ABC boss grilled over Gaza conflict coverage

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ABC boss grilled over Gaza conflict coverage

By Calum Jaspan

ABC boss David Anderson has defended the public broadcaster’s coverage of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, after being grilled over controversial leaked text messages by its Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner and an interview on 7.30 with a senior Hamas representative.

During a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, Anderson endured scrutiny from Liberal senators Hollie Hughes and Sarah Henderson, with both focusing on the broadcaster’s coverage of the ongoing violence in Gaza.

Senator Hollie Hughes has targeted the ABC managing director over the 7.30 interview with a senior Hamas leader.

Senator Hollie Hughes has targeted the ABC managing director over the 7.30 interview with a senior Hamas leader. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Commenting on the leaked comment from Joyner, who called reports of Hamas beheading Israeli babies “bullshit” in a WhatsApp group with international media, Anderson said the comment was unfortunate.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” he said. Joyner, who Anderson noted is remorseful over the comment, is being investigated by the ABC, with the ABC boss adding that the journalist had “the right to procedural fairness”.

“Mr Joyner has rotated out of Israel, and is taking a break, and I believe then returning to his normal base in Istanbul.”

Two other journalists covering the conflict “have also rotated out” in need of a break, Anderson said.

David Anderson faced a barrage of questioning during a Senate Estimates hearing on Tuesday.

David Anderson faced a barrage of questioning during a Senate Estimates hearing on Tuesday.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Another point of questioning during the Senate estimates hearing was an interview on ABC’s flagship current affairs program 7.30, featuring Hamas’ head of international relations and former health minister, Dr Basem Naim.

Anderson rejected Senator Hughes’ claim that the interview “legitimised terrorism”, noting the conversation was justified, and its intent was to challenge Hamas on misinformation and lies.


Meanwhile, Senator Henderson – a former ABC employee – said to Anderson that the decision to broadcast the interview and the ABC’s wider coverage of the conflict reflected poorly on the broadcaster’s head of news and current affairs, Justin Stevens.

“I will say on the record Stevens is an excellent news director,” Anderson said in response.

After Hughes alleged the ABC “attracts antisemites”, citing an example of a junior online producer sharing pro-Palestine content on their personal social media account, Anderson said “I don’t believe that we are antisemitic”.

Both Anderson and ABC’s chief financial officer, Melanie Kleyn, also faced scrutiny over the broadcaster’s coverage of the Voice to parliament referendum, which Anderson conceded was “difficult”.

“It was difficult for our teams to ensure we were having a balance of perspective over time,” he said. “We had quite a lot of rejections from people invited on the ABC in the No camp.”

The broadcaster will be inviting external reviewers to assess its coverage of the referendum, a process it normally undertakes following federal elections. The review will seek the perspective of a First Nations representative in the process.


The ABC boss also conceded that the ABC had “lots to learn” from its defamation stoush with former commando Heston Russell, after Justice Michael Lee ordered the broadcaster to pay $390,000 in damages last Monday.

Russell sued the ABC for defamation over two articles published online in October 2020 and November 2021, alongside a television broadcast.

“If you’re asking me to apologise to Mr Russell, I’m not going to apologise to Mr Russell,” Anderson said on Tuesday. On questioning by the committee, Anderson added the ABC had spent “around $800,000” so far on external legal costs over the course of the case.

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