Less Outrageous, But #QandA Still Doesn’t Get It

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.

Spare us!

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.

 

Their ABC: No Free Speech Defence Exists For #QandA Outrage

WITH INQUIRIES afoot into Monday’s despicable episode of #QandA and the furore over giving airtime to a violent thug and gang rape advocate refusing to abate, apologists from ABC Managing Director Mark Scott down have sought to defend the show based on free speech. No “right” to free speech features taxpayer-funded airtime for criminals. If it did, questions of bias and decency are separate issues Scott’s “defence” fails to address.

In the wake of the reprehensible episode of #QandA broadcast on Monday night — an outrage unapologetically compounded as the ABC repeated the broadcast, unedited, on Wednesday — the most disgusting (but not unexpected) aspect of the saga to date has been the parade of various left-wing sympathisers in the press and elsewhere lining up to defend “their ABC” on the basis that convicted criminal, gang rape advocate and former accused terrorist Zaky Mallah was not only entitled to appear on the programme, but to proclaim that the fact he did was evidence of free speech at work and of the ABC’s fine record in empowering the powerless, and of giving them a voice.

What absolute bullshit.

At best, those who have been trotted out to fly the flag on the ABC’s behalf — from its Managing Director Mark Scott down — have spoken of freedom of speech without any appropriate sense of context for it; at worst, this was an unforgivable exercise in providing a national platform for a dangerous criminal that was contrived to either poke the hated Abbott government in the collective eye, or to publicly signal (yet again) the ABC’s solidarity with elements obsessed with undermining the national interest and bald in their hatred of our society.

In Scott’s case, he has also confused the difference between a “state broadcaster” and a “public broadcaster” and exhibited an intolerable ignorance of what is acceptable for broadcast by a media outlet entirely funded by taxpayer money.

The merit or otherwise of providing access to a vehicle for mass broadcast to a known terrorist sympathiser and would-be murderer of law enforcement officers has, coincidentally, been exposed with deadly effect tonight, as news of yet another murder attributed to Islamic State insurgents — this time in Grenoble in France — filters out of Europe, and given Mallah’s past support for radical Islamic terrorism and his intended travel to Syria to join jihadis (to “observe” them, he claims), those who now defend the wisdom of putting Mallah in front of a national audience of some 1,000,000 viewers should take a hard look at themselves.

Anybody who pays even the most cursory attention to the news of the world knows that Islamic terrorist groups maintain worldwide communication networks, and what happens in one location can well influence what happens in another. The attention the ABC has openly drawn to a known sympathiser of these groups could have sent a signal to allied cells in France.

On Monday, Islamic State begins a week of high-profile controversial publicity in Australia, aided and abetted by the national broadcaster; on Friday, it perpetuates its dominance of news media worldwide by murdering someone in France in the name of its cause. This is not a long bow to draw. The ABC is potentially very heavily culpable for its role in the sequence of events, however innocuous it proclaims its motives on Monday were.

But let’s come back to #QandA in its domestic context, for this is the main focus of my article tonight.

When the debate over ultimately unsuccessful attempts to modify S18c of the Racial Discrimination Act began, the Left in this country was apoplectic with fury over remarks by Attorney-General George Brandis to the effect that free speech meant people have the right to be bigots, whilst others have the right to ridicule, ignore, or rebut them; in the most strictly literal sense he was right, of course, but it wasn’t the first time that the astonishingly intelligent Brandis miscommunicated his message in such a ham-fisted fashion as to render the entire debate pointless.

But if Brandis had instead issued forth an assertion that people should have the right to mouth off like murderous lunatics, to threaten members of Parliament, and to advocate the pack-rape of female journalists on national TV, would the Left have been any less enraged or strident in its denunciation? Of course not.

Yet that formulation, in effect, is precisely what those who now seek to defend Monday night’s episode of #QandA are in fact defending.

Not a syllable has been uttered publicly by any prominent mouthpiece from the Left to denounce Mallah over the tweet he posted in January — republished and widely circulated this week — in which he argued conservative commentators Miranda Devine and Rita Panahi should be gang-raped on national television on the Seven network’s Sunrise programme, and for all the bluster about “misogyny” that has seeped from the Left ever since it decided playing the gender card might cut Julia Gillard some slack and divert voters’ attention from the woefully inept government she presided over, it is a neat little illustration of just how hypocritical the Left is when it comes to “values.”

My bet is that if it had been two women from the Left, rather than female identities from the Right, there would have been no end of condemnation from Labor and the Greens instead of the silence they have met the matter with.

And only a fool claims that putting a known terrorist sympathiser, who has threatened to kill ASIO officers, on a national television show is a shining example of free speech in action, or defends such an idiocy after the event. But again, as far as the apologists from the Left are concerned, there’s no problem with having Mallah beamed into hundreds of thousands of living rooms across Australia.

If Mallah is to enjoy the right to freely peddle his odious views, let him do it at the pub (where he could have the shit beaten out of him for insulting the women present) or in his social media accounts, where people can report him for God-knows-what, block him, or simply ignore him.

Someone like Mallah neither warrants nor deserves a spot on a national forum to air such antisocial and offensive viewpoints.

Labor “leader” and seemingly incorrigible dickhead Bill Shorten has, as usual, sought to have his cake and eat it too, using the storm that has erupted over #QandA to claim the ABC is “not a propaganda arm of the government” but — surprise, surprise — nonetheless “condemning” the ABC for having Mallah on the show in the first place.

Really, any utterance from Shorten is best ignored.

But the sobering facts that have emerged during the week are that ABC staff admitted they knew of Mallah’s background and selected him to ask an audience question (or even be in the #QandA audience at all) anyway; the show’s producers reviewed and helped draft the question he asked, and it is reasonable to infer they would have also had a fair idea of which direction discussion on the show would take immediately thereafter; production staff declined to provide a discretionary but standard briefing to the Coalition MP who got into an altercation with Mallah, Steve Ciobo, which inevitably suggests the intended effect was to ambush Ciobo; and just to make sure Mallah attended at all, and played the part carefully planned out for him, the ABC saw to it that he was transported from his base in western Sydney to the ABC studio in Ultimo and back again at no cost.

I’m sorry, but which aspect of any of this speaks to an inherent “right” to free speech on Mallah’s part? The whole thing was a planned stunt.

Scott is right that there is a difference between a “state broadcaster” and a “public broadcaster;” a “state broadcaster” spews ruling party propaganda out of every conceivable media orifice (TV, radio, online) whereas the ABC’s purpose, it seems, is to spew the propaganda of the government’s opponents. It’s a very straightforward arrangement.

Nobody is asking the ABC to become some mouthpiece for conservative politics or its practitioners.

But some balance — and the abandonment of partisanship altogether — would befit a public broadcaster whose role, funded by the taxpayer, is not to engage in ideological crusades and partisan brainwashing.

It’s one thing to put what in essence is a political propaganda forum on television every week and for the Left and the Right to argue about its (indisputable) bias. But Monday’s episode was something else altogether, and enough is enough.

Piers Akerman has published an excellent piece in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that runs as a complement to the points I have made this evening. I urge readers to take the time to peruse it, for this is one occasion when the Left are seeking to defend the indefensible, and it is time those who preside over the farce that is #QandA — at the expense of the taxpayer, just to labour the point — are held to account.

The simple fact is the ABC had no right putting a piece of shit like Mallah over the national airwaves in the first place, reaching a million viewers, much less trying to justify itself after the event as encouraging “diversity” of opinion and “free” speech.

Yet again, #QandA has gone far too far in offending the limits of fairness and decency in the drivel it purports to facilitate as fearless debate.

And to put not too fine a point on it, I reiterate that I think it should be axed: for a format that promises so much, this show has been abused as a propaganda tool one time too many, and if it returns to the air next week,* it will only be because saner and wiser heads have not yet managed to prevail.

*AND ANOTHER THING: As readers would expect, my strident criticism of #QandA has also been extensive on Twitter; to this end, I suggested yesterday that the program canvass mainstream issues rather than the standard diet of indigenous issues, climate change, gay marriage, “disadvantage,” and other matters peripheral to sound governance that it is already promoting in relation to next Monday night.

I received a curt response from someone monitoring the #QandA feed inviting me to submit a video question on “one of these mainstream issues” and I have indicated that over the weekend, I will record and send them exactly that.

Stay tuned. In the highly unlikely event they use the question I am going to send them — if #QandA even proceeds next week, that is — I will let readers know how things went.

But I won’t hold my breath. Neither should you.