Confusion over ABC ban for ministers

Malcolm Turnbull has not ruled out appearing on Q&A despite the revelation the government leadership team imposed an appearance ban on the show two weeks ago.

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The communications minister said it will “depend on the circumstances” whether he will keep his scheduled appearance next Monday.

“Time will tell – stay tuned,” he told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

Confusion has reigned over the government boycott of the show, after it emerged the ban was agreed by the leadership team two weeks ago.

That is despite Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce – who is part of the team – insisting he only found out about the ban on Sunday, following a directive from the prime minister not to appear on Monday’s show.

Nationals leader Warren Truss told reporters in Darwin on Tuesday the ban had been imposed by the group on June 25, the last parliamentary sitting day.

Mr Turnbull is not part of that team.

Mr Truss said the decision had been that “we wouldn’t appear on Q&A until serious action was taken by the ABC to ensure the program behaves in a responsible way”.

The ABC had not shown any repentance over the decision to allow convicted criminal Zaky Mallah to ask a question from the live audience two weeks ago, he said.

For the boycott to be lifted, the ABC would have to prove it did not have an intrinsic bias either within certain programs or across the entire organisation, Mr Truss said.

But he did not offer a time frame for when that could occur, saying only that Q&A would have to demonstrate that it was fair.

“That they would have a balance in their audience, a balance in their panels and, for that matter, the subject matter chosen for these particular issues would not essentially be catering to one sector of the audience.”

Mr Truss did not say whether there would be sanctions for non-compliant ministers – as Mr Turnbull ponders whether to show up.

In his speech on Tuesday, the communications minister took a swipe at the ABC for its risky move to allow Mallah to appear on the show.

He said the media have a powerful role in countering extremist views, and warned against the “immense” damage sensationalist reporting could do.

“As the sentencing judge noted when Mr Mallah was convicted in 2004, providing such coverage to his views runs the risk of spreading divisive and discriminatory views,” Mr Turnbull said.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said it would be a “total humiliation” if Mr Turnbull did not appear on the program.

“He should either go on Q&A next week or curl up in a corner,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

Veteran broadcaster Ray Martin, who has been appointed to conduct an independent review of the program, said the boycott was “silly”.

“What Malcolm Turnbull does next week … I suspect he’d still like the top job and I suspect he won’t come,” Martin told the Seven Network.

An Essential poll published on Tuesday found 22 per cent of voters believed the ABC was biased towards the left, while 36 per cent said it had no bias and 40 per cent had no opinion.

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