ABC boss David Anderson has warned staff they risk being sacked for social media posts that comprise the public broadcaster’s independence, with the company updating its employment contracts to make this clear.
High profile ABC journalists Louise Milligan, Sally Neighbour and Laura Tingle have come under scrutiny for their comments on Twitter in the past year, with Mr Anderson grilled about the rigour of the broadcaster’s social media policies by Coalition Senators at consecutive estimates hearings.
In an email to staff on Monday, Mr Anderson, the managing director, said staff were legally accountable for their personal social media accounts, but could still face disciplinary conduct under the ABC Code of Conduct for their posts.
“The primary concern is when personal social media activity reflects badly on the ABC’s independence and integrity, or when a poorly judged post or series of posts or ‘likes’ compromises perceptions of the impartiality of someone in an ABC role where maintaining impartiality in the public eye is crucial,” Mr Anderson said in the email.
“So, to protect yourself and the ABC, I offer this simple piece of advice: If you are posting, liking, or sharing something on personal social media that is work related or about a matter of public controversy – ask yourself if it’s something you would also say, write, or share on an ABC platform.”
Milligan, the ABC’s star investigative reporter at Four Corners, is being sued by Queensland federal Liberal MP Andrew Laming over a tweet alleging he had taken an “upskirting” photo of a woman bending over. Queensland police in April cleared him of any criminal offence in connection with the photo.
The ABC is covering Milligan’s legal costs. But Mr Anderson, in his email, indicated staff would be personally liable for their social media content, saying if they followed his advice “you are far less likely to find yourself in breach of the ABC Code of Conduct or defending a legal claim from a third party at your own personal cost”.
The conduct of ABC staff on Twitter has been a repeat theme at recent Senate estimates hearings, with Mr Anderson last year asked to explain a since-deleted tweet by Tingle, the ABC’s chief political correspondent, that accused the federal government of “ideological bastardry”. In May, Mr Anderson revealed that ABC lawyer Sebastien Maury had resigned over tweets dating back to 2019 calling Prime Minister Scott Morrison “fascist” and an “awful human being”.