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ABC chair Ita Buttrose has blamed an “abusive and toxic culture” in public discourse for driving Q+A host Stan Grant out of his role but refused to be drawn on the broadcaster’s treatment of him, claiming she was initially unaware of the racist attacks on him in recent weeks.
Buttrose broke days of silence on Grant’s experiences, and his accusations that he was let down by ABC management, in an interview on local ABC Melbourne radio on Friday afternoon. She devoted about four minutes to speaking about Grant, following a lengthier conversation about the 90th anniversary of Australian Women’s Weekly, which she used to edit.
“I’m appalled at what Stan went through,” Buttrose said, adding that she had been unaware of the abuse he faced. “I didn’t know, and I don’t think many of us knew, until fairly late in the piece.”
Stan Grant at the Sydney Writer’s Festival on Friday.
She said Australia had lost the ability to have civil public discussions, which she said was a capacity the public badly wanted to regain. “I think Australians want a return to civility,” she said. “We are living in, sadly living in, a time actually when people think it’s OK to abuse others with whom they disagree.”
Buttrose backed Grant, saying she hoped he’d return when ready after eight weeks’ leave, as well as senior ABC executives. She did not give further details of the ABC’s review into how it handles racism against its staff, nor did she echo some of her colleagues’ claims that News Corp’s critical coverage of King Charles’ coronation broadcast was responsible for triggering the abuse online against Grant.
On Friday, Grant took to stage at the Sydney Writers’ Festival at Carriageworks for an event to promote his new book, The Queen Is Dead, to loud cheers and whistles from the ground. One woman shouted, “We love you, Stan.”
“At least someone does,” he replied, wryly.
After reading an excerpt from his book, Grant reflected on the events of the past two weeks, which saw him step away from journalism after he became the subject of a slew of racial abuse.
He said: “The past couple of weeks have been just so bewildering and bruising.
“Words are just not enough … Sometimes words just hold us apart from each other. We can talk about things, I can write about things. But what are people hearing?”
Stan Grant makes an emotional speech after stepping down as host of Q+A.Credit: ABC
“I’ve tried to talk about truth. I’ve tried to talk about justice. And I’ve tried to talk about those things with love and respect. But people hear ‘love’ and they respond with hate. People might see the word ‘respect’, but respond with spite. Words are not enough.
“We’re here at a festival to celebrate words, and yet we know that words fail us all the time.”
Grant was moved to tears as he spoke about his belief that future generations – including his children – would be able to find love even in the darkest places. He read out a letter written recently to him by his youngest son Jesse.
“It hurts me to see how this country, the world, and even us at times have abused your strength and mistreated you,” the letter said. “But with this letter, I want to make a promise to you that you won’t have to fight much longer. I will use the lessons you have taught and shown me to begin carrying more weight and begin fighting.”
Grant spoke explicitly about the coronation panel discussion that sparked a wave of abuse, describing his discussion with Liberal MP Julian Leeser as a “really respectful conversation”.
“No one shouted over anyone. No one abused anybody. And then to hear, day after day after day, people say hateful things, that this was a hate-filled hour of television, that I hated Australians, that I maligned good, hard-working Australians.
“If a white person had been on air … if they talked about the invasion of the land, they would not have been abused in the way I was, but race crowded out everything. It wasn’t just what I was saying, it was the fact that I was saying it. The racial abuse and the attacks began before I had even uttered a word.”
Asked by moderator, UNSW legal professor George Williams, whether he could see a way that Australian society would be able to have honest, respectful conversations about race, Grant said he wasn’t sure the media was capable of such nuance.
“I’m sorry that I am a part of a media that has so utterly failed. And we have failed,” he said. “I’m not sure the media is capable of it, and I don’t know that I am capable of doing it either in the media.”
On Thursday, a man was charged for allegedly making online threats against Grant. On the same day, ABC ombudsman Fiona Cameron said the broadcaster had not breached editorial standards with its coronation coverage.
“The role of the Monarchy to modern Australia and the Indigenous perspectives presented were legitimate and newsworthy topics for discussion on the rare occasion of a Coronation and in the context of ABC’s extensive coverage,” said Cameron.
“In these circumstances, and for the reasons outlined above, I do not find a breach of the impartiality standards.”
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