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Tingle tweet may lead to ABC ‘Twitter bans’

The Australian

Nick Tabakoff

26 | October | 2020

Laura Tingle’s now much-discussed “government bastardry” tweet about a “smug Scott Morrison” may have been short-lived, but it looks set to have a lasting impact on the ABC’s policies on Twitter use by its staff.

In an interview with Diary, Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has revealed he will work on the government’s behalf to push for standards of “impartiality” at the public broadcaster to be protected. “I’m going to stay on this,” he tells us.

The ABC’s own rules state it must “ensure” that its “presentation of news and information is impartial”.

Bragg is proposing to work “constructively” with ABC managing director David Anderson to bring new BBC rules to Australia that ensure staff show no bias on Twitter. The most striking feature of the BBC rules is that they will impose ‘Twitter bans’ on staff if they breach bias protocols.

As this column predicted last week, the now deleted tweet by Tingle, 7.30’s chief political correspondent, became the key focal point of the appearance by Aunty’s boss David Anderson in Senate Estimates on Wednesday.

Bragg, who grilled Anderson about Tingle at length at the hearing, tells Diary he will continue to pursue the issue of ABC Twitter impartiality in parliament. “It’s an important marker for the ABC to put in a proper enforcement regime on their impartiality,” he tells Diary.

Bragg intends to set himself up as someone from the government who “likes the ABC” and helps it to achieve its potential.

Of particular concern to the Liberal senator is the grey area in which people identify as ABC journalists on their personal Twitter handles — effectively using their tweets as an extension of their professional profiles — while failing ABC impartiality standards.

Bragg will push for the ABC to take its lead from the BBC’s “take people off Twitter” policy if impartiality rules are breached. BBC inspector-general Tim Davie says that apart from imposing Twitter bans, he’ll be able to take other disciplinary action if they show bias on social media.

Bragg tells Diary: “If David Anderson can get this right, I think it could be a very important event in the history of the ABC. I’m attracted to what the BBC director-general has said about impartiality. I think that is the model for the ABC as well.”

At one point on Thursday, Tingle — who unusually didn’t tweet at all last week — was Twitter’s top trending topic in Australia, with supporters posting the hashtag #IStandWithLaura and attacking the government for waging a “culture war” on the ABC.

But Bragg said: “I like the ABC. A lot of the rhetoric about the ABC over the years has been unhelpful, because it’s been focused on culture wars. I’m not interested in culture wars.”

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