SBS’s Turkish report scrutinised

By Mitchell Bingemann - The Australian | Friday, 19 May 2017

By Mitchell Bingemann
The Australian

The Special Broadcasting Service has come under fire for pub­lishing an article by a Turkish group of Armenian genocide deniers who were last year expelled from an Australian Human Rights Commission anti-racism campaign.

The multicultural broadcaster has been hit with complaints from academics at the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies who say SBS is legitimising the Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance by providing it with a platform to publish opinion pieces.

The Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies has taken issue with the ATAA for its continued denial of the Armenian genocide, the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenian subjects from 1915 to 1923.

Last year the group was kicked out of the AHRC’s “Racism. It Stops With Me” campaign after the commission uncovered articles on the ATAA’s website that singled out Armenian Aust­ralians for criticism on the basis of their race. But despite the group’s controversial past, SBS has chosen to publish an article from the group titled “An Australian-Turk’s take on the Anzac spirit”.

SBS — which is headed by ­Michael Ebeid — initially took the article offline when it was first alerted to the ATAA’s ejection from the AHRC’s anti-racism campaign, but the broadcaster decided to repost the opinion piece after finding the contents of the article did not breach its charter.

A spokeswoman for SBS ­declined to answer questions about why it published the article and instead provided a statement: “SBS often features contributions from freelance journalists who write for a range of organisations, with this particular commentary celebrating the Anzac spirit.”

In the article the ATAA casts itself as an advocate for “social cohesion and multicultural harmony” but Meher Grigorian, a member of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, says the statement ignores the group’s denials of the Armenian genocide.

“As Australia’s multicultural broadcaster, SBS is obligated to counter attitudes of prejudice. Yet they’ve helped an organisation that racially denigrates ­Armenian-Australians to recast themselves as champions of multicultural harmony,” Mr Grigorian said.

Media understands that SBS News and Current Affairs has a specific policy on referring to the Armenian genocide that prohibits its reporters from naming it as such. Instead reporters are instructed to refer to the event not as a genocide but as a “mass killing of Armenians considered by many to have been a genocide, which Turkey denies”. It is understood that no such policies are extended to the ­Nanking massacre, the Jewish holocaust or the Rwandan ­genocide.

A spokesman for the ATAA said the group rejects the characterisation of the events of 1915 as genocide but it “acknowledges the suffering of the people (during those events) as a whole”. The spokesman also said the complaint against it was an attempt to silence the Australian Turkish community.

“AIHGS’ complaint had nothing to do with AHRC’s decision, but AHRC’s decision gave their attempts to silence ATAA and the Australian Turkish community legitimacy. Attacks on SBS is a part of this saga,” he said.

More than 20 countries, including France and Russia, and two Australian states — NSW and South Australia — recognise the events of 1915 as genocide, but both major Australian pol­itical parties have so far stopped short of doing so at a federal level.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former treasurer Joe Hockey, who is of Armenian descent, have both called for ­parliament to formally recognise the Armenian genocide.