Lost in the fog of the Zaky Mallah controversy are more fundamental questions about the ABC’s role in representative democracy
In the weeks since Zaky Mallah’s Q&A appearance we’ve seen how a question of genuine interest and importance – whether our national broadcaster should give airtime to proponents of terrorism – can be sucked into the vortex of Canberra politics and spat out the other end as a question of left–right bias.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Mallah controversy, which has already produced two official inquiries, a mooted divisional reorganisation at the ABC, and a Coalition frontbench boycott, is how quickly the terms of the discussion shifted to suit the federal government’s long-running credibility war with the national broadcaster.
Tony Abbott, in his press conference on 23 June, accused the ABC of not being on Australia’s “side.” Other Coalition MPs suggested the ABC created a public safety risk by putting Mallah on air, and that Mallah’s hate speech against prominent female journalists should have disqualified him from media coverage. But the government’s take-home point, working as a master narrative underlying these criticisms, was that the Mallah incident revealed a systemic bias within the ABC, and that the broadcaster’s “error of judgement” is symptomatic of its sympathy for various left causes (a category now expanded to include Islamic extremism).
In his blunt but effective way, Abbott re-engineered the terms of the Mallah conversation to conform to his characterisation of the ABC as a “leftie lynch mob.” This was no surprise, given the distaste for the ABC expressed by most Coalition MPs, particularly those on the hard right of the party. While Abbott’s strategic thinking is clear, it is worth carefully scrutinising the justifications underlying these attacks, and the expectations placed on Q&A as a result…
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