ABC bosses weigh in on Grant controversy

·4-min read
ABC news director Justin Stevens and managing director David Anderson have fronted a Senate estimates hearing. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s news boss has urged media organisations to be kinder to each other in public as he doubled down on his regret for not defending presenter Stan Grant.

ABC news director Justin Stevens said he regretted not publicly defending the Wiradjuri presenter for the criticism and racist abuse he received following his appearance on a discussion panel on the evening of King Charles III’s coronation on May 6.

Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday, Mr Stevens said he’d “done a lot of reflecting” on why he hadn’t defended Mr Grant sooner and one of those reasons was that “it’s not been our nature at the ABC to be the story”.

“It’s not in our nature to agitate on a daily basis to make ourselves the story,” he said.

“However, due to the climate that we function in, our approach will have to change and there are lessons in this in terms of how Stan felt we had managed it.”

ABC boss David Anderson fronted Senate estimates on Wednesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Mr Stevens said Mr Grant appeared on the coronation panel as a guest, not as a presenter.

“And a lot of the criticism was inaccurate and unfair. The way his role was characterised was not fair,” he added.

Mr Stevens first said he regretted not speaking up for Mr Grant earlier this week as he took aim at “sections” of the commercial media for doing “anything they can to campaign against the ABC.”

In a radio interview on the ABC, Mr Stevens singled out News Corp and suggested the media company had contributed to Mr Grant’s decision to resign as host of Q+A and take indefinite leave from the broadcaster.

The executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, Michael Miller, said the ABC should focus on addressing its own serious internal problems.

“The ABC needs to stop passing the buck and blaming others for its own internal problems,” Mr Miller said on Tuesday.

Mr Stevens walked back his comments on Wednesday, saying the criticism Mr Grant received hadn’t been “limited to” News Corp and that “Nine and other publishers” had also been “very critical” of the public broadcaster.

Mr Stevens called on the industry to act change, saying the last thing Australians wanted was media companies to use their reporting to argue with each other and “make themselves the story”.

“I think all media companies, including the ABC, including News Corp, including Nine, need to figure out how we foster a kinder, fairer discourse,” he told the senators questioning him.

“Much like I’m sure you will endeavour to do in parliament, it’s in our interest to foster a kinder, fairer discourse that is not driven by conflict.”

Coalition senator Hollie Hughes was on the estimates committee grilling the ABC executives. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Mr Stevens said tensions between News Corp and the ABC were nothing new, noting the Murdoch family and the public broadcaster had had an “interesting relationship” since the 1930s.

In an article he penned explaining his decision to step down from Q+A, Mr Grant said he had received “grotesque racist abuse” that had escalated after the coronation broadcast and that he had felt unsupported by the ABC.

He went a step further in an emotional sign-off to his last Q+A show, saying: “I’m not walking away for a while because of racism. We get that far too often. I’m not walking away because of social media hatred”.

“I need a break from the media. I feel like I’m part of the problem. And I need to ask myself how, or if, we can do it better,” he said.

ABC managing director David Anderson told Senate estimates on Wednesday the organisation should have backed Mr Grant much earlier but stood by the airing of the coronation program, which he described as “justified, relevant and appropriate”.

Mr Anderson told Senate estimates the ABC received about 1800 complaints after its coronation coverage, hundreds of which were “racist attacks” on Mr Grant, with 60 editorial complaints being investigated by the ABC Ombudsman.

Asked why the ABC continued to invite News Corp journalists onto its discussion programs, Mr Anderson said there were “some good journalists” at the commercial media company including some big names who had moved onto the ABC.

The ABC will shortly complete a racism review with the assistance of internal and external experts.