WORDS || Anna Glen
In June of this year, the popular Q&A program on the ABC sparked controversy after broadcasting a question from Zaky Mallah, a man who has been convicted of threatening to kill ASIO officers and who also has a history of posting misogynistic tweets. In the wake of the episode, the ABC received over 1000 viewer complaints and chastisement from the mainstream media. The ABC admitted it showed an ‘error of judgment’ in allowing Mallah to appear on the show and said it was not aware of the offensive tweets prior to him appearing on the program. Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, responded by instructing Coalition causing Barnaby Joyce to withdraw from the program last minute.
Finally, after the ABC agreed to move the program from its Entertainment subdivision to News and Current Affairs, the ban was lifted. Twitter deemed the entire saga #QandAgate. It raises important questions — is it appropriate to air the opinions of convicted terrorists? Can they be useful or do they encourage ‘radicalisation’? Was Tony Abbott’s response an overreaction or smart politics? Is the ABC too ‘left wing’ or is the current government bullying it?
We asked some student politicians from both sides of the spectrum to respond.
VICE PRESIDENT OF THE MACQ LIBERAL CLUB
Why was it a good idea for the Prime Minister Tony Abbott to refuse to go on Q&A? Well, to start with, it was good politics. Let’s face it — your swing voters in Western Sydney don’t spend their time watching Tony Jones on Q&A. Most people who watch the program have a pretty good idea who they are going to vote for in the next election — so Tony Abbott is hardly going to win many friends by appearing on the program.
So what does Tony Abbott gain by introducing a “ban” on Q&A? Well, he wins some popularity with The Daily Telegraph readers. There is a perception out in the general public that the ABC is too left wing. People don’t like the Inner West, latte-sipping elites who form the predominant audience of Q&A and this message is reinforced program and so, Abbott is right to condemn this. The ABC needs to change how they regulate their program. By taking a tough stance on Q&A, Abbott reinforces his tough-guy stance on terrorism, which is an issue that traditionally plays well for conservatives.
Finally, I don’t expect the ban of Cabinet Ministers going on Q&A to last very long. There has already been an indication by the PM that if the ABC changes its management of Q&A to sit under the News and Current Affairs division (which has a more rigorous screening procedure), he’s prepared to lift the ban.
And if it’s not lifted then who cares? Liberals will still appear on Lateline or The 7.30 Report or any other form of news program. It’s not like there aren’t other TV shows out there.
Politics is the art of the possible and I think Abbott has won more than he has lost on this issue.
PRESIDENT OF MQU LABOR STUDENTS
The Zaky Mallah saga was a pathetic beatup of a non-issue. Prime Minister John Howard applauded the participation of David Hicks on the same show just a few short years ago as an example of the greatness of Australia’s commitment to freedom of speech. The idea that the ABC now has engaged in some sort of high treason doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.
Abbott’s subsequent overreaction didn’t delegitimise Mallah as a dangerous radical to be ignored, but instead made him a serious topic of discussion for three (!) weeks in national media. That anyone would be persuaded to join ISIS by Mallah’s oratory and ridiculous weed cap is beyond even the most hyperactive right-wing
The frontbench ban is patently ridiculous, but it makes perfect sense once you realise the tenuous situation the Government is in.
Tony Abbott was elected on the basis of a promise to do nothing – no cuts to health governments because it remains one of the few media organisations that will speak truth to power to any government. For a party that is accustomed to the media carrying the ball for them, this causes more than a few headaches.
The Government, in trying to flex its muscle against the ABC, reveals who they truly think is the enemy.
When LNP MP George Christensen attended a Reclaim Australia rally as a headlining speaker, giving governmental legitimacy to a movement of various rednecks, racists and xenophobes, it didn’t cause Tony Abbott to blink twice. Christensen was free to speak and encourage their bigotry.
When the ABC refused to shift Q&A out of Entertainment and into News & Current Affairs, Barnaby Joyce was pulled from the program at the last minute. Apparently the ABC is more to be scorned than a reactionary fascist movement.
So how can anyone defend Abbott’s decision?
Only if you believe that you have a right to be a bigot — but not tell the truth about the government.