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ABC must present both sides of the debate on terrorism

THE Attorney-General’s assessment of the present danger is correct. Last Wednesday, George Brandis told the Senate that Australia faced a more immediate security threat than it did during the Cold War.

In the late 1940s and during the 50s, some members of the Communist Party of Australia planned to kill their fellow citizens if and when the CPA came to power. But Australian communists were not into murder or acts of terrorism in the lead-up to their anticipated victory, which they expected would take place as a result of rampant revolutionary fervour.

Currently, Western nations face a two-tiered threat. There is an attack by foreigners, of the kind that took place in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. And then there is the
lone-wolf attack by a citizen or resident, of the kind that took place in Times Square in 2010 and Boston last year.

So far there has been no foreign-based attack on Australians in Australia. However, in the Operation Pendennis exercise in 2005, security agencies and federal and state police thwarted planned attacks on high-profile targets. On Tuesday, Melbourne-based teenage Numan Haider arrived at the Endeavour Hills police station with the intention of murdering two  police. He was shot dead at the scene.

Evidence has emerged that Haider was tracking the movements of senior politicians, including Tony Abbott. It made sense that, even before Haider’s attempted murders, security at Parliament House had been increased. It may be necessary to increase security at some or all police stations.

It would be irresponsible for Australians, politicians, ­
law-enforcement officials and more besides to ignore the warning of Islamic State. Spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani Ash-Shami last weekend called on supporters to “kill an American or European infidel, especially the spiteful and cursed French, or an Australian or a Canadian or any other disbeliever”. Not long after, Haider arrived at the Endeavour Hills police station carrying two knives and an Islamic State flag.

In the climate of genuine security threat, it is reasonable to expect the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster would act responsibly. This, at the very least, requires a proper balance in the ABC’s presentation of security issues. So far, Mark Scott, the ABC’s managing director and editor-in-chief, has failed to exercise proper editorial control over his employees.

Take Monday’s Q & A, for example. It was a travesty in so far as fair and balanced coverage is concerned. Originally, the focus of the program was to be infrastructure. However, after the police raids in Sydney and Brisbane on September 18, the topic was changed to “Be alert but not alarmed”.

Fair enough. But not for long. For this crucial program, Q & A put together a panel that was grossly unbalanced. Justice Minister Michael Keenan was the political conservative on the panel. The social democratic Mark Dreyfus, Labor’s shadow attorney-general, also got a guernsey. No problem so far.

But the rest of the panel was loaded up with critics of the security approach taken by Abbott and Bill Shorten at home and abroad. Namely, Greens senator Scott Ludlam, university researcher Anne-Azza Aly and writer Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Keenan, with some help from Dreyfus, maintained that the police raids were a response to a genuine security threat. But the rest of the panel, cheered on by a large section of the audience and not discouraged by presenter Tony Jones, was having none of this. Ludlam suggested the raids were an “amazing coincidence” in view of the planned changes to national security legislation.

Paul Barry presented the Media Watch program before Q & A went to air. Barry cited with approval a comment in The Guardian Online by Richard Ackland (a former Media Watch presenter) that the media had become “willing pawns in the politics of terror drama”. To Ackland, the raids were but a splash of “commando bombast”.

On September 19, in the wake of the Sydney and Brisbane raids, Lateline ran a “Friday Forum” segment on national security. There was scant debate as defence commentator Allan Behm essentially agreed with human rights barrister Greg Barns.

There was a near common view the raids had been exaggerated by the police (Barns) and overegged by the media (Behm). No view supporting the need for such raids was heard.

It was much the same on Radio National’s Late Night Live last Monday. Phillip Adams, columnist with The Australian, was in the presenter’s chair with academic lawyers Patrick Emerton and Kiernan Hardy as guests. Adams essentially agreed with the two that the proposed amendments to the security legislation were too tough.

Emerton alleged that in 2007 ASIO officers had committed “serious crimes” of “kidnapping and false imprisonment”. He implied that the Abbott government was intent on making kidnapping “lawful when ASIO does it”. In fact, no ASIO officer was ever charged with, let alone found guilty of, kidnapping and false imprisonment in 2007. But neither Adams nor Kiernan clarified Emerton’s hyperbolic comment.

Every now and then, the ABC engages an employee in the commercial media to become a regular commentator on the public broadcaster. Channel 10’s left-of-centre Paul Bongiorno appears on RN and Radio 702 in Sydney. On 702 last Thursday, he declared the Abbott government “certainly is panicking the community” on security. No other view was heard.

The ABC remains a Conservative Free Zone, without a conservative in any prominent presenter, producer or editorial position. In his role as editor-in-chief, it is up to Scott to ensure a diversity of views is heard during a time of national emergency.

If he fails to do so, it is the responsibility of the ABC board to ensure that the ABC managing director does what he is paid to do. It’s called governance.

Gerard Henderson is Executive Director of The Sydney Institute.


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Original piece is http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/abc-must-present-both-sides-of-the-debate-on-terrorism/story-fnkqo7i5-1227072052375


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