Top Australian broadcaster ABC under scrutiny for 'pro-Israel' bias

Top Australian broadcaster ABC under scrutiny for 'pro-Israel' bias
The revelations about ABC include allegations that the network favours Israeli narratives and displays an explicit 'distrust' of Palestinian or Arab sources.
4 min read
26 March, 2024
The broadcaster, which has a weekly reach of three million, has come under fire for its coverage of the Israel-Gaza war [GETTY]

Australia's top broadcaster has come under fire for showing a "pro-Israel bias" in its reporting of the Israel-Gaza war, according to internal documents, which come as the outlet reels under accusations of unlawfully sacking a senior journalist.

The documents, first reported by Al Jazeera, show that staff members at Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) were concerned that coverage was "favouring the Israeli narrative over objective reporting".

It noted that ABC's reporting on the conflict does not include the words 'war crimes', 'genocide', 'ethnic cleansing', 'apartheid' or 'occupation' to describe Israel's actions in Gaza or the West Bank, but freely uses 'terrorist', 'barbaric', 'savage' and 'massacre' when describing Hamas' 7 October attack.

The concerns are detailed in a three-page summary of a meeting reported to have taken place in November, a month after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

The letter is signed by "Concerned ABC journalists and staff" and addressed to "managers and colleagues". Al Jazeera said it obtained a copy through a freedom of information request to the ABC.

In January, the broadcaster came under pressure for allegedly unlawfully sacking journalist Antionette Lattouf after the radio presenter shared a report on her social media from Human Rights Watch alleging that Israel was using starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza.

The Sydney Morning Herald later revealed that a pro-Israel lobbying group had written several letters to ABC's executive, including chair Ita Buttrose, calling for Lattouf's dismissal.

The meeting document shows several details highlighted by the staff members which suggest that the network has favoured an Israeli narrative of the conflict.

"We mention the number of Israeli hostages in many stories, but we never mention the number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel."

"We regularly quote sources referring to highly contested claims made by Israel, but not those made by Palestinians and their supporters," the letter detailed.

It also shows that ABC journalists are allowed to use 'Palestinians' but not 'Palestine' despite the United Nations recognition of the State of Palestine.

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"This alone is a clear message sent by the ABC to all our audiences that we are in fact taking a side. It violates our impartiality, because it is the Israeli narrative and the Israeli narrative alone, which denies the existence of Palestine."

The staff said there was an "explicit distrust of Palestinian sources" and acceptance of Israeli facts and figures "with no ifs or buts".

"Several examples were given during yesterday's meeting highlighting our tendency to afford Israeli spokespeople a wide berth to tell and shape a story, virtually unchallenged, while distrusting Palestinian/Arab sources," the letter read.

It goes on to voice alarm that ABC's coverage of the war is at risk of losing public trust and risks "further decreasing audience numbers".

The revelations come against a backdrop of controversies embroiling the outlet in relation to its coverage of the five-month-old conflict.

Last week, a second vote of no-confidence in ABC's Managing Director David Anderson was held by Australia’s Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance union over the sacking of Lattouf.

The Australian-Lebanese writer and broadcaster was abruptly dismissed three days into a five-day contract to present ABC Radio Sydney in December.

She subsequently lodged a case against ABC alleging unfair termination, and that she was sacked for race reasons which the broadcaster has denied.

ABC has argued that she was not sacked and paid for the shifts she carried out.

Lawyer Josh Bornstein, who is representing Lattouf, said the unlawful termination was based "on both political opinion and race".

However, Lattouf lost an appeal in February that sought to force the broadcaster to reveal the emails relating to her dismissal between executives.

A series of WhatsApp messages published in Australian media in January revealed that a group called 'Lawyers for Israel' had written several letters to ABC executives complaining about Lattouf and calling for her to be fired.

She was one of more than 100 journalists in Australia who signed a letter calling for greater scrutiny of the reporting of the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Australia's media has traditionally shown favour towards Israel, as have its political establishment, for many years.