The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has told staff to stop using the phrase ‘marriage equality’ ahead of a vote on whether to extend equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to push ahead with plans to put equal marriage to a public vote this week, despite the Senate blocking plans for a formal plebiscite.
In a bid to circumvent Parliament, Mr Turnbull has given the green light to an informal ‘postal vote’ of Australians, which will be advisory and non-binding in nature.
Ahead of the vote, an all-staff email at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia’s government-owned national public broadcaster, warned staff not to publicly show support for equal marriage – or even use the term equal marriage.
ABC’s news editorial policy manager Mark Maley directed staff that “language is important” during the campaign, adding: “The preferred terminology is same-sex marriage, rather than ‘marriage equality’ or ‘gay marriage’.”
He added: “Please remember that approximately 40 per cent of the population opposes the change and more importantly that the ABC does not have a position on the issue.
“It is very important that we are impartial and that all perspectives are given a fair hearing and treated with respect by the ABC.
“In this charged environment I would also urge everyone to be circumspect on social media — advocating for one side or the other will make it more difficult for the ABC to be seen as impartial. The more high-profile you are the more important discretion is.”
The boss added that it was “inevitable” that people would be offended by some of the statements made by campaigners in the vote, but insisted staff should not “censor” participants.
He wrote: “Some people will inevitably be offended by arguments and statements made by both sides. That cannot be avoided and we should not censor any debate conducted in good faith.
“However, the editorial policies also state that we should not offend our audiences without editorial justification and we should not be seen to condone or encourage prejudice and discrimination.
“To the greatest extent possible we should be facilitating a vigorous but also civil debate. If you think any content may cross the line don’t hesitate to seek advice from your manager or from me.”
As the postal vote is set to go ahead without Parliamentary approval, it will not be subject to the laws that govern elections – including those that restrict misleading campaign materials.
LGBT campaigners have warned that this means that the anti-gay marriage campaign will be essentially free to peddle outright mistruths and homophobic smears with little recourse when the vote goes ahead.
Campaign materials from the anti-LGBT Australian Marriage Forum already describes equal marriage as “stealing children” from straight people.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten told the PM: “I hold you responsible for every hurtful bit of filth that this debate will unleash – not because the Prime Minister has said it, not because he agrees to it, he clearly doesn’t. But because the Prime Minister has licensed this debate.”