National broadcaster 'not on Australia's side': PM

National broadcaster 'not on Australia's side': PM
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to comment on reports stating that Australian navy paid a group of people-smugglers thousands of dollars to turn around their boat packed with asylum-seekers.
PHOTO: AFP

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott led stinging attacks on the national broadcaster Wednesday, after reportedly accusing a current affairs show of being a "leftie lynch mob".

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Q&A panel programme caused uproar when it allowed convicted criminal Zaky Mallah, who was acquitted of terror offences in 2005, to ask a question from the audience on Monday night's show.

In a live exchange with Liberal lawmaker Steve Ciobo, Mallah criticised the government, saying its decision to strip terrorists of their citizenship where possible gave Australians a justification for joining the Islamic State (IS) group.

"The Liberals have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join IS because of ministers like him," he responded when Ciobo said he would be happy to see him sent out of the country. Abbott questioned why the ABC would give such a platform to a convicted criminal.

"The issue for the ABC, our national broadcaster, is: 'Whose side are you on?' Because all too often, the ABC seems to be on everyone's side but Australia's," he said Wednesday.

Abbott refused, citing confidentiality, to confirm reports that he had told his party room on Tuesday: "We all know Q&A is a leftie lynch mob."

But he said: "It's interesting, back in 2005 when the individual in question was sentenced, the sentencing judge deplored the platform that the media had given to this individual." Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it beggared belief that Mallah - who was jailed for threatening to kill Australian intelligence officers and had since travelled to Syria - was included in a live audience.

"He had been charged with threatening suicide attacks and preparing for terrorist attacks in that context, although had been acquitted," Turnbull said. "His social media presence is vile, abusive and violent."

The ABC has said that the circumstances of Mallah's appearance would be reviewed. Abbott has previously accused the ABC of not acting in Australia's interests, including in 2014 when it reported on the alleged mistreatment of asylum-seekers by defence personnel.

"It dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone's side but our own and I think it is a problem," Abbott told commercial radio in January 2014.

"You would like the national broadcaster to have a rigorous commitment to truth and at least some basic affection for the home team, so to speak."

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