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ABC’s excuses on Zaky Mallah affair are indefensible

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull hit the nail on the head yesterday when he asked Barrie Cassidy, host of the ABC’s Insiders: “Are you pulling my leg?’’ Cassidy had asked why the inclusion of Muslim activist Zaky Mallah in last week’s Q&A audience was different, in security terms, from Mallah visiting shopping centres. Terrorists, from the 9/11 attackers to Lindt cafe gunman Man Haron Monis, crave prominent targets and vast audiences, which is why Islamic State posts its atrocities online. Live television is a vast platform. And as Mr Turnbull, a staunch ABC supporter in general, said: “If you can’t see that, I’m sorry, seriously you’ve lost the plot.’’

The chief of any news organisation should ensure such blunders are avoided in future. But ABC managing director Mark Scott, the national broadcaster’s editor-in-chief, showed himself incapable of leadership in news by allowing Q&A to be rebroadcast, unedited. Addressing the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs in the wake of the furore late last week, Mr Scott tried to draw a parallel between Mallah’s right to free speech and the terror attack on the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January. It was a lamentable analogy. Twelve Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists were slaughtered by an al-Qa’ida offshoot because they refused to back down in the face of Islamist extremists. Q&A did almost the reverse. It provided a national platform for a jihad supporter who was jailed for threatening to kill ASIO officers, whose social media utterings are violent and misogynist. This issue is not about defending Mallah’s right to free speech, which has never been in doubt in Australia.

In his speech, Mr Scott also resorted to a superfluous defence of the ABC’s independence, arguing that nobody wanted the ABC to emulate the state broadcasters of North Korea, Russia and other authoritarian states. No, they don’t, which is why the ABC’s indifference when the Gillard gov­ernment tried to introduce the most draconian press content regulations ever mooted in Australia was appalling.

Talking up “independence’’ when it was not under threat was an attempt by Mr Scott to distract attention from his tendency, and that of the board, to allow ABC news and current affairs editors and team leaders to operate unchecked. The ABC board is supposed to ensure “that the functions of the corporation are performed efficiently with maximum benefit to the people of Australia’’ and that “the gathering and presentation of news and information is accurate and impartial, according to recognised standards of journalism’’. It is falling short on those counts. The parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, Steven Ciobo, was right when he said yesterday the ABC was like an island, accountable to nobody. As a start in restoring balance and credibility, Mr Scott and the board must set key performance indicators on news and current affairs content for editors and ensure they’re met.

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I suggest the ABC management spend a month in Afghanistan with Taliban and see if they enjoy it. When they say independent they mean anti everything except Marxism.

Posted on 2015-06-30 04:06:24 GMT