The ABC is clearly out of control, with the CEO having limited ability to control’s his staff’s activities on social media. In Senate Estimates David Anderson
When somebody has a personal social media account the ABC is not responsible for the material they publish. I am advised that a blanket ban on their social media account is not enforceable. What we do have is requirements for people to behave in a certain way which relates back to the ABC.
And yet the Australian public service and the BBC have very strong guidelines on the use of social media by employees using their private social media accounts. They are not restricting the ‘civil rights’ – it’s just that as an employee you have to behave in a way that doesn’t bring disrepute to the organisation. A public servant is free to be highly critical of government in a private social media account provided they are willing to resign from the public service. So it should be with the ABC. If Sally Neighbour and Louise Milligan want to bag the government out of their political biases so be it, but they shouldn’t be employees of the ABC.
All BBC activity on social media, whether it is ‘official’ BBC use or the personal use by BBC staff is subject to the Editorial Guidelines and editorial oversight in the same way that our on platform content is.
We should take particular care about maintaining our impartiality on social media, both in our professional and personal activities
BBC spaces on social media should reflect the same values and audience expectations as their on-platform brands.
We have editorial responsibility for all BBC branded channels on social media regardless of the reporting functions or moderation services of the individual platforms
Our duty of care, particularly towards children and vulnerable contributors on social media requires careful consideration
BBC staff should avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute through their actions on social media
And there are similar thoughts in the APS guidance. For example
This means, for example, that if an employee posts something highly critical of a policy they advise on, it would be reasonable to question their ability to provide impartial advice when they are at work—and, in extreme cases, to wonder if they might deliberately undermine the Government’s policy objectives. And if all employees behaved this way online, it would be reasonable to infer that the APS as a whole could not be trusted to administer the policies of an elected government.
and, importantly, about seniority – which is the reach which a senior person would have – which surely would apply to Neighbour and Milligan?
Generally, the more senior an employee, the greater the risk of their online behaviour affecting public confidence in the APS. This is because:
- the community is more likely to believe senior employees’ comments are based on specialised inside knowledge
- the opinions of senior leaders and authority figures are given more weight than those of more junior employees
- senior employees have a significant degree of responsibility and may be required to lead the implementation of government policies and programs
- the more senior an employee, the more difficult it can be to differentiate comments they make in a private capacity from those made on behalf of their agency or Minister.
As a leader, you set the tone for the rest of your organisation, and should be relied upon to act as an exemplar to your staff, your organisation, and your broader networks.
So why is Anderson so compliant to his employee’s demands of being able to say what they like on private social media irrespective of whether it brings the ABC into disrepute? Certainly it can’t be that Neighbour and Milligan are irreplaceable. For there are dozens of other people who could do their jobs better than Neighbour and Milligan and be willing to be impartial on social media.
What Anderson needs to do is make heads roll. Sack staff who appear partisan. That will quickly send a message through the legions at the ABC who most of all want to enjoy their high salaries. Give a warning and if the conduct is repeated fire the employee. Management at the ABC need to make it clear that they will not tolerate partisan employees.