With thanks for contributions from Leanne O’Donnell (@mslods / mslods.com), Virginia Leighton-Jackson and Griffith University media freedom interns
By Virginia Leighton-Jackson
Fired SBS reporters both suing for unfair dismissal
- The SBS has provided two cases strikingly similar to that of Justine Sacco, former communications director of InterActive Corp in New York – a PR agent who was fired for inappropriate use of social media.
- In 2013 Sacco boarded a long haul flight to South Africa as part of a work trip and had lost her job before she landed, having tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
- The most recently SBS reporter to be dismissed, Marion Ives, was fired the day after she posted an article on her Facebook page by former SBS staffer Helen Vatsikopoulos on The Conversation. The article entitled ‘Whitewash? That’s not the colour of the SBS charter” discussed what she claimed was the dropping number of non-Anglo Saxon presenters on a channel which, according to its own charter, prides itself on: “… meeting the communications needs of Australia’s multicultural society, including ethnic, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”
- Ives posted the article without any additional comment, but it seems that management took offence to perceived criticism of their recent hiring of two white reporters after telling a Iranian applicant that there weren’t any jobs going.
- One of her SBS managers, Steven Wilson, the chief producer of SBS World News, was angered and responded via a comment on her Facebook post: “If people think SBS is too white, that’s fine. They’re entitled to their views. But to publicly perpetuate the myth that Widyan was let go to hire anyone else (of any ethnic background) is wrong. And the people doing it are ignorant of – or blatantly ignoring – the facts … Any debate should be based on fact not untruths. Comments about not running Indigenous or Middle East stories and letting go a reporter in a headdress for a white woman are simply not true.”
- Ives, in a farewell email to staff, said she wasn’t given any “concrete reason” except “budget restraints and reviews of staff” and she was proud of working on the great product that was SBS World News.
- In a statement to Guardian Media Ives said that she was being supported by the MEAA in her case for unfair dismissal.
- Former SBS sports reporter Scott McIntyre was dismissed earlier this year over comments he made on social media about the national commemoration day Anzac Day, following public comments by Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull. He has engaged legal firm Maurice Blackburn to pursuit a law suit with the Fair Work Commission over what the firm describes as a discriminatory action.
- In America PR manager for NBA team the Huston Rockets, Chad Shanks, was fired after tweeting during a game against the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks mascot is a horse, Shanks tweeted an emoji of a horse, a gun, and the words “Shhhhhh. Just close your eyes. It will all be over soon.”
- These are just a handful of the most recent examples of PR professionals and journalists who have come unstuck for unthinking use of social media, demonstrating a need for caution and professionalism in online engagement. – Virginia Leighton-Jackson
Pilkington, E., 23.12.2013, “Justine Sacco, PR executive fired over racist tweet, ‘ashamed’”, The Guardian, available:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/22/pr-exec-fired-racist-tweet-aids-africa-apology
Meade, A., 22.05.2015, “Former SBS reporter Marion Ives sues over sacking after social media post”, The Guardian, available: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/may/22/former-sbs-reporter-marion-ives-sues-over-sacking-after-social-media-post
Vatsikopoulos, H., 29.04.2015, “Whitewash? That’s not the colour of the SBS charter”, The Conversation, available: https://theconversation.com/whitewash-thats-not-the-colour-of-the-sbs-charter-40837
Chasman, J., 29.04.2015, “Huston Rockets fire Twitter manager who tweeted horse, gun emojis”, Washington Times, available: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/29/chad-shanks-houston-rockets-twitter-manager-fired-/#!
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