Prime minister Tony Abbott says the ABC needs to “have a long, hard look at itself” after it let former terrorism suspect Zaky Mallah ask a question on its live panel show Q&A last night.
Mallah was 19 in 2003, when he became the first person charged under new counter-terrorism laws. He was acquitted of two terrorism offences after spending two years in jail, but was convicted of threatening to kill ASIO officials.
Last night on Q&A Mallah, who subsequently went to Syria in 2011, was allowed to quiz Steve Ciobo, parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs and trade, about plans to cancel the citizenship of Australians who head overseas to fight with terrorist forces.
Today the ABC is in damage control, admitting it made a mistake by letting Mallah take part in the show.
“The ABC made a very very serious misjudgement last night,” Tony Abbott said today.
“What our national broadcaster done is give a national platform to a convicted criminal and terrorist sympathiser. They badly let us down.
“Many millions of Australians would be feeling betrayed today,” he said.
The prime minister said the ABC had to ask itself “whose side are you on?”
Earlier today, Abbott told his parliamentary colleagues that “we all know the program is a lefty lynch-mob”.
Last night an explosive exchange ensued betweeen Mallah and Ciobo, with the Liberal MP saying that while he didn’t know all the circumstances around Mallah’s case, he’d be a prime candidate for the new laws.
“I’m happy to look you straight in the eye and say that I’d be pleased to be part of a government that would say you are out of the country, as far as I’m concerned. I would sleep very soundly at night with that point of view,” Ciobo said.
Mallah retorted: “As an Australian I would be happy to see you out of the country”, to applause from some in the audience.
Ciobo bit back, saying: “The difference is, I haven’t threatened to kill anybody. I haven’t threatened to kill people that put their lives on the line for the values this country represents.”
Mallah escalated it: “The Liberals now have justified to many Australian Muslims in the community to leave and go to Syria and join Isis because of ministers like him,” leading host Tony Jones to declare comments “out of order”.
Ciobo stood his ground: “The comments you’ve made, the threats you’ve made that you’ve pleaded guilty to, to me more than justify the concerns the government has. I think it’s very wrong for you to portray the Muslim population as all being incentivised to do those things.”
Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull wants the Australian Federal Police to review the program, in the wake of security concerns.
“The idea that there were no physical security checks on the audience with this man on [Q&A] is extraordinary,” the minister said.
“I’ve asked that security checks are appropriate to protect the live audience and the guests in the studio.”
Turnbull has contacted ABC chairman James Spigelman, managing director Mark Scott, and host Tony Jones over the program, which he labelled an “extreme error of judgement”.
ABC TV director Richard Finlayson said the ABC was now reviewing the program, saying it “made an error in judgement in allowing Zaky Mallah to join the audience and ask a question”.
“As has been the case in the past on Q&A, circumstances will happen that are not anticipated. The critical question is whether risks could have been managed and the right editorial judgments made in advance,” Finlayson said.
The incident is here:
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