Following weeks of uncertainty after the Zaky Mallah scandal, the ABC Board met yesterday and conceded to the Prime Minister’s demands that the program be brought under the fold of news and current affairs.
So what does this mean for the show – and its guests?
It means the show is now bound under the “right of reply” protocol of news, a kind of “gentlemen’s agreement” that means journalists and newspaper editors of old approached the subjects of the next day’s news and gave them the heads up. And the chance to prepare their defence.
It’s the tip-off that the mistress will be giving an exclusive interview, or that the minister’s digressions will be on the front page of tomorrow’s paper.
Until now, Q&A has operated as an opinion show – after all, it doesn’t break news, it simply comments on it.
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Producers will also be required to “upwardly refer” controversial topics rather than just barrelling ahead with them, meaning the ABC bosses, who may be privy to sensitive information, will have a say over whether a topic can be aired – or a controversial guest allowed on the show.
There was resistance at board level to making the change due to the political pressure exerted on the broadcaster by Mr Abbott who called the show a “lefty lynch mob” and demanded “heads should roll” after Zaky Mallah’s appearance.
However, the ABC said yesterday: “Based on the information provided, the board considers both the program and the wider ABC would benefit by an orderly shift of Q&A into the ABC news division. Q&A is a significant feature in Australia’s news and current affairs cycle.”
“Such relocation should provide the program with greater operational and cultural alignment.”
For the government, the repositioning of Q&A means no more surprises.
It’s not known yet whether Mr Abbott will lift the ban he imposed on frontbenchers going on the show immediately or wait until the changes are made. Yesterday, News Limited reported a leak that ministers could return as soon as Monday.
What do you think of the change to Q&A, is it a logical move or has Tony Abbott used his influence to silence it?