Q&A: ‘Tony, you ought to be ashamed of yourself’



Malcolm Turnbull wants to help the ABC, and it’s time that management of the national broadcaster handed the government a scalp, according to the editor-at-large of The Australian, Paul Kelly.

Rounding out a week of warfare between the government and the ABC over last week’s controversial Q&A episode, Monday night poured more fuel on the flames.

“The ABC has got to pick up the signals it’s getting from (Communications Minister) Malcolm Turnbull who wants to help this organisation,” said Mr Kelly, a late replacement on the panel following the withdrawal of several other commentators.

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He said it was a “mistake for the ABC to close ranks, defend the program”, and recommended consequences that go beyond a “tokenistic apology” from the board, the chairman and management.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek rejected the suggestion the government was on the ABC’s side when she issued this one-liner: “I’d say if Malcolm Turnbull is such a great friend of the ABC, he’s cut $500 million from its budget.”

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said Q&A host Tony Jones should be “ashamed” of himself for letting former terror suspect Zaky Mallah ask a question on last Monday’s show about how the government’s citizenship laws would have affected him when he was suspected of an offence.

“I think the producers and yourself ought to be ashamed of yourselves for giving him a platform. The issue at heart is that the ABC chose to give this person a platform on live television,” Mr Wilson said.

Mr Jones opened the show with an explanation that it was the ABC’s role to give people a voice under certain guidelines.

“The ABC’s editorial standards tell us to present a diversity of perspectives so that over time no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded, nor disproportionately represented,” he said, implying that is what they did last week.

Mr Jones said the “safety and security” of the panellists and audience “is always a key priority for us”.

He added that Mr Mallah would not have been allowed on the show had the producers been aware of an offensive tweet he had published about two female journalists, in which he said they should be “gang-banged” on television.

“Had we known, we would have rejected his participation,” he said.

But Mr Kelly was not satisfied with that explanation.

“We’re told that would have ruled him out of the program, but the fact that he had been prosecuted with terrorism, the fact that he had admitted that he threatened Australian officials and wanted to kill them, the fact that he’d served time, that he had a weapons arsenal, that he was conducting a campaign to publicise jihad nonetheless, that’s OK,” Mr Kelly said.

“Well, it’s not OK.”

The history

Zaky Mallah in the Q&A audience.

Zaky Mallah when it all began. Photo: ABC

The past week has drawn political pressure onto the ABC after a fiery end to last Monday’s Q&A.

The chain of events has turned into a bout between ABC managing director Mark Scott and the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who said “heads should roll” at the ABC, as an inquiry was announced into Q&A.

In response Mr Scott made a public speech against the comments, saying the ABC wasn’t a state broadcaster like those in Russia, North Korea, China or Vietnam.

The events resulted in boycotts from right wing MPs and officials when invited to the panel show, including Defence Minister Kevin Andrews, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Alan Tudge, News Corp columnist Nick Cater and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Of the five seats on the panel, two were vacant on Monday hours before the show was due to air, and Mr Wilson said if it weren’t his role to explain the application of free speech then he would have bowed out too.

No ‘mass exodus to Syria’

Counter-terrorism expert Anne Aly, also a panellist, said Mr Mallah’s comments wouldn’t have sent anyone to Syria.

“Let’s get it straight, nobody in the history of mankind has ever and will ever be radicalised by anything Zaky Mallah has said,” she said.

“We are not about to see a mass exodus to Syria because of a public stoush between a minister and somebody wearing a funny hat on Q&A, let’s make that clear,” she said.

Ms Plibersek said the government were avoiding debate on the citizenship laws, first mooted a year-and-a-half ago.

“For the Government to set this up in some way as … anybody who questions, demands detail, asks … to examine legislation is somehow not on team Australia, that’s a problem,” she said.

All this fear and sloganeering over the past week has left cosmologist Lawrence Krauss with a parable:

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