Tony Jones: The ‘big lie’ won out in PR war

Q&A host Tony Jones has criticised Tony Abbott’s boycott of the program earlier in the year, referring to the decision as a “nasty political fight”.

The television presenter told Fairfax the incident resulted in various distortions in the press, but Jones and his team maintained “cool heads”.

“It never occurred to me actually that what [Mallah] said – the intent of what he said – would be reversed [by some in the media],” Jones said.

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“In the end, the big lie sometimes wins out in propaganda wars and there was a sense – a kind of general sense from people who hadn’t seen the program or had misunderstood it – that we put on a program a guy from ISIS, deliberately. We didn’t.”

The incident was sparked by the appearance of former terrorism suspect Zaky Mallah earlier in the year.

Mallah was given to opportunity to ask a question on the program, telling Liberal MP Steve Ciobo that, because of “ministers like him”, many Muslims would feel compelled “to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL”.

The remarks resulted in a furious reaction from the Abbott government, resulting in an indefinite boycott of Liberal frontbenchers and two inquiries, including a continuing independent investigation.

The boycott was lifted after the ABC agreed to move the program to their news and current affairs department.

“I’m not going to question [Mr Abbott’s] judgment,” he said.

“It’s really up to other people to make the call as to whether that was a breach of freedom of speech or whether it was an appropriate thing to do.”

However, he conceded that if they were aware Mallah had previously made sexually threatening remarks to female journalists on Twitter, they would have reacted differently.

“The following week we made the point that, had we known about that, of course we would not have given him the opportunity to ask the question,” Jones said.

“In the end, lots of issues got muddied in that particular period.”

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