Media veteran Kim Williams was tapped to head Australia’s public broadcaster ABC, the prime minister announced on Wednesday, as the organisation navigates a newsroom revolt over Gaza coverage.
Anthony Albanese said Williams was a “safe and experienced pair of hands” to replace Ita Buttrose when her five-year term ends in March.
Williams, a veteran media manager who once ran Rupert Murdoch’s news empire in Australia, enters the public broadcaster at a difficult time.
ABC is seen by many Australians as a national treasure and bastion of fair reporting.
But internally, it has been riven by disputes about coverage of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
More than 200 union staff members recently backed a vote of no confidence in managing director David Anderson, accusing him of “failing to defend the integrity of the ABC and its staff from outside attacks”.
The controversy was prompted by the sacking of Australian-Lebanese radio host Antoinette Lattouf for Gaza-related social media posts.
Lattouf campaigned online for a ceasefire in Gaza and was critical of Australian media’s coverage of the conflict.
She has taken legal action against the dismissal and her supporters have accused ABC management of ceding to an orchestrated campaign for her ouster.
“It’s not just about me,” she said after a recent arbitration hearing, “it’s about free speech, it’s about racism, it’s about the important role journalists play in truth-telling.”
“Crucially, it’s also about a fair, independent and robust ABC,” she added.
Adam Portelli, head of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance union, said: “public trust in the ABC is being undermined.”
“The organisation’s reputation for frank and fearless journalism is being damaged by management’s repeated lack of support for its staff when they are under attack from outside.”
The ABC’s board on Tuesday passed a unanimous vote of confidence in Anderson.
Buttrose said in a statement that it was “abhorrent and incorrect” to suggest the ABC does not support its journalists.
“The ABC regularly receives, and responds to, complaints from individuals or organisations” she said.
“The assumption that either the Managing Director as Editor-in-Chief or I would be influenced by any sort of lobbying pressure is quite simply wrong.”
Many news organisations, including AFP, have faced intense scrutiny of their coverage of a conflict that stirs deep emotions in many parts of the world.
The social media posts and views of individual journalists have also come under fierce examination, with organisations wrestling to find the line between free speech and creating a perception of bias.