“The fundamental purpose of this programme is to let citizens to ask questions,” said Tony Jones on last night’s Q & A.
In the first programme since last week’s headline-grabbing incident, the ABC forum debated the exchange and subsequent fallout.
Tony Jones opened the show with an editorial responding to “events that have occurred on our own programme.”
“We’ve been the subject of a great deal of comment from politicians and other media. The ABC itself has acknowledged that an error was made in having Mr. Zaky Mallah Live in the Studio.”
The show then spent 40 minutes scrutinising the issue, with Jones putting “a few facts on the record.”
“The decisions made about Q & A are made by the whole programme and the management team and we all take responsibility for them,” he said.
“In considering the decision to allow Mr. Zaky Mallah to ask a question, the ABC’s Editorial Standards tell us to present a diversity of perspectives, so that over time no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded, nor disproportionately represented.
“Now secondly, the safety and security of our panelists and audience is always a key priority for us.
“And finally the Q & A team were not aware at the time Zaky Mallah appeared of the very offensive, misogynistic tweets that he put out about two female journalists.
“Had we known, we would have rejected his participation.”
A robust and sometimes noisy discussion followed in which Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson and The Australian columnist Paul Kelly were highly critical of Q & A and ABC for giving Mallah airtime last week.
“This was a serious editorial mistake by the ABC,” said Kelly.
“Media organisations have got to be very careful about who they put up in lights.
“It would have been possible to have a lot of other Muslims in the audience raising these sorts of issues. The ABC chose not to do that.”
Tim Wilson said, “To be brutally honest Tony, when I first came onto this programme in 2008 it was an environment where we had serious policy discussion. Too often today it gets caught up in ‘gotcha’ moments and snide remarks, designed to get you extra attention. And that is what that was and it blew back onto this show and to its detriment.”
Tanya Plibersek also said it was an error to include him but defended the ABC’s role.
“Even when I don’t agree with it, I see that it does a really important job and plays a very worthwhile role in our community,” she said.
The programme followed a full Media Watch analysis by Paul Barry, noting Mallah had previously appeared on ABC, Seven, TEN and SBS plus radio stations. Barry agreed things on Q & A could have been handled better, noting the pre-recorded video question from David Hicks to John Howard in 2010.
At the time Howard noted:
Well, I’d make a couple of responses to David Hicks. The first is that isn’t it a great country that allows this kind of exchange to occur and this is not the sort of exchange that would occur in other countries and in dictatorships and it ought to make all of us – whatever our views are about my Government’s policies concerning Mr Hicks – it ought to make all of us very proud that we live in a country that allows that sort of exchange …
An investigative report is expected to be delivered to Malcolm Turnbull’s office today.