Stan Grant deplores media ‘poison’ as he signs off as Q+A host

Q+A host Stan Grant told viewers on Monday night that failures of the media led him to step down from his role at the national broadcaster, not “social media hatred”.

At the end of what could be his final Q+A program as host, Grant said the media should reflect on whether it is “honouring a world worth living in”, following a weeks-long conservative press campaign that targeted his commentary during ABC panel coverage of the coronation of King Charles III earlier this month.

“Too often, we are the poison in the bloodstream of our society. I fear the media does not have the love or the language to speak to the gentle spirits of our land,” Grant said.

“I’m not walking away for a while because of racism. We get that far too often. I’m not walking away because of social media hatred. I need a break from the media. I feel like I’m part of the problem. And I need to ask myself how or if we can do it better.”

Monday night’s Q+A program welcomed an all-political lineup of first-term members of Parliament, including Jacqui Lambie Network member Senator Tammy Tyrrell, Labor MP Michelle Ananda-Rajah, independent Senator David Pocock, and Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather.

Grant, a Wiradjuri, Gurrawin and Dharawal man, announced his departure on Friday in his weekly column on the ABC’s website. He said that since appearing on the coronation panel, he had seen “people in the media lie and distort” his words, and had faced surging racial abuse on social media, directed at both him and his wife.

“To those who have abused me and my family, I would just say: if your aim was to hurt me, well, you’ve succeeded. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I must have given you so much cause to hate me, so much to target me and my family, to make threats against me. I’m sorry,” he told viewers on Monday night.

“And that’s what Yindyamarra means. It means that I am not just responsible for what I do, but for what you do. It’s not just a word, it is sacred.”

A sustained conservative media campaign run in opposition to the ABC’s coverage and Grant’s panel commentary included more than 150 mentions in the pages of The Australian and on Sky News over the past fortnight, per media-monitoring data provided to Guardian Australia.

Early last week, The Australian reported news of an ombudsman investigation into the coronation coverage after the ABC had received complaints claiming it was in breach of editorial guidelines.

The reports forced the broadcaster to concede it was taking the complaints seriously, even if reports of an “informal review” conducted by ABC director of news Justin Stevens and managing director David Anderson were overplayed.

In his Friday column, Grant took aim at ABC executives for withholding public support of the coverage or taking steps to refute “the lies” written and spoken about him. He called the silence an “institutional failure”, before giving an honorary mention to Stevens, who Grant said had been a source of “support and comfort”.  

In an email to staff late Sunday afternoon, Anderson maintained that Grant has “always had” the “full support” of leadership at the ABC, even as executives remained silent on the racist abuse levelled at him.

“Stan Grant has stated that he has not felt publicly supported. For this, I apologise to Stan. The ABC endeavours to support its staff in the unfortunate moments when there is external abuse directed at them,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson announced on Sunday that the organisation had accepted a recommendation from the ABC’s Bonner Committee to launch a review of how the ABC responds to racism directed at staff, and what more it can do to offer institutional support.

The Bonner Committee, the broadcaster’s peak body for issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and content, said it would push for the review to be led by an independent expert alongside the committee and all other staff representation groups.

For some corners of the organisation, the ABC’s failure to offer Grant full-throated support until Sunday struck at the heart of his reasons for leaving. Sources in the broadcaster’s Melbourne and Sydney newsrooms told Crikey that Grant’s departure had lowered morale, particularly among staff from culturally diverse backgrounds.

On ABC Radio Melbourne on Monday afternoon, Stevens said he regretted not coming out in defence of the broadcaster’s coverage and Grant “10 days ago”, instead of refraining from taking a public position until shortly after Grant’s column went live. He went on to pan the News Corp papers.

“It’s a completely different ballgame now for us. And what we’ve got now is sections of the media, particularly in News Limited, who will do anything they can to campaign against the ABC,” Stevens told ABC Melbourne.

“Now, we can’t be beyond scrutiny. In fact, we welcome it. But it is clearly a concerted campaign to chip away at the ABC and people’s sense of trust in it, by them.”

He gave the interview shortly after hundreds of ABC staffers held solidarity rallies at bureaus around the country. In Sydney, the rally was attended by Grant’s wife, ABC journalist Tracey Holmes, as well as Jeremy Fernandez and Norman Swan.

Stevens said he hopes Grant will be back after the mid-season break. In the interim, ABC Radio National breakfast host Patricia Karvelas has been tapped to fill the Monday-night slot.

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