Beware: There's an agenda behind this anti-ABC hype.

Look closer: there’s an agenda behind all this anti-ABC outrage.

You’ve probably seen the slew of headlines today attacking our national broadcaster in the grisliest possible terms, by conflating it with the bloodthirsty Islamic State.

Headlines like this:

The Herald Sun.

And this:

The Courier Mail.

And this:

The Daily Telegraph.

The covers were printed in response to the national broadcaster’s decision to this week allow onetime terror suspect Zaky Mallah to appear on its Q&A programme.

In case you missed it, Mr Mallah commented on the Monday night show that the Liberals had “justified” some Australian Muslims’ decisions to join ISIS.

Zaky Mallah appearing on Q&A. (Screenshot via ABC)

Criticism and discussion in the wake of the show wasn’t just directed at Mr Mallah – or at the Q&A program. It was directed against the entire ABC. That sentiment carried over today in an unprecedented campaign against our national broadcaster and preyed on the fears of many Australians.

Related: The question that should never have been asked on TV.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott led the charge, claiming the ABC “has badly let us down” by allowing Mr Mallah, who was charged with terrorism offences in 2003, to air his controversial opinion.

“What our national broadcaster has done is give a platform to a convicted criminal and terrorist sympathiser – they have given this individual, this disgraceful individual, a platform and in so doing, I believe the national broadcaster has badly let us down,” Mr Abbott said.

Tony Abbott has lashed out at the ABC.

“Whose side are you on? Whose side are you on here? Fair enough, we all believe in free speech, but in the end we have to make judgments and I think that the ABC made a very, very serious misjudgment last night,” he added.

Mr Abbott also called the show a “lefty lynch mob” at a meeting of coalition MPs yesterday.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton weighed in, saying the ABC’s Q&A program has “lost the plot,” while Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said “it beggars belief that [Mr Mallah] was included in a live audience.” Liberal backbencher Alex Hawke similarly made his feelings known, telling Fairfax Media”(i)t’s almost as if the ABC is engaged in some form of sedition”.

A number of journalists, public figures and members of the public also piled on the anti-ABC bandwagon.


Now, this is not a post in defence of Mr Mallah.

Perhaps you, too, are angry at our national broadcaster for giving airtime to a man who certainly has a violent, problematic past.

Perhaps you would prefer that all former criminals, of whatever persuasion, not air their views on state-funded TV.

Perhaps you’ve been swayed by the bold, outraged, shouty front pages of these popular tabloids, leading you to question whether the ABC has, indeed, “lost the plot”.

But before you take their outrage at face value, there’s something you should consider: This anti-ABC hype does not exist in a vacuum.

Far from it, in fact.

The Coalition government has long been contemptuous of the ABC, apparently resenting its insistence on fulfilling the media’s role as the fourth estate (that pesky ABC, with all its focus on ensuring political accountability.)

Time and time again, the Coalition government has made its distaste for the ABC known: When Mr Abbott last year said he was concerned the ABC takes an anti-Australian stance in its reporting, for example, and when the government cut funding to the broadcaster by a whopping $254 million over five years.

Tony Jones, host of Q&A (Screenshot via ABC)

It’s hardly surprising, either, that News Corp papers — headed by Muddoch, who has an obsequious relationship with Abbott — overwhelmingly comprise the media outlets targeting the ABC over the issue.

My point is this: If you disagree with the ABC’s decision to allow Mr Mallah airtime, fine. The broadcaster can reasonably be said to have made a mistake in allowing the man on the programme at all– and the circumstances of his appearance there will, quite rightly, be investigated.

Similarly, if you think Mr Mallah sounds like a scumbag with a dodgy-sounding history and questionable networks, you’ll hear no argument from me.

But don’t be fooled into thinking the government’s criticism of the ABC is devoid of cynical political undertones. Because against a backdrop of the Coalition’s repeatedly demonstrated contempt for our national broadcaster, the anti-ABC hype around today comes off as just another excuse to tear down our nation’s most reputable media organisation.

Today’s ABC-bashing is as opportunistic as it is predictable. And that’s why I’m not buying into the hype.

Related content: Waleed Aly confronts Zaky Mallah in an interview.