15 July 2018
Dear Ms Guthrie
I’m writing about the conduct of RN Breakfast’s weekly commentator, Paul Bongiorno.
Mr Bongiorno is a regular contributor to ABC Radio National on the RN Breakfast program and promoted by the ABC as key talent on ABC’s website: www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/politics/9147810
On 8 July 2018, in response to a tweet about the line-up on ABC’s Insiders Program which said:
“How many Lefties does it take to say the same thing?”
Mr Bongiorno tweeted in reply:
“As many “righties” on Dky [sic] after dark panels...and that includes “Uncle Tom” lefties craving relevance.”
The expression “Uncle Tom” is a racial slur. It originates from the United States and is the name of the lead character in the book by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The character was a slave. As a racial slur it has long been used to condemn and silence black people who have conservative views among other things. The suggestion is that by having conservative views or other views that don’t conform to the opinions black people are supposed to have, the black person is being subservient to white people and a traitor to their race.
For all my lifetime the expression “Uncle Tom” has been used in the same way against Aboriginal Australians. It signifies the person is a race traitor for having particular views, that they cannot think for themselves and that they are so self-loathing they will tolerate being subordinated to appease their oppressors. It assumes that members of a group must all have the same views and should be abused as a traitor if they do not.
More recently it has sometimes been used to signify anyone who supposedly betrays another minority or group identity.
Notwithstanding its expanded use, it remains a racial slur and a term that invokes slavery. It is unquestionably a term of abuse and a bigoted expression.
I am an Aboriginal Australian. I also host a program on Sky News LIVE called Mundine Means Business and am a regular guest on other Sky News LIVE evening programs. I’m a former National President of the ALP. I am one of the people Mr Bongiorno’s tweet was directed at.
In my view it disgraceful that a paid ABC commentator should use the expression. It is also disgraceful that the ABC would continue to hire a regular commentator that uses this expression without requiring him to apologise as a condition of continuing to be a paid ABC commentator.
I made a complaint about Mr Bongiorno’s comment via the ABC website and received a response from an acting Executive Producer of RN Breakfast who said:
“Paul Bongiorno made those comments on his personal Twitter account, not an ABC platform.
We have no control or responsibility for what Mr Bongiorno does on his private Twitter account.
He is not an ABC employee but a contractor.
If you would like to take further action, you’ll need to contact Paul Bongiorno directly.
Thanks for your kind attention.”
I don’t find this response satisfactory at all. And I therefore ask you, as Managing Director and Editor in Chief of the ABC:
Is it your view that the ABC should engage paid commentators who use racial slurs and terms of abuse that invoke slavery in a public forum?
Do ABC’s policies regarding things like diversity, inclusion, bullying and using racial slurs only apply to employees and not to contractors?
Is it consistent with ABC’s policies and standards for a paid media personality who is promoted on ABC’s website as key talent (whether engaged as an employee or contractor) to make racial slurs or to abuse people using terms that invoke slavery on public forums like Twitter?
Would the answer to the above questions be different if Mr Bongiorno had used a different racial slur? For example, if Mr Bongiorno had tweeted that Sky News commentators are “niggers” would ABC continue to use and promote him as an ABC personality? If so, why is that different?
I look forward to your response.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO
Justin Milne, Chairman ABC
Senator The Hon. Mitch Fifield, Minister for Communications
Link to tweet: https://twitter.com/paulbongiorno/status/1015927172869992448?s=21
Note: The tweet misspelled “Sky” as “Dky”