ABC urges staff to remain impartial on marriage equality across social media

Mark Maley, ABC’s editorial policy manager, has sent out an internal email to staff warning employees, particularly those with high profiles, against voicing their opinions one way or another about marriage equality.

The news follows the Turnbull government’s announcement this week it would run a postal plebiscite on marriage equality.

ABC has warned staff members to remain “impartial”

It also comes after Lateline host Emma Alberici described Australia’s handling of same-sex marriage as an “indictment” on both sides of politics, through her Twitter feed.

In an internal email to staff obtained by Mumbrella, the broadcaster said it “does not have a position on the issue”.

“It is very important that we are impartial and that all perspectives are given a fair hearing and treated with respect by the ABC,” Maley said.

“In this charged environment I would also urge everyone to be circumspect on social media – advocating for one side or the other will make it more difficult for the ABC to be seen as impartial,” he added.

He said the more “high-profile” the person, the more important discretion was, and told employees to use the term “same-sex marriage” instead of “marriage equality”.

ABC’s internal guidelines for personal social media use note an employee’s personal life is their own business, but point out a person’s actions should not detract from their job, or cause damage.

“It would almost certainly be damaging editorially for a political reporter to express a strong personal opinion on a contentious news story that they may ordinarily cover, or for a local radio producer to tweet something derogatory about the local mayor,” the guidelines state.

A follow-up email from Michael Mason, ABC’s head of radio, also seen by Mumbrella, reminded employees to be “respectful, balanced and impartial”.

“I’m looking forward to hearing the in-depth, quality coverage that the community relies on from ABC Radio,” he wrote.

Mason: Be respectful and impartial

“I know we will facilitate an informative and civil debate.”

A spokesperson for the ABC told Mumbrella the email sent to staff  was “not a new decision or a change” from normal editorial approach, but rather a reminder “not prompted by any particular individual or incident”.

“The ABC this morning sent out an email reminding staff of our existing Editorial Policy requirements for impartiality, and what that means in terms of coverage of the same-sex marriage debate,” the spokesperson said.

“Personal social media posts by staff are not official ABC content, so they are not covered by the ABC’s Editorial Policies.

“They are covered by the Social Media Policy, which essentially urges staff to be aware of the risks of behaving on social media in ways which might undermine their ABC role,” a spokesperson explained.

“The Social Media Policy is consistent with many other professional and media social media policies, which work hard to strike the right balance between the rights of individuals and citizens and the need for them to take appropriate care to ensure they are not seeming to be representing the ABC or undermining their ABC work.

“The ABC will be covering the same sex marriage debate the same way we cover all stories: with accuracy, impartiality and a diversity of perspectives.”


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