The Israel-Gaza guidance panel, of which I am the chair now, was put together at the end of last year, I believe. It is essentially representatives of our editorial policies team that advises staff on our editorial policies and guidance notes. It has a representative from our content division, the standards editor from that division, the news standards editor and another member of the news division who is involved in the day-to-day oversight of some of the stories that we are making. We seek to stay across whatever the issues are that are coming out about what is happening with the conflict. For example, a most recent update was about the International Court of Justice case. We are also open to hearing from all of our staff and content leaders in the way we would engage with them in a normal fashion, talking to them about these stories. We also have a group of staff. Essentially we’ve invited a whole bunch of staff who would like to speak to the guidance panel about some of the issues they need help in covering. It comes right across our staff base from all parts of our digital, news channel and other content teams.

Senator HUGHES: I have a quote here. You can tell me if it has been updated or wrong. I want a bit of clarification. Under the heading ‘Gazan health authorities’, it says:

Use Gazan health authorities or the Gazan health ministry. While not incorrect, it is not generally necessary to refer to them as Hamas controlled. The health ministry in Gaza is ultimately controlled by the governing body, Hamas. However, historically, it has had some degree of operational independence.

It goes on. It feels like we’re splitting a few hairs there. Hamas is a recognised terrorist organisation by the Australian government. There is an acknowledgement that the health ministry is controlled by Hamas. Basically, by quoting the health ministry, you are quoting a terrorist organisation and the information that they are relaying. I am with you; I acknowledge that this is a very complex issue. There are very few people who really understand it. It perpetuates. When most people hear health ministry, they assume it is a legitimate government-led body that is supposed to be delivering health outcomes, not actually being run on behalf of a terror group that, as we now know, use a lot of their hospitals for part of their tunnel network and for storing munitions. How does that come about? Why is that not looked at by the national broadcaster to say, ‘Our job is to report to Australians so that they understand the situation and acknowledge this is an Australian government recognised terror group?’

Mr Fang : Senator, can you clarify the question that you want an answer to?

Senator HUGHES: Why is the guidance to use Gazan health authorities or the Gazan health ministry and omit Hamas controlled?

Mr Fang : Senator, our guidance does include that Hamas is a terrorist group, as you noted, by the Australian government. We do refer to that in all of our copy. In relation to the Gazan ministry of health, where it is relevant, we do refer to it being Hamas controlled or under Hamas, as is the reality of the situation in Gaza, which has been under Hamas control since, I believe, 2005. So where it is relevant, we have referred to that. However, it is the reality on the ground that the Gazan health ministry is the ministry that overseas hospitals and health. To date, the figures and the information that it has provided have been utilised by credible sources in the media and otherwise around the world. So we rely on that fact as well.

Senator HUGHES: Can I clarify? You do call Hamas a terrorist group. I thought the guide said Islamist militant group or a militant group.

Mr Fang : No. We refer to Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Senator HUGHES: Okay. What about with regard to referring to 7 October? What are the terms used? There is incursion, invasion, pogrom. What are the terms and guidance for what occurred on 7 October?

Mr Fang : I’d have to go back and check our guidance note and provide you that detail, Senator. We refer to what happened on 7 October as a terrorist attack.

Senator HUGHES: What about the use of the term ‘genocide’? Does the guide talk about genocide and how it should be correctly used and what it actually is?

Mr Fang : Yes. We recently updated, as I said, the guidance note as it relates to what has been the case at the International Court of Justice, where the issue of genocide has been canvassed. Genocide is obviously a contentious topic. Our guidance note currently indicates that where we use the term ‘genocide’, we should seek to include a denial if that’s the case or an alternative view on that. In the course of all of the work we do around a complex story like this, we expect our journalists to consult with their editorial leaders and managers. The guide does indicate on the term ‘genocide’ that when in doubt, you should refer up to your manager.

Senator HUGHES: I want to finish on the use of the term ‘occupied Palestinian territory’. Is there a view within the ABC or is it maintained that Palestine isn’t an independent state, that there is no state of Palestine?

Mr Fang : Sorry, Senator?

Senator HUGHES: Well, there is no state of Palestine?

Mr Fang : What is the question, then?

Senator HUGHES: By using the term ‘occupied Palestinian territory’, it would be implying that there is a Palestinian state that has been subjugated by an external oppressor. But there is no Palestinian state.

Mr Fang : Senator, I think the term ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ is fairly widely used, including by the United Nations.

Senator HUGHES: They are a bastion of holding up human rights, aren’t they, when you look at the UNHRC. They’re doing well. Again, it feeds into the narrative that Palestine itself actually even exists.

CHAIR: Is this a line of questioning foreign affairs?

Senator HUGHES: No. I’m asking about the guidelines for the language that is used with regard to—

CHAIR: For the interpretation of the ABC in terms of how their guidelines work?

Senator HUGHES: Yes. How they refer to different entities.

Mr Fang : Senator, I’m happy to come back to you with all of our guidance notes on that, if you would like. They are available to all of our staff and freely available.

Senator HUGHES: I’m happy to pass the call on.

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