ABC received complaints about Antoinette Lattouf on her first day on air, commission told

The ABC’s Managing Director David Anderson raised complaints about Antoinette Lattouf with senior colleagues on the first day of her week-long radio presenting contract last year, the Fair Work Commission has heard.

Ms Lattouf has lodged an unlawful termination claim against the broadcaster after she was taken off air mid-way through her fill-in presenting role at ABC Radio Sydney in December.

Her lawyers claim the ABC told her she had breached the social media policy for posting content from Human Rights Watch about the war in Gaza to her Instagram account.

The commission is hearing a dispute about jurisdiction, after Ms Lattouf’s legal team said the ABC’s submissions suggested there was some kind of “rostering adjustment” rather than termination.

The commission heard that David Anderson asked senior colleagues to “look into” complaints he received about Ms Lattouf.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Barrister Mark Gibian SC, representing the journalist, said his client was called to a meeting and told she had breached policy and needed to collect her belongings.

“That was, on any view, a termination,” he said.

Witness Chris Oliver-Taylor, the broadcaster’s chief content officer, told the hearing that he received an email from Mr Anderson on Monday, December 18 about Ms Lattouf.

It said Mr Anderson had started to receive “many complaints” which he said he would forward to both Mr Oliver-Taylor and others.

The email and a chain associated with it was produced by Mr Oliver-Taylor, before a line of questioning around it prompted objections from barrister Ian Neill SC, for the ABC, who described it as “a fishing exercise” and disputed the relevance of the material.

Mr Oliver-Taylor said prior to the email he was not aware Ms Lattouf would be on air.

The commission did not hear about the contents of the complaints.

Mr Anderson’s email requested somebody “look into it”.

Mitigating measures put in place while Ms Lattouf was on air

Mr Oliver-Taylor said he subsequently had a conversation with Ben Latimer, another senior colleague, in relation to Ms Lattouf being on air and a direction for her to not post on social media.

“There were concerns,” he told the commission.

“Ms Lattouf had to host a live radio show. We were concerned about how to manage that for her.”

Mr Oliver-Taylor said there were a number of mitigating measures in place, including a request for “significant more vigilance” on talkback callers and for producers to be “very alive” to the use of the so-called “dump button” to drop rogue callers.

On the Wednesday, Mr Oliver-Taylor was asked by Mr Latimer to review an Instagram story Ms Lattouf had posted.

He told the commission he believed there had been a potential breach of the ABC’s social media policy, and a breach of the instruction to not post on social media.

Decision to end contract early ‘formed’ in online meeting

Mr Oliver-Taylor said during a virtual meeting on Microsoft Teams, a decision was “formed” to take Ms Lattouf off air for the final two days of her contract.

“In my mind, sir, the decision was clear, what we had to do. I wanted a second to review that decision,” he said.

The Teams meeting, which the witness said involved discussion about the contractual terms, included Mr Oliver-Taylor, Mr Latimer and ABC Radio Sydney manager Steve Ahern.

But Mr Oliver-Taylor said he was ultimately the decision maker.

Mr Oliver-Taylor then texted Mr Anderson to advise that he had made the decision because taking someone off air was “serious enough that the managing director should be aware”.

Mr Ahern told the hearing that during an all-station meeting earlier on December 20, he had agreed with positive feedback that Ms Lattouf was “sounding great on air”.

Ms Lattouf told to keep a ‘low profile’

The commission heard Ms Lattouf was told not to post anything controversial to social media.(AAP Image: Toby Zerna)

ABC Radio Sydney content director Elizabeth Green, who had recommended Ms Lattouf for the fill-in contract, told the hearing she spoke to Ms Lattouf over the phone about complaints on the Monday.

She said she was not expressly aware they related to the Israel-Gaza conflict but assumed they were from “lobbyists”.

Her advice to Ms Lattouf was to keep a “low profile” and not post anything controversial to social media, but it would be best not to post anything.

Ms Green told the commission that once she became aware of the decision to take Ms Lattouf off air, she told colleagues she disagreed and “for the sake of two days” it would be better to keep her on air.

According to her witness statement, Ms Green also said she did not see a problem with the Human Rights Watch post.

Ms Green recalled that after Ms Lattouf was informed in a meeting that she would not be returning to her on-air role, she came across the journalist again as she was leaving.

Ms Green agreed that they were both crying, but she did not recall saying words to the effect of “I tried to stop them” and “this is coming from higher up”.

She agreed that she mentioned Mr Anderson’s office because he may have been aware of the situation and decision.

The hearing, before deputy president Gerard Boyce, will continue on Monday.

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