Federal Labor MP Michael Danby has continued his attack on the ABC’s Sophie McNeill with the second ad in as many weeks published in Australian Jewish News this morning. Danby’s two half-page ads have been paid for out of his electoral allowance, and both accuse the ABC’s Middle East correspondent of bias in her reporting on Israel and Palestine.
Today’s ad complains that the ABC had broadcast a story from McNeill on 7.30 about “Arab squatters”, but not a story about the “momentous meeting of Egyptian President Sisi and Israeli PM Netanyahu”.
The two advertisements about McNeill and the ABC aren’t a first for Danby, who has a history of going after journalists.
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In 2009, Danby tabled in parliament articles from Crikey and New Matilda in parliament that he said demonstrated “demonisation” of Israel, saying:
“Of course people can be fairly critical of any state in the world and critical of particular actions of any state, but, following the Sharansky model, anyone who looks at (Marni) Cordell’s New Matilda or (Jonathan) Green’s Crikey during this period could only conclude that Israel was a country deserving of rocket attacks on its citizens and not entitled to defend its sovereignty.”
Journalist Antony Loewenstein has long been a target of Danby’s — his then-unfinished book My Israel Question prompted the Member for Melbourne Ports to write a letter to the editor in 2005 published by Australian Jewish News condemning the “propaganda tract”. He called on publisher Melbourne University Press to “drop this whole disgusting project”, based on questions Loewenstein had put to him.
And back in 2004 Danby, under parliamentary privilege and as reported at the time by Crikey, said The Sydney Morning Herald‘s political columnist Alan Ramsey was guilty of “grand larceny” in his columns:
“Mr Ramsey of course covers himself against the charge of plagiarism by making sure acknowledges the sources of his quotes (sic). What we see in Mr Ramsey’s columns is not strictly speaking plagiarism — it is grand larceny.”
Also recently, Danby took aim at Crikey in J-Wire, with an article by him running next to this advertisement, authorised by Danby.
The same op-ed ran in the Australian Jewish News on September 8:
Last week’s ad — which suggested the ABC hadn’t given enough coverage to the fatal stabbing of an Israeli family — prompted the ABC yesterday to issue a statement defending McNeill’s coverage, rejecting the claims.
“This advertisement is part of a pattern of inaccurate and highly inappropriate personal attacks on Ms McNeill by Mr Danby,” the statement said. “The ABC has complete confidence in the professionalism of Ms McNeill. Despite unprecedented scrutiny and obvious pre-judgement by Mr Danby and others, her work has been demonstrably accurate and impartial.”
The ABC’s news director Gaven Morris said in a statement today: “We’ve gone from unfair and wrong accusations in the first ad to the bizarre in the second, which tries to link two completely separate events. It shows the extent to which this is a personal attack, rather than any fair assessment of the value and accuracy of the ABC and Sophie’s reporting.”
We asked Danby how much he’d spent on the McNeill and other ads about journalists, whether he thought they were an appropriate way to spend taxpayers’ money, and whether he had more ads planned, but we didn’t hear back before deadline.
NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from the ABC received after deadline.