ABC staff yesterday threatened industrial action unless disciplinary proceedings against religion correspondent Stephen Crittenden were halted immediately.
Crittenden, the presenter of Radio National’s Religion Report, was taken off air six weeks ago and suspended on full pay following his publication of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The article explored the clash of civilisations stemming from the rise of fundamentalist Islamic movements and the west’s militant response.
Crittenden has consistently explored controversial issues on the Religion Report and the openly gay journalist has presented a number of probing programs on the issue of homosexuality and the churches.
Crittenden’s supporters describe the SMH article as balanced and uncontentious. They say he took every step to inform management of the article’s content including supplying them with a pr?s. ABC management contends that Crittenden was under orders not to publish the article.
Graeme Thomson, the ABC section secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, told an ABC stop work meeting yesterday that Crittenden’s suspension was tantamount to an attack on the freedom of speech of ABC employees.
He described the report on the dispute prepared by the ABC human resources section as disturbing.
It’s a rort. They have failed in any sense to apply the disciplinary guidelines, he told the meeting of over 100 ABC staff members.
Thomson said there was a long tradition of ABC journalists writing for other publications so the case against Crittenden seemed strange.
It raises the question why Stephen is being picked on, he said.
Sources within the ABC told the Star that the disciplinary action was obviously not really about the SMH article and that Crittenden was being targeted for his direct and often contentious style.
One ABC source said it was a dispute over different styles of religion reporting.
One group believes that it’s all about just presenting people’s beliefs. Stephen puts people on the spot, asks hard questions and looks at the implications of belief, they said.
While Crittenden’s article was about the clash of civilisations, some people have described the current dispute as a clash of corporate cultures with the management style of the organisation coming under strong attack from the meeting.
Crittenden and his lawyers have until tomorrow to respond to the ABC’s report on the dispute.
Crittenden was unavailable for comment and Mark Collier, the head of Radio National, told the Star he was unable to comment while proceedings were still under way.