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ABC boss David Anderson has conceded the broadcaster had “fallen short” in supporting staff in a Senate estimates hearing in the days after Stan Grant stepped down from hosting the flagship Q+A program.
Grant, a Wiradjuri man and one of the ABC’s stars, quit as host of the political panel show last week, citing the need for a break from the media after enduring a storm of negative coverage and racially fuelled abuse on social media that intensified following his involvement in ABC TV’s King Charles III coronation coverage.
Stan Grant makes a speech after stepping down as host of Q&A on Monday.Credit: ABC
Grant’s exit has sparked a broader debate about the culture within the ABC after he said he felt abandoned by the broadcaster’s management, noting in a column that no one had “uttered one word of public support”.
Anderson subsequently apologised to Grant and said there would be a review into how the ABC responds to racism, while ABC journalists and staff rallied across the country with placards saying “I stand with Stan”.
Anderson told the Senate committee he was “very concerned about staff at the ABC” saying there was a correlation between coverage of the public broadcaster by other media outlets and an uptick in abuse that they received via social media.
“I’m worried about Stan but I’m also worried about our other staff. I’m worried about our First Nations staff as we head towards a referendum on the Voice, to make sure that they are sufficiently protected. This goes for all of our staff, particularly those people who are public-facing and for the job that they do. To me, this is those instances are increasing over time, and it’s time that we have a review of how we’re supporting people,” Anderson said.
ABC director of news Justin Stevens, and managing director David Anderson during the Senate estimates hearing.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
Grant appeared on the ABC’s live coverage in the hours leading up to the coronation as part of panel discussion that focused on the legacy of the monarchy in Australia, where he spoke about how the Crown had “put a weight” on Indigenous people.
His remarks triggered days of critical coverage in conservative traditional media outlets, as well as a vicious social media pile-on, taking issue with the appropriateness of the discussion ahead of King Charles’ crowning, while the broadcaster’s coronation coverage drew more than 1700 viewer complaints.
ABC Director of News Justin Stevens told the Senate hearing that Grant became the face of “any and all criticism” connected with the ABC’s coronation coverage.
“I think it’s clear that the coverage drew a lot of criticism and a lot of criticism from multiple media outlets. And as is the case with reporting of media these days, the media likes to put a face to criticism, particular items and segments. Quite often in the case of the ABC, that will be the most prominent person who took part. And on this occasion, Stan was the most prominent person who took part in that discussion,” Stevens said.
“Stan was very upset that we didn’t publicly defend him role in the coverage. And I fully accept his criticism of me for that and I’ve apologised to him.”
Stevens said the broadcaster was “operating in a new environment now, where it is out of our comfort zone at the ABC, beyond Senate estimates, to publicly defend everything that we do, and every piece of journalism that we do, such as the level of animus and criticism that our reporting draws.”
He cited coverage on Sky News where he said Grant was described as a “whiner in chief” and a headline in the Herald Sun which said “heads should roll at the ABC over coronation coverage”, adding “unfortunately for Stan he becomes the face of this when he takes part in it”.
Stevens said the critical coverage was not limited to News Corp, and included Nine, publisher of this masthead, and said all media companies needed to come together to “figure out how we foster a kinder, fairer discourse”.
Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, who has discussed the issue with ABC management, condemned the racial abuse directed at Grant, saying freedom of expression did not extend to vilification, defamation and adult cyber-abuse.
“Formal complaints mechanisms exist for Australians who don’t like what they see, hear or read in the media, or on social media,” she said.
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