SBS tweets: who really harmed public broadcaster’s reputation?

Inappropriate ministerial intervention and an excessive response from management may have caused more harm to SBS’s reputation than the offending tweets, in what journalist and former VPS executive Denis Muller sees as SBS’s “own goal”. It’s a lesson for all public entities.

There has been a good deal of muddled thinking arising from the sacking of Scott McIntyre by SBS because of a series of tweets he sent out on Anzac Day.

In the tweets, he said: “Wonder if the poorly read, largely white nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered”; “Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan”.

The Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, described them as “despicable remarks” and drew them to the attention of SBS management. The SBS managing director, Michael Ebeid, then sacked McIntyre, setting off a lively debate about whether this amounted to an attack on McIntyre’s right of free speech.

There are two issues here, one of principle and the other of penalty. They need to be disentangled if we are to arrive at a reasoned conclusion.

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