ABC warns staff against ‘poorly judged’ social media activity

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday August 9, 2021

ABC journalists have been warned that they are legally responsible for their online posts.
ABC journalists have been warned that they are legally responsible for their online posts. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

ABC journalists have been warned that they are legally responsible for their online posts, as part of an update to the national broadcaster’s social media guidelines.

In an email sent out to staff this week, ABC managing director David Anderson urged staff to be more careful about what they post — or even ‘like’ — online.

“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,” he said, according to The Australian.

“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.”

Anderson’s email directed employees to follow the ABC’s guidelines for personal use of social media, which have been refreshed this week, despite being updated five months ago.

Under the March guidelines, employees’ personal use of social media must not:

  • Damage the ABC’s reputation for impartiality and independence,
  • Undermine their effectiveness at work,
  • Mix the professional and personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute,
  • Imply ABC endorsement of their personal views,
  • Disclose confidential information obtained through work.

Read more: Laming’s lawyer issues letters to journalist ahead of defamation suit

Back in May, Liberal senator and former ABC journalist Sarah Henderson argued the ABC’s social media policy was ‘woefully inadequate’. She told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that a tweet posted by ABC journalist Laura Tingle last year — which had blamed staff redundancies on ‘government ideological bastardry’ — ‘would have been a sackable offence’ when she had worked at the broadcaster in the 1990s.

“Other than personal and family matters and the republication of ABC stories, ABC journalists should not be permitted to publish material on social media unless it is authorised for publication in accordance with the ABC’s editorial standards,” Henderson said.

Anderson’s email has reminded staff that social media posts have recently sparked ‘a few high-profile defamation cases’.

Liberal MP Andrew Laming brought one such case against Four Corners journalist Louise Milligan, over a series of tweets which he said ‘gravely injured’ his ‘character and reputation’. Defence minister Peter Dutton launched another recent defamation case against refugee activist Shane Bazzi, who had labelled Dutton as a ‘rape apologist’ in a tweet.

Anderson’s memo has encouraged staff to include a disclaimer on their social media profiles stating that any posts or likes do not represent the views of the ABC, and to remove any references to their employer in their handle and username.

“What is separately created and posted on personal social media accounts is editorially and legally the responsibility of the owner of the accounts,” he said.

Read more: Judge orders mediation in Dutton defamation case


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