‘Urgent’ report into Zaky Mallah’s Q&A appearance fails to make any recommendations

Q&AThe government’s “urgent review” into the ABC over the appearance of former terror suspect Zaky Mallah on the Q&A program 10 days ago has been released, but does not make any recommendations around the incident.

A publicly available three page summary of the report chronicles the events leading up to and including Mallah’s appearance, who made the decision to rebroadcast the show in subsequent days and details how “962 complaints had been logged by the ABC” about the show. The ABC says it has received more than 900 calls of support since the broadcast.

A media storm erupted over the ABC’s decision to allow Mallah to appear in the audience and ask a question when controversial tweets and YouTube posts he had made were uncovered. The ABC’s failure to pick these up before his appearance is noted in the report.

While the summary does not include a section on the physical security protocols relating to the studio audience, which has been classified for “security” reasons, a spokesman for the Minister for Communications confirmed the full version of the report does not contain any recommendations.

RitaPrime Minister Tony Abbott announced last Thursday the Department of Communications would launch its own review into the Q&A episode with the report understood to have been delivered to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday.

At the time the Prime Minister said it was “utterly incomprehensible” the ABC had “compounded the mistake” by rebroadcasting the episode and arguing “frankly, heads should roll over this, heads should roll over this.”

There has been media speculation that Turnbull’s departmental report may have been a political ploy by the minister to avoid conflict with the Prime Minister’s office.

Among details set out in the report is that the decision to rebroadcast the program was made by ABC director of television Richard Finlayson in consultation with Mark Scott, the ABC managing director, and Alan Sunderland, head of editorial policy.

The report notes that “(together they) made the editorial judgement to include the additional advisory material, which was drafted in consultation with the Director of Corporate Affairs (Michael Millett).

“It had also been seen by many viewers and widely reported, so not repeating it in full would have had in their view no effect.”

The report also notes that: “Mallah was well known to the Q&A editorial management team. He had first registered to be an audience member in 2011, had attended Q&A as an audience member on two occasions and been booked as an audience member on another three occasions but cancelled his booking on the day of the broadcast.”

It also reveals that Mallah had asked twice to be a panellist on the show but was rejected both times.

The report notes: “Mallah’s selection as a general audience member for the 22 June 2015 episode appears consistent with Q&A’s general practices, drawing on their database of registrations of interest.”

The ABC appears to have failed to have found the key tweets and Youtube posts by Mallah which have stirred the most controversy, while staff tried but failed to make contact with two people to get background on Mallah, who had previously pleaded guilty to threatening the life of an ASIO officer.

“After attempts to contact two people familiar with Mr Mallah were unsuccessful, the Q&A team relied on its previous experience with Mr Mallah, the advice of another ABC journalist, a review of a recent television appearance and a review of his social media posts undertaken in August 2014, which did not include Mr Mallah’s offensive tweets posted in early 2015 or his recent YouTube videos,” the report finds.

The ABC has now launched its own internal review, led by television journalist Ray Martin and former SBS managing director Shaun Brown, while the ABC board this issued a formal warning to Q&A executive producer Peter McEvoy over the incident.

Last week managing director Mark Scott acknowledged Mallah should not have been in the audience.

“The risks and uncertainties of having him in a live programming environment weren’t adequately considered before the decision was made to accept his application to be in the studio audience,” he said.

The ABC’s report into the incident will be completed and published later this year.

Nic Christensen 

The full Department of Communications report:

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