The radio veteran, his gay porn ‘likes’ and the ABC’s snail-pace investigation

THE career of the ABC’s longest serving Queensland radio talent hangs in the balance as an investigation into claims about his online activity nears completion. David Fagan investigates

Feb 06, 2023, updated Feb 06, 2023

The highly sensitive investigation into the national broadcaster’s Steve Austin centres on whether his public Twitter account has been hacked by unknown parties who “liked” posts supporting transsexual pornography. And how this could happen.

Austin has been an ABC Brisbane fixture for more than 20 years, bouncing around the national broadcaster’s mornings, afternoon, drive and evening shifts with his idiosyncratic style that rarely leaves listeners wondering about his own views on the stories he covers.

The origin of this investigation was the passage of Queensland legislation last year lowering the bar on how anyone could alter their gender as recorded on their birth certificate.

Austin had proposed to interview an opponent of the legislation – the owner and operator of a lesbian dating app – one afternoon last December, news that spread through the Twittersphere provoking protest from supporters of the legislation that he was only covering one side of the story.

Amid the storm, it emerged that Austin’s Twitter account had not a few, but multiple likes, over a long period, of transsexual pornography. ABC management responded on the day by insisting Austin not proceed with the interview and that he close his Twitter account, which is no longer visible.

Private investigators have been brought in for a probe that has now extended for months, prolonged by the closure of all but essential functions at the national broadcaster over the summer break.

The events seem hard to reconcile and this is no doubt extending the length of the investigation which I understand will be complete by the end of the month. In the meantime, Austin is back on the air in drivetime.

How, for instance, can it be that Austin can on one hand be seen as biased (ie transphobic) for airing a view sceptical of advancing transexual rights while, on the other hand, be seen through his Twitter account to be publicly liking transsexual pornography? The competing explanations are either that he is a hypocrite or has been massively set up.

The ABC, as we would expect, is prodigious at sticking its nose into everybody else’s business (just ask the Catholic Church, the major political parties, the Australian Defence Forces and most major corporations) but it is reluctant to open its own business to my nosiness.

At its insistence I emailed a series of questions last week, including: “What specifically is being investigated? Is it (a) allegations of bias against Steve relating to the transgender issues, (b) how his Twitter account was interfered with, (c) whether his Twitter account was interfered with? Or all of the above?”

I received a text response answering a different question: “The investigation is still ongoing. It’s expected to be completed in the next few weeks. Until then, we’re unable to comment further. You can quote an ABC spokesman (sic).”

Whatever the outcome, there are some lessons here. If the investigation finds Austin’s account has been hacked, it’s a reminder to all of us to be much more careful about our online security. I understand the presenter, despite his public profile, had not taken basic steps such as two-factor authentication and regularly changing passwords. How can a broadcaster of the scale of the ABC not ensure its on-air personalities do this?

If the interference is established, it also spells out a new online danger. Normally such interference involves hackers taking over or invading an account with the results being immediately obvious. This case would be a hack more akin to an intruder in the account unobtrusively planting posts over months and years OR finding a way to do it retrospectively. Either is troubling to social media users.

What will become clear over the next few months is whether Steve Austin becomes the next casualty of the lack of forgiveness now rampant across public life. It’s taken some time but it now has full hold in the media where 2022 ended with the severances of three high-profile journalists who had publicly not met the professional or behavioural standards their organisations had long demanded of others.

Ironically, Steve Austin as a presenter has shown a lot of interest in technology and its impacts. He interviewed me in 2017 on my own book (Wake Up – The Nine H#shtags of Digital Disruption (UQP) on these issues and frequently has other guests on the topic.

Even last week, he dedicated a lot of time to the use of artificial intelligence in classroom. So it’s quite unfortunate that his interest was not matched by the caution to protect himself from a hack and its potential consequences.

If you don’t know how, ask Siri.


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