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January 18, 2024

Dear Ms. Buttrose,

I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch to seek clarification about an issue that has been reported in the media regarding journalist and former ABC employee Antoinette Lattouf reposting Human Rights Watch content on her personal social media account.

An article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on January 16 states, “the reason she was sacked, the response [ABC’s response] says, is because she ignored a direction from managers and shared a controversial social media post [emphasis added] from Human Rights Watch… The ABC said Lattouf was directed not to post about “matters of controversy” during her five-day contract… The broadcaster says she failed or refused to comply with this directive.”

The post in question was a repost of content from the Human Rights Watch Instagram account regarding a new report by Human Rights Watch on the Israeli government’s use of starvation as a method of warfare in Gaza. Lattouff had added the heading, “HRW reporting starvation as a tool of war.”

Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organisation that monitors and reports on human rights abuses by states and non-state actors in over 100 countries around the world. We have been working to promote respect for human rights for more than four decades.

Human Rights Watch reporting is relied on by the media including the ABC, academics, the United Nations, government officials and courts the world over. In fact, the ABC reported on the very Human Rights Watch report that Lattouf posted about.

It is troubling that factual Human Rights Watch material has been deemed “controversial”. This could have a chilling effect on the ability of Australian journalists to share human rights content from reputable organizations. Already we have learned that some ABC journalists, fearful of losing their jobs, are deleting posts sharing Human Rights Watch content from their social media profiles.

Journalists should be encouraged to amplify human rights reporting, not penalized for doing so. Around the world, we see journalists facing pressure from authoritarian governments to chill the amplification of human rights issues. The Australian national broadcaster should set a positive example not a negative one. Otherwise, the fallout from this case suggests that posts from human rights organizations are something to be censored.

ABC should clarify its policies around what staff are permitted to repost, including with respect to Human Rights Watch’s work, and whether staff in other instances have faced dismissal or other disciplinary action for sharing the work of Human Rights Watch or other human rights organizations.

Without knowing the full facts of the case, Human Rights Watch is not commenting on the merits of the matter that is currently before the Fair Work Commission.

We would be happy to discuss this with you at your convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Elaine Pearson

Asia Director, Human Rights Watch

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