Quick Thought: Abbott’s ABC onslaught

Quick Thought: Abbott’s ABC onslaught and Civic Weakness

The weeklong escalation of Tony Abbott’s attack upon our national broadcaster began with shared criticism of an editorial mistake and ended with claims the ABC “betrayed our country” for broadcasting convicted Australian terrorist Zaky Mallah’s spontaneous hostility.

Strong arguments have been made for and against Mallah’s appearance on the ABC’s Q&A panel debate. The Mallah defenders backed his challenge to the new Ministerial power to strip foreign fighters of citizenship. The Waleed Alys countered that Mallah was careless to accuse Parliamentary Secretary Steven Ciobo of inciting further radicalisation of Aussie Muslims and achieved nothing except distracting the public from the question of governmental overreach.

However, by equivocating the ABC with a terrorist mouthpiece there is no doubt Abbott has pushed the question of ministerial revocation powers only further from the public mind. Ironically, by Waleed Aly’s yardstick, Abbott has out-Mallah-ed Mallah.

Regardless of position, it was abundantly clear to both panellist and viewer that Mallah’s comments had offended many and misrepresented most of Australia’s Muslim community. Mallah’s hostility lent him no favour against the backdrop of his terrorist past and host Tony Jones’ appalled reaction perfectly summed the public’s discomfort.

Some viewers contended with the merits of Mallah’s initial question and pushed aside his later spontaneous outburst as an obvious indiscretion. Other viewers wrote letters of complaint expressing their outrage at Mallah’s very appearance. Indisputably, both viewers arrived at positions that could only have evolved from understanding the spontaneous nature of political debate.

Over the week, the government has ratcheted up their cries of institutional failure, Ministers have boycotted Q&A and Abbott has threatened the ABC with a government-led inquiry.

Even if we were to call Mallah’s appearance an egregious misstep by Q&A, he joins a but a handful of incidents falling embarrassingly short of institutional failure. Without question, Q&A’s few missteps are a small price for the overwhelming public benefit of a weekly debate on our politics.

The real tragedy of Abbott’s efforts is that he confuses a citizenry that shouldn’t have to tolerate Mallah’s indiscretion with one entirely incapable of tolerating spontaneous debate over the Government’s security agenda.

Once the Government’s tirade extended to attacking the entire institution, the argument was no longer about how offensive Mallah’s spontaneous outburst is, but instead a decision that we are unable to tolerate the spontaneous altogether, that spontaneous dialogue should be removed from our politics, heaven forbid it be at the expense of the government viewpoint. A viewpoint our healthy democracy demands the ABC to criticise.

This is most offensive, for the idea that the Abbott government isn’t presuming an engaged, self-assured citizenry confidently capable of wielding their political sovereignty, but rather directionless citizens needing to be shepherded. Agreeing with the government’s manner of attack is for Australians needing to be administered by democracy rather than living democracy in the sense of exercising our sovereignty.

As long as the ABC continues to inform us, it is certainly on ‘our’ side and an independent public broadcaster is the sign of a robust democracy with citizens worthy of wielding sovereign power. So when Abbott raises the challenge ‘whose side are you on?’ it is not the ABC’s response but the very asking of that question that degrades our civic engagement.

#writing #auspol #opinion #Australia #democracy #civic #politics #journalism #ABC

Originally published at ello.co.