The ABC had a bad day on Tuesday and on Wednesday it awoke to a savaging from the Murdoch press.
At 12.45pm yesterday the national broadcaster was attacked by Malcolm Turnbull on Sky News over its decision to allow former terror suspect Zaky Mallah onto the Q&A program.
Mr Turnbull labelled it a “very grave error of judgment”. He had spoken directly to ABC managing director Mark Scott and Q&A host Tony Jones, and had written to chairman James Spigelman. The Communications Minister was being very communicative.
At almost the same time, Julia Gillard accused the ABC of “pulling its punches” out of fear over further attacks by the government.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, published shortly after midday, Ms Gillard said the Coalition’s “bullying” of the ABC had “paid off” and it now “pussyfoots around potential criticism of the government”.
Last year, the Prime Minister berated the ABC as taking “everyone’s side but Australia’s” over its coverage of Australia’s spying on Indonesian officials and unconfirmed claims that asylum seekers had suffered burns due to mistreatment in a boat turn-back operation.
As if on cue, Tony Abbott then joined the chorus of criticism, saying at a press conference that the ABC had let the nation down by giving Mr Mallah a platform on Q&A.
“Many millions of Australians will feel betrayed by our national broadcaster. The ABC needs to have a long hard look at itself. And I pose the question again: whose side are you on here?” he asked.
Then on Wednesday morning, The Courier Mail, The Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun ran front pages attacking the ABC for Monday’s episode of Q&A which had terror suspect Zaky Mallah in the audience. (See them all here).
Enemies to the left. Enemies to the right. And if Ms Gillard is correct, the ABC has enemies within who are failing to uphold the broadcaster’s independence.
Ms Gillard told The Guardian that the ABC was afraid of further criticism from the Abbott government and it was failing to report the news accurately as a result.
“I think there is such a sensitivity at the ABC to becoming the subject of more hard-hitting criticism from the government that there is a pulling of punches and I do think you can see that on the news … I watch it from time to time and I think there are clear occasions where there is not the sort of hard-hitting analysis that would have happened in different circumstances,” she said.
Ms Gillard also wondered about how she had been treated by the national broadcaster and questioned whether Mr Abbott would receive the same treatment. Referring to the comedy series At Home With Julia, which depicted her having sex under an Australian flag, Ms Gillard noted:
” … [T]here has been no suggestion that the ABC would be producing such a comedy about the current prime minister so people might want to muse on that, why it was a Labor prime minister and the first woman and why it’s not the current prime minister.”
Amid the barrage, the ABC admitted an error of judgment and said it would review the decision to permit Mr Mallah to question Liberal MP Steve Ciobo about proposed changes to citizenship laws.
— ABC News (@abcnews) June 23, 2015
In heated exchanges broadcast on Monday night, Mr Mallah questioned Mr Ciobo, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, about Australia’s proposed new citizenship laws.
“I had done and said some stupid things, including threatening to kidnap and kill, but in 2005 I was acquitted of those terrorism charges. What would have happened if my case had been decided by the minister himself and not the courts?”
Mr Ciobo replied: “From memory, I thought you were acquitted on a technicality rather than it being on the basis of a substantial finding of fact.
“But I’m happy to look you straight in the eye and say that I’d be pleased to be part of the Government that would say that you were out of the country.
“I would sleep very soundly at night with that point of view.”
Mr Mallah responded by saying it was Mr Ciobo who should leave the country for having such views, and said Federal Government policies were forcing young Muslims to leave Australia and fight for Islamic State.
He also admitted having travelled to Syria to meet with people fighting in the region.
Director of ABC Television Richard Finlayson said the live broadcast meant it was difficult to review Mr Mallah’s comments before they aired.
“In attempting to explore important issues about the rights of citizens and the role of the Government in fighting terrorism, the Q&A program made an error in judgement in allowing Zaky Mallah to join the audience and ask a question,” Mr Finlayson said in a statement.
Mr Finlayson praised host Tony Jones for ruling Mr Mallah’s comments about radicalisation out of order.
“Tony Jones correctly and immediately ruled a statement made by Mr Mallah as out of order. Q&A will continue to raise issues that are provocative and controversial,” he said.
– with ABC