ABC news chief Justin Stevens says he regrets not defending Stan Grant earlier as the Q+A host faced racist attacks on social media fuelled by what he described as a “relentless campaign” against the ABC’s coronation broadcast from News Corp.
Stevens accused News Corp of targeting the ABC because it was “trying to chip away [at] people’s sense of trust in what we do because we threaten their business model”.
“I regret not doing this sort of interview 10 days ago,” Stevens told Raf Epstein on ABC Melbourne in response to Grant’s announcement he was stepping down from Q+A after Monday night.
Grant targeted ABC management itself for a lack of support and accused the rightwing media of telling lies and distorting his words after he received “grotesque racist abuse” on social media and distortion and lies in the rightwing media.
“I am writing this because no one at the ABC – whose producers invited me on to their coronation coverage as a guest – has uttered one word of public support,” he said.
Stevens said he had apologised personally to the Wiradjuri journalist - as did the managing director, David Anderson – and he urged News Corp and other media critics to “come after me” rather than target ABC presenters like Grant, Tony Armstrong, Leigh Sales or Lisa Millar.
“I’m the person who’s responsible ultimately for the journalism and the decisions,” he said. “I’m saying stop going after people for doing their jobs.”
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The Australian, Sky News and radio broadcasters Neil Mitchell and Ray Hadley denounced the broadcaster for hosting a panel discussion about the impact of colonialism on Indigenous Australians and the relevance of the monarchy in 2023. Much of the commentary focused on Grant.
Stevens said sections of the media engaged in a “piling on” “with a clear agenda” and that they played a part in “amplifying and giving agency” to the racist trolls on social media.
He said the level of scrutiny applied to the ABC is not in the public interest and gave the example of a journalist from the Australian asking questions about an Indigenous ABC journalist after they had “pored over their social media”.
News Corp has been approached for comment.
Stevens earlier addressed a gathering of Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff outside the ABC in Sydney who were among staff across the nation to rally in solidarity with Grant. Other staff showed their support on social media.
They held signs and chanted “I stand with Stan” and “We reject racism”.
Grant’s ex-wife, the SBS journalist Karla Grant, said the abuse had ramped up when he became Q+A host.
“The ABC management did nothing about it up until the last couple of days,” Grant told Guardian Australia.
“It’s been quite hard for him to have to walk away from the job that he loves. But enough is enough.”
The complaint about a lack of institutional support has prompted the ABC’s primary advisory body on issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, the Bonner Committee, to ask Anderson to review how the ABC handles Indigenous staff who are subjected to racism. Anderson announced the review on Sunday.
The newly appointed head of Indigenous news at the ABC, Suzanne Dredge, spoke to the gathering in Ultimo, which included supporters from the Indigenous public broadcaster NITV.
“We want this to be a turning point for the ABC, for First Nations journalists, the media as a whole and for the Australian community,” Dredge said.
“We need to call out racism and do more to address this awful blight on all of us. The impact it has on First Nations communities across the country is devastating. We know First Nations and diverse journalists are targeted more than anyone else on social media.”
Grant’s wife, the ABC journalist Tracey Holmes, and Sales, Jeremy Fernandez, Norman Swan, and NITV reporters Lowanna Grant and Lola Forester, as well as Grant’s family, attended the Sydney rally.
Stevens acknowledged the First Nations journalists present. “We know you’re hurting,” he said. “And we are here to say we stand alongside you. You are not alone.”