SCANDALISED YET DEFIANT after its outrageous disregard for social and editorial standards last week, the ABC’s #QandA roared back onto screens across the country last night; after a week in which the broadcaster has come under heavy criticism for providing a platform for a convicted criminal, terror suspect, and advocate of the pack-rape of female journalists on national television, it remains stoutly but implausibly insistent it did no wrong.
First things first: for those who’ve been under a rock somewhere, my midweek article — a follow-up to the disgusting farce perpetrated by #QandA last Monday — can be accessed here, and this piece also provides a link back to an earlier piece which features a link to that episode.
Those who did not see last night’s follow-up episode of #QandA can watch it here.
And for a slightly different perspective, I am also including a link to this article today from conservative journalist (and former ABC board member) Janet Albrechtsen, which paints an accurate picture of the ingrained left-wing bias of the national broadcaster and a compelling portrait of its systemic refusal to meet its obligations in terms of political balance and impartiality.
Senior Liberal Party figures Nick Cater and MP Alan Tudge drew the ire of the broad Left yesterday for refusing to appear on #QandA last night, and I made the point during the show on Twitter that a “line in the sand” drawn by Liberal Party figures refusing to appear is understandable, given the almost explicit anti-Liberal, anti-Abbott government agenda this programme — and by extension, the publicly funded broadcaster itself — is wont to pursue.
As we argued during the week and as Albrechtsen points out, there is no “free speech” defence to what transpired last Monday night, and whilst ABC figures from #QandA host Tony Jones down were yesterday claiming that had they known the criminal they featured, Zaky Mallah, had also championed the gang rape of journalists Miranda Devine and Rita Panahi on national television they would never have invited him to appear, the claim is as hollow as it is disingenuous.
For one thing, even without the gang rape incitement, Mallah still represented an unsuitable person to whom to provide a platform of national airtime at public expense; and for another — as last-minute #QandA panel member Paul Kelly, Editor-at-Large of The Australian, noted — there is no “free speech” defence when Mallah’s appearance was a deliberately contrived “gotcha” ambush against a government MP, and that much at least was established during the week as well.
The final word on Mallah’s suitability to appear on a national programme like #QandA, ironically enough, came from Mallah himself; a heavy user of social media to spread his opinions, I noticed last night he had tweeted that Liberal MP Steve Ciobo was “society’s cum stain (sic)” for having the temerity to stand up to him last week and suggest he should be thrown out of the country.
There is a stain at the centre of these discussions, to be sure. But it is not Steve Ciobo.
I think the ABC and its key personnel know they overstepped the mark — badly — last week, and I equally think they couldn’t give a shit about it; the whole point of its diatribes about “free” speech to justify its actions is to send the message that the ABC will say and do whatever it likes — and if that means demonising the Australian Right in order to advance the interests and positions of the Left, then so be it.
After all, host Tony Jones’ cheery declaration at the start of last night’s episode that over time, #QandA would leave no strand of opinion out of the programme is disingenuous: “over time” gives ABC staff more than enough scope to manipulate and abuse its execution of that promise.
Does a solo #QandA performance by, say, Joe Hockey after a federal budget count as “coverage” of conservatism or as a sop to the Liberal Party? If it does, that frees up more “space” at other times for stacked panels of pinkos taking aim at everything they despise.
To that end, conservatives are too often included on #QandA as either “tick-a-box” token inclusions (so the ABC can claim not to have left the Right out, even if the discussion has been fixed and sabotaged beforehand) or as targets for abuse, ridicule, humiliation, or downright bullying.
Former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella was regularly invited onto #QandA, only to face vicious onslaught from her fellow panelists — Jones included. NSW conservative Christian MP Fred Nile was recently invited onto a “special” #QandA show on marriage where he was outnumbered five to one. There have been plenty of other examples.
The voice of reason last night belonged to Kelly, who — graciously, patiently and eloquently — made the case that the ABC had engaged in an endeavour last week to ambush Ciobo in pursuit of a “gotcha” moment with the specific objective of embarrassing the Abbott government, and that in so doing, it provided a national platform for an individual whose presence on any ABC production is and was unjustifiable.
The real message of the ABC’s “contrition” came from the persistence of panellists to defend Mallah; one even suggested getting him media training so he would be more “media savvy” in future.
But none of the panellists from the Left were having a bar of Kelly’s admonition; and his fellow last-minute ring-in replacement — Human Rights commissioner Tim Wilson — probably delivered the line of the night, bluntly telling Jones that he and his colleagues should have been ashamed of themselves over last week’s effort.
But defiant to the end, the insistence that editorial independence and a right to free speech contrived to dictate no fault on the ABC’s part for including Mallah last week tells the story; these people are not sorry, and the apologies they have offered should be sneered at with the same contempt with which the ABC itself dismisses anyone who disagrees with it.
The ABC simply doesn’t get it, and the fact anyone from the national broadcaster is defending last week’s episode at all proves the point: in its own world view the ABC is above criticism, beyond reproach and immune to the consequences of its actions, and I would go so far as to suggest that those responsible for #QandA really don’t care for the damage they have done to the ABC’s reputation, and to political discourse in Australia more generally.
Those who doubt this contention need look no further than the fig leaf Jones tried to appropriate as an excuse for Mallah’s presence at all: as I pointed out at the outset, he claimed that had ABC types known of Mallah’s advocacy for the gang rape of Devine and Panahi on breakfast television, then Mallah would not have been allowed into the audience or onto the ABC’s premises at Ultimo in Sydney.
In the final analysis, that the ABC has used feigned ignorance of the threat of pack rape against prominent female identities as its excuse for allowing last week’s outrage to happen is a damning indictment on those people at the national broadcaster who were involved.
Distilled to the essence, it is disgraceful that a public broadcaster would use something as tawdry to rationalise away its culpability.
Last night’s episode might have been nowhere near as bad as the one that preceded it, but the events of the past week — culminating in last night’s broadcast — show the ABC to not only stand behind its inappropriate actions last week, but that it offers no real apology or contrition for them at all.
At a cost of $1.1 billion dollars to the taxpayer each year, it is not a situation that can be permitted to continue, and the lawless ABC needs to be held rigorously to account.