The Abbott Government has crossed a line by setting up an inquiry to interfere directly in the editorial processes of the ABC. That is the true obscenity of the Zaky Mallah Q&A affair.
Yesterday Abbott announced an “urgent” inquiry into Monday’s episode, saying it was “utterly incomprehensible” the ABC had “compounded the mistake” by rebroadcasting the episode.
- “Now frankly, heads should roll over this, heads should roll over this,” he said.
“We’re not satisfied with an internal ABC inquiry because so often we’ve seen virtual whitewashes when that sort of thing happens.
“Frankly the ABC ought to take some very strong action.”
So the outcome is predetermined, the inquiry is about the detail, according to Abbott.
Mark Scott has fired back at Tony Abbott, saying that the ABC is a national broadcaster, not ‘a state broadcaster’ like North Korea and Russia. China and Vietnam.
- “At times, free speech principles mean giving platforms to those with whom we fundamentally disagree,” Mr Scott said in a speech in Melbourne on Thursday night.
“Media organisations often give air time to the criminal and corrupt, to those who express views that run contrary to accepted public values.
“You have to set the bar very high before you begin to exclude certain views or perspectives.”
On the decision to let Mallah into the audience, Scott said:
- it would have been appropriate for Q&A to air a pre-recorded question from Mr Mallah, noting numerous media outlets had given him “considerable space” over the years. But he said it was a mistake to allow him into the studio audience to ask a question.
“The risks and uncertainties of having him in a live programming environment weren’t adequately considered before the decision was made to accept his application to be in the studio audience,” he said.
He defended the Q&A as a program saying it had “all the potential of being a 20-plus year franchise for the ABC.”
It’s important to understand what in fact Mallah said. From the transcript:
- As the first man in Australia to be charged with terrorism under the harsh Liberal Howard Government in 2003, I was subject to solitary confinement, a 22 hour lockdown, dressed in most times in an orange overall and treated like a convicted terrorist while under the presumption of innocence. I had done and said some stupid things, including threatening to kidnap and kill but, in 2005, I was acquitted of those terrorism charges. Question to the panel: What would have happened if my case had been decided by the Minister himself and not the courts?
Steve Ciobo, parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs:
- “my understanding of your case was that you were acquitted because, at that point in time, the laws weren’t retrospective. But I’m happy to look you straight in the eye and say that I would be pleased to be part of a government that would say that you’re out of the country as far as I’m concerned.”
Mallah then said he was an Australian (he is, with only one passport) and would like to see Ciobo out of the country.
Mallah was clearly angered by what Ciobo said and after about five minutes of discussion by diverse people he said:
“The Liberals now have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL because of Ministers like him.”
That remark has been taken as encouraging Muslims to join ISIL. It’s simply untrue, and Mallah is on record as passionately urging people not to go. He’s labelled Islamic State militants ‘w**kers’ and says teenagers who travel to Syria to join the terror group deserve to be ‘locked up’.
Abbott has bought into this lie, saying Mallah hates us.
Mallah is now permanently classified as a bad person because he served time for threatening to kill Asio officers when he was 19. Once a criminal, always a criminal. Ciobo suggested that he was unfit to live in Australia because of his criminal past.
Jonathan Holmes details how Mallah went to Syria and joined the Free Syrian Army, which is trained by the US and supported by Australia. A few days was enough. He came to realise that in Australia Muslims had freedoms that people in Syria were dying for.
I’ve not seen any comment on Ciobo’s charge that Mallah escaped the terrorism charge on a technicality.
Malcolm Turnbull has distanced himself from Abbott, who has clearly prejudged the outcome of the inquiry. When asked asked on the 7.30 Report whether he agreed with Abbott’s statement that heads needed to roll, Turnbull said:
- “I will decide which metaphors need to be made. I said today this was a grave error of judgement. The management has to take responsibility for it and there should be consequences. I don’t want to take it any further than that”.
Jonathan Green at The Drum has described the “inflated hypocrisy of the tabloid response and the blustering outrage of government” as an “omnishambles”.
- A week that has shown the media class at its worst: reactive and self-absorbed, simultaneously inconsequential and self-important. Or worse: driven by petty vindictiveness over public interest.
The public interest here is simple: freedom of speech, pluralism. And maybe Q&A has done some harm to that cause through accident, overconfidence and misadventure, but the thrust of its endeavour was right. Here is a young man, once radicalised, now reformed, whose central message is disdain for the “wankers” of Islamic State.
That’s a voice that has a place in our conversation about the promotion of terror, but not if politics has anything to do with it.
Green says that what should have kept Mallah off the program was his “tweeted threats of sexual violence against columnists Miranda Devine and Rita Panahi”. Two women a week are killed in domestic violence, compared with how many deaths from terror?
Elsewhere there was an excellent segment on the Media Report on the subject.