Journalists’ Union attacks Prime Minister over ABC inquiry

The federal government has launched an inquiry into the ABC after the controversial appearance of a convicted criminal and Islamist sympathiser on this week’s Q&A Program.

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The public broadcaster apologised over its decision to allow Zaky Mallah to ask a question on the television panel show on Monday night.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the decision calls into question the editorial judgement of the ABC, and said a government inquiry would release its findings on Tuesday.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he was satisfied with the ABC’s apology.

He said a government inquiry was unnecessary.

“The ABC is independent of government”, Mr Shorten said.

“It is not a propaganda arm of government. So while I think it is right to be critical of the Q&A audience proposals and who they put in the audience, I am not satisfied that it warrants a full-on attack against the independence of the ABC”, he added.

That’s a view shared by the journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

Its Chief Executive Officer Paul Murphy said the Prime Minister had pre-empted the outcome of the government inquiry.

“We can’t have any confidence in the independence of any inquiry that’s going to be conducted given that the head of the government had made his views so clear before anything has commenced”, Mr Murphy said.

“I really have quite a deal of sympathy for the bureaucrats at the Department of Communications who have been given this responsibility.”

The Prime Minister’s actions have also been criticised from within the Liberal Party.

Egyptian-Australian Mohammed El Leissy is a Muslim community worker, stand-up comedian and active Liberal party member in northern Melbourne.

He said Mr Abbott’s criticism of Q&A was politically motivated, given some other Australian militants have also appeared previously on the program.

“Famously we know that David Hicks also posed a question to John Howard on the very same program and that didn’t raise any concern about it”, Mr El Leissy said.

“So there is definitely a real risk here that this is part of a broader agenda against the ABC which would be quite unfortunate if that was the case.”

Mr El-Leissy said the government needed to recognise the editorial independence of the ABC as a public, rather than a state broadcaster.

He said this should give the broadcaster scope to allow people to be interviewed with a range of views and beliefs which may clash with the government of the day.

“And I think it’s a shame that the mood is leaning against that free speech and more into a censorship sort of model”, Mr El Leissy said.

“But I think we will thrive as a society if we allow these extremist voices to be broadcast with the intention that we can then criticise, unpack it and then hopefully repudiate it.”

The head of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Paul Murphy said it was in the public interest for the ABC to broadcast a range of views on controversial issues.

“At times, voices that are unpleasant need to be heard”, Mr Murphy said.

“The debate needs to be had and it’s not a situation where the government should be censoring what opinions can and cannot be heard”.

Mr Mallah pleaded guilty to threatening to kill officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation  in 2003. 

He was acquitted of terrorism charges in 2005.