Senator Sarah Henderson – Estimates questions regarding bias in the ABC’s coverage of the Gaza conflict

October 24, 2023

Mr Anderson, good afternoon. I want to first ask a couple of additional questions in relation to your coverage of the war in Israel and Gaza. Mr Anderson, you continue to claim that the ABC is the most trusted source of news in Australia. Do you stand by that claim?

CHAIR: Over to Senator Henderson.

Senator HENDERSON: Mr Anderson, good afternoon. I want to first ask a couple of additional questions in relation to your coverage of the war in Israel and Gaza. Mr Anderson, you continue to claim that the ABC is the most trusted source of news in Australia. Do you stand by that claim?

Mr Anderson : I do stand by that claim.

Senator HENDERSON: I question this for a number of reasons, including that the decision to interview a proscribed terrorist organisation, Hamas, days after it committed the worst atrocities possible is just shocking. Equally shocking, Mr Anderson, is your decision to defend that editorial decision. Do you stand by that editorial decision?

Mr Anderson : I do, Senator. I didn’t know it in advance, but I do stand by it. I do think it was editorially justified to make that interview. We interviewed a range of people post those attacks—certainly those people that represented Israel, to begin with, to understand them. And then, as I said, we did interview a representative of Hamas to challenge them with regard to what they were saying, which was false claims.

Senator HENDERSON: I challenge that. Firstly, I say, is it your view that the ABC will continue to interview proscribed terrorist organisations as it sees fit?

Mr Anderson : It’s not something we rush to. It’s something we take very seriously when we do. But I wouldn’t rule out that we might, depending on the situation, interview somebody representing a terrorist organisation.

Senator HENDERSON: So Hezbollah, perhaps, could be next?

Mr Anderson : Those editorial decisions are there for good journalism reasons. They are there to dispel the claims that are being made.

Senator HENDERSON: Well, can I just raise the way you are promoting this interview. I’ve just taken this from a quick search online. iview: ‘Sarah interviews Basem Naim, Hamas’s head of international relations. Plus, Martin Scorsese discusses his latest film, Killers of the Far Moon.’ Where is the reference to the terrorist nature of this organisation? I go on. Facebook: ‘Dr Basem Naim is Hamas’s head of international relations and former health minister and he spoke to 7.30’s Sarah Ferguson.’ Where is the questioning, the revelations of the heinous atrocities committed by Hamas? YouTube: ‘Hamas senior leader says there were no plans to target civilians in Israeli attack’. This is gross misinformation but this is worse than that; this is disgraceful, Mr Anderson.

Mr Anderson : Senator, what you’re talking about is the way that’s represented. I’ll certainly take that on board and have a look.

Senator HENDERSON: Oh good!

Mr Anderson : Back to the interview itself. If you saw the interview—

Senator HENDERSON: I did see the interview.

Mr Anderson : It was a challenging interview by Sarah Ferguson.

Senator HENDERSON: It was a disgraceful interview.

Mr Anderson : I take on board your feedback, Senator, but I disagree.

Senator HENDERSON: You’ve given this terrorist organisation a national platform, undermining the ABC’s credibility. Are you aware of some of the atrocities that Hamas has committed?

Mr Anderson : I am, and that needed to be put to that representative, who was otherwise spreading misinformation that was counter to what actually happened and those heinous acts that were committed by Hamas.

Senator HENDERSON: And yet you are saying that the ABC reserves the right to continue to interview terrorist organisations.

Mr Anderson : As this conflict unfolds, we’ve interviewed that individual. Whether or not we interview that individual again, I can’t say. It is not something that we do lightly, but we do it when we feel that there’s an editorial reason to do it.

I might add that we were calling this a terror attack from the beginning. There are other news organisations that do not—I do not know why—including the BBC. I’ve read their examples as to why they say that they’re not calling them a terror attack. We believe it’s a terror attack. We use the word ‘terrorists’, we use the word ‘militants’ for the base of Hamas and we confirmed that the Australian government identifies Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Senator HENDERSON: Will you remove the references that you’ve made where you do not in any way suggest that this organisation is terrorist? You give this person a veil of credibility by calling him ‘the head of international relations and the former health minister’ as if he is a credible person.

Mr Anderson : Senator, I know when I say to you I will take that on board that I do take that seriously. We will look at it, because I do think it’s important and that—

Senator HENDERSON: Will you remove this interview from your online platforms?

Mr Anderson : I will not remove the interview, but I will certainly look at how it is represented because it needs to be quite specific about the fact that this individual is representing a terrorist organisation.

Senator HENDERSON: This is an editorial decision that you have made; how do you believe this interview should be represented?

Mr Anderson : It needs to pull out precisely what this individual represents and then make sure that it tells people what they’re going to get from that interview.

Senator HENDERSON: You’re running gross misinformation on your YouTube channel, which has 1.39 million subscribers, saying ‘Hamas senior leader says there were no plans to target civilians in Israeli attack’. Is that true, Mr Anderson?

Mr Anderson : We know that not to be true, because we know that they slaughtered the innocent Israelis.

Senator HENDERSON: That’s right, so why is that on your YouTube channel?

Mr Anderson : Senator, you’ve brought that to my attention, so we will have a look at it.

Senator HENDERSON: You’re the managing director. This has caused a storm of controversy. I looked this up in 10 minutes.

Mr Anderson : I’m not omnipresent. I’m not looking at absolutely everything that the ABC submits online. There are tens of thousands of articles every month. I’m not looking at all of them. Thank you for bringing it to my attention—

Senator HENDERSON: Someone needs to. I put it to you that your head of news and current affairs, Justin Stevens, is fundamentally failing in his job. This is an extremely controversial decision you’ve made. As a former host of the Victorian edition of the 7.30 Report, I believe it’s a reprehensible decision. This would never be made in my time. The fact that these sorts of things are being published, with your head of news and current affairs seemingly endorsing this, is a disgrace.

Mr Anderson : I don’t know if he does or if he doesn’t. I will say on the record that Justin Stevens is an excellent director of news—

Senator HENDERSON: Not based on what I’m seeing right now.

Mr Anderson : I will have a look at that.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard