Because the media business grapples with the sackings of Antoinette Lattouf from the ABC and Clementine Ford from Nova over expressing robust views on the warfare in Gaza — and the stopping of employees at 9 papers who signed an open letter calling for goal protection from reporting on the battle — one pertinent query raised is whether or not it’s authorized to sack journalists for his or her political beliefs.
Lattouf, who had taken to social media to share content material from UNICEF and Human Rights Watch, put out a assertion late on Wednesday night time stating she was “very upset” by the choice, believes she was “unlawfully terminated” and that she is at the moment contemplating her authorized choices.
Crikey understands stories in The Australian, in addition to posts to social media by the Govt Council of Australian Jewry, had been reside inside an hour of Lattouf being given discover of her termination.
In the meantime the ABC Melbourne workplace was vandalised on Friday morning, with “inform the reality about Palestine” written in white paint, and red paint splashed throughout the entrance of the Southbank facility.
Crikey spoke to Josh Bornstein, the principal lawyer in employment regulation at Maurice Blackburn, about whether or not media corporations are legally entitled to limit the rights of their staff.
Bornstein himself took to social media to share Lattouf’s assertion, tweeting: “One of many points raised is whether or not the ABC sacked Antoinette by cause of her political opinion in breach of s772(1) (f) of the Truthful Work Act.”
“This was the supply invoked by Scott McIntyre when he was sacked by SBS a number of years in the past.”
Former SBS soccer reporter Scott McIntyre was fired by the multicultural broadcaster in 2016 over tweets about Anzac Day that noticed then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull personally intervene. McIntyre ultimately settled out of court docket with SBS, having been represented by Bornstein professional bono.
Part s772(1)(f) of the Truthful Work Act prohibits termination of an worker’s employment based mostly on issues reminiscent of race, intercourse, gender, nationality, ethnicity or political beliefs, amongst different issues.
“You can not contract out of s.772 (1),” Bornstein mentioned. “An employment contract that stipulated that you’re not allowed to get pregnant or vote for the ALP wouldn’t be enforceable. Nonetheless, in these types of instances, employers argue that they weren’t terminating due to faith or political opinion however as a result of the worker violated a coverage. For my part, they’re one and the identical.”
Employers should not at liberty to dodge their obligations beneath the act by the use of an employment contract, although not solely has the definition of a political opinion not been examined within the courts — owing to the related instances settling, reminiscent of these involving La Trobe College’s Roz Ward or former Wallaby Israel Folau — however employer overreach has additionally elevated in recent times.
“The phrases political opinion haven’t been given an in depth (which means). There’s not detailed jurisprudence about what they imply,” he mentioned.
“What is occurring, within the digital age, the attain of employer, assertion of energy and management over their staff has radically expanded and has turn into repressive and anti-democratic.”
Bornstein mentioned the Truthful Work Act didn’t impose a special customary on journalists, however that the media business imposed on itself a singular place within the labour market.
“There’s no totally different customary [for journalists of what brings a media company into disrepute], however company model managers declare model disaster each time somebody tweets — the sky is falling as a result of Fred tweeted about Anzac Day or Sally tweeted a few rainbow flag,” he mentioned.
“Journalists are in a special place to most individuals within the labour market, as a result of not less than in organisations that are journals of document, there’s this rigidity, which is a rigidity in idea and by conference, reasonably than by any ironclad regulation, that goes, ‘We’re a journal of document reporting the information. It’s vital that our employees commerce off democratic rights in order that the presentation of information is just not besmirched or tainted by the activism of journalists’.”
“You can also make a good case that for information journalists, their obligations of honest and neutral reporting imply that they need to chorus from collaborating in contentious political debate. The place it will get messier is plenty of journalists don’t try this — plenty of members of media organisations aren’t engaged in that exercise [and are engaged in opinion journalism]”.
“The difficulty of what the official constraints are for workers within the media business and for journalists, what are official constraints [versus] what are lawful constraints could be very unsettled. The regulation, the principles and conventions that apply in journalism are very brittle. There’s plenty of contestation concerning the restrictions, notably in America, the place journalists have fought about the best to precise views about issues like #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, to march within the streets. It’s a really hotly contested area, and there isn’t a settled orthodoxy.”
Requested why instances of this nature tended to settle, Bornstein mentioned it was as a result of he thought employers in that place “wouldn’t have the ability to win”.
“I believe the employer realises they’re going to look ridiculous. They received’t have the ability to win. Their claims of a model disaster will in all probability be torn to shreds. They usually don’t need that every one aired in a public trial,” he mentioned.
“It’s a debate over business model administration and human rights. And whether or not you need to have the ability to contract out of the human proper to take part in democracy, by expressing opinions, by marching within the streets, by waving a flag.”