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AUSTRALIA: ABC producer denies 'walkout' claim

Internal politics abound among some of the public broadcaster's staff as the events surrounding Neheda Barakat's 'bullying' allegations come to light

The Age
Wednesday, March 9, 2005

By Angela O'Connor

An ABC producer who has complained of being bullied was accused of abandoning her program when she walked out in distress on one of its busy days.

Former executive producer Neheda Barakat said she went home so that she would not lose her composure.

Her union has taken her grievance to the Industrial Relations Commission claiming the ABC had not followed correct procedures in dealing with her complaint that she had been bullied by the Victorian state editor of news and current affairs, Marco Bass. The ABC denies the allegations.

Miss Barakat said "the straw that broke the camel's back" on April 1 last year was when the program's presenter, Alan Kohler, withdrew his support.

She left work after a program review in which she had been criticised for dropping a segment from the previous program. Mr Kohler had said the segment should never be dropped.

She denied she had abandoned the program, and had set up interviews for that day. Two reporters accompanied Mr Kohler to the interviews in her place. She returned to work the next day and production of the program proceeded as usual.

She said she had intended ringing her direct supervisor, the head of national programs, Walter Hamilton, when she had calmed down, but Mr Bass had already rung Mr Hamilton, who then rang her.

Four days later, Mr Hamilton told her she was being taken from her executive producer job on Inside Business and said he would "park" her on The 7.30 Report even though there was no vacancy there. He cited her walkout from the job and problems with staff relationships as grounds for removing her.

Miss Barakat has told the hearing that Mr Bass had undermined her in her role on Inside Business even though he was not her direct supervisor. She said she did not accept the position on The 7.30 Report because it was a demotion and because she would be under the supervision of Mr Bass in some aspects of the work.

Commissioner Greg Smith said the ABC could have transferred Miss Barakat to another program, without using the clause that made her performance the grounds for moving her from her executive producer role.

He said in previous hearings of the matter he had left no stone unturned to avoid an adversarial hearing of the grievance, because he knew matters would come out that the ABC would then feel obliged to answer.

He said the ABC should "reflect on" whether they should be paying Miss Barakat because the hearing was taking so long and some of the delays were because their witnesses were not available.

Miss Barakat has been unpaid since June last year. The hearing is continuing.

Asia Institute