The Australian has editorialised today attacking the ABC’s Jane Hutcheon for asking the Prime Minister during this interview on AM on Monday morning if it was appropriate to attend the cricket on Friday when Van Nguyen will be executed. “Playing politics with Van’s unjust fate is disgraceful,” declared the strap line before the editorial ripped into Hutcheon as follows:

That the base currency of politics is insults and opportunism is obvious to anyone familiar with question time in Canberra. But even that wretched coin has been clipped in the past couple of days by politicians seeking to counterfeit moral capital from the imminent execution in Singapore of convicted Australian drug-smuggler Nguyen Tuong Van. And they were assisted by the cut-price conscience of an ABC reporter who used Van’s case to question John Howard’s sensitivity to the young man’s fate. To assume that such stunts say a great deal about the parasitical politics of the people involved may be unkind. Perhaps the enormity of what will happen to Van eludes them. So, for the benefit of Greens and Democrats senators, their Labor colleague George Campbell, and ABC reporter Jane Hutcheon: to seek to score the cheapest of domestic political points when a man is about to be murdered by the state in Singapore is beneath contempt.

The Australian’s current leadership have waged a long campaign against the ABC and appear to have appointed themselves as a newspaper version of Media Watch for Aunty. On this occasion and in the current environment, it is misplaced venom even if the question was inappropriate.

It is clear that the Howard Government has been pressured into lobbying the Singapore Government by the media. That is the role of the media. Many in the media have been wondering about what they should do on Friday morning and it is not “beneath contempt” to ask the PM what he is doing.

Besides, the PM probably could have saved Van Nguyen’s life if he was prepared to put the Singapore commercial relationship at risk. He wasn’t, even though the PM was more than happy to push Pacific Islands such as Nauru around over refugee policy and also happily has imposed more conditions on foreign aid to the likes of PNG.

The government’s tepid performance on David Hicks, especially when contrasted with the more vigorous action by the British Government, does create the impression that John Howard isn’t particularly strong when it comes to protecting human rights.

His callous refugee policies and preparedness to go down the path of tougher than necessary sedition laws also demonstrates a pattern of behaviour. The man has form, so it is not unreasonable for the media to pressure him into doing more for Van Nguyen.

At a time when the Howard Government is threatening free speech and civil liberties, attacking a media outlet for asking a question about his commitment to saving Van Nguyen’s life did not deserve today’s hostile editorial from The Australian.

Then again, South Australian Premier Mike Rann has today come out and said it is “offensive” to suggest Australia observes a minute’s silence when Van Nguyen is executed at 9am on Friday.