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Mar 15, 2011

ABC lined up Assange for Gillard — but denies ambush

Julia Gillard was given no prior knowledge of Julian Assange's appearance on Q&A, while the ABC has also told Crikey his prickly question was sought out by the show's producers because of its news value.

Julia Gillard was given no prior knowledge of Julian Assange’s appearance on Q&A last night, while the ABC has also told Crikey his prickly question was sought out by the show’s producers because of its news value.

The notorious whistleblower, currently facing heat from Swedish prosecutors over an alleged sexual assault case, appeared via a recorded video from house arrest in the UK to ask the prime minister whether the Australian government had shared intelligence with foreign powers on Australians who work with WikiLeaks.

Assange said he had evidence of collusion and unless his answer received a “full and frank” response Gillard should be charged with treason. Gillard responded by saying she was not aware of any such deal and that it was typical for governments to exchange information about Australian citizens when it came to criminal matters.


Q&A executive producer Peter McEvoy says the ABC was not involved in writing or recording Assange’s question and Gillard was given no prior notice he would be appearing. Assange was approached for his question after the prime minister confirmed she would be appearing on the show, he said.

“Every question to every panelist on Q&A is delivered without advance notice,” McEvoy told Crikey. “Ms Gillard is the prime minister of Australia. I think she’s more than capable of answering difficult and confronting questions off the cuff.”

Assange’s question came in for a beating from Dennis Shanahan at The Australian today, who branded it an “ambush” by the ABC:

“The ambush of Gillard, with no warning from the program, which claims to provide unscripted questions from ‘you’ the audience, was worse television terrorism than the Seven Network’s ‘shit happens’ ambush of Tony Abbott by Mark Riley.”

Politicians from both sides also lined up to pillory Assange for his question. Labor frontbencher Craig Emerson attacked Assange for propagating conspiracy theories, while opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis described the question as “absurd”.

ABC communications director Michael Millet told Crikey Shanahan’s piece was the only negative reaction he had seen and The Australian‘s decision to run the WikiLeaks founder’s comments as an inside page lead was evidence of its news value.

It’s not the first time a question from Q&A has caused controversy. In one program last year, ex-Guantanamo inmate David Hicks asked former prime minister John Howard about his treatment in the notorious prison.

The national broadcaster has copped a caning from the national broadsheet recently, particularly over the capacity of ABC News 24 to cover the Japan earthquakes. Media Watch also devoted much of its program last night to, as host Jonathan Homes dubbed it, “ABC News 12”.

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52 comments

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52 thoughts on “ABC lined up Assange for Gillard — but denies ambush

  1. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Q&A exists to allow Australian citizens to ask the panellists questions without notice. Gillard was a panellist, and the last time I looked, Assange was an Australian citizen. And it was a good question.

  2. Delerious

    I didn’t have any problem with the question. I mean it was a daft question but I agree with the ABC. Gillard is the PM she should be able to handle daft questions like this. I think the teachers rambling question was worst. I think, for all the years Abbott has been in politics, Abbott can’t handle real confrontation. Not a good future leader.

  3. zut alors

    Oh great, let’s only pose questions with which politicians will be comfortable – we shouldn’t ever put them on the spot or ask them to be accountable to we poor snivelling voters.

    I’ve got a top suggestion which Mr Shanahan might like to promote in his column: let the politicians write their OWN questions and answer them in a public forum such as Q&A. Brilliant.

  4. Climate Change

    Q&A was stacked again last night with Uni students and left wing cafe latte drinkers.

    I know someone who was there and they were stunned.

    The feeble questions also pointed to that

  5. godotcab

    Of course all the questions have to be real. Look at that cartoon farmer astride his shiny red bike replete with dog on a tray! No art director would dare such a caricature.

  6. klewso

    It’s sad to see from what the ABC used to be, that, now, the same sort of thinking that brings us “24 Ours” seems to be behind this idea of chasing ratings through “Quislings and Acrobats” – which can’t seem to make up it’s mind whether it’s serious or a great big giggle – as if the joint is being run like some sort of “Chase’s, Whore’s and Anything”?

    As for that question, so what? So Gillard doesn’t want her laundry done in pubic – looking “just like another sneaky politician” and thinks Assange shouldn’t be doing what he is – that he isn’t like other, past, “whistle-blowers” who were okay – but if it was Howard being flashed ….?

    “Maurie’s ABC” – it’s not all a residual of “Howard Bored Stacking” is it?

  7. klewso

    Shanahan is one the show often enough – pity is he doesn’t get asked pointed questions about “Limited News” and it’s political operation and PR work for their sponsored Coalition. Can’t figure that out – it’s not as though “the media”, with the way it operates (owned and operated as it is – to spin news and voter perceptions) isn’t part of the society we all inhabit.
    Fraser came closest to nailing that!

  8. Guest

    Any prime minister should confront any question from any citizen. Of course there would be millions of questions at anytime. So we normally forgive them for avoiding the public most of the time. But in this case, PM Gillard took the time and made herself available. She had to face the question like a PM. Besides, she may be a lovely-small-girl-for-America as she claims in front of US congress, but here she has shown to be a big-strong-woman-for-Australia (sic). She can handle it!

  9. JerryKan

    This raises an issue I have had with QandA for a while (admittedly last nights episode was the first one I have seen in about six months). While the questions are from the audience, they all seem to have been curated and approve by the ABC beforehand. The only “off the cuff” questions that were posed were treated as comments. To me this essentially seems the same as a host asking questions by proxy.

    The value of the show seems to be in the audience reactions keeping the guests honest when they give crappy answers. Maybe they should replace QandA with Kerry O’Brian interviewing guests before a live studio audience. I’d watch that.

  10. Scott

    Assange is starting to lose it I think. If you want to charge someone with treason, you might want to check out the definition as it applies under Australian law

    From Section 80.1 of the Criminal Code, contained in the schedule of the Criminal Code Act 1995,
    “A person commits an offence, called treason, if the person:
    (a) causes the death of the Sovereign, the heir apparent of the Sovereign, the consort of the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister; or
    (b) causes harm to the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister resulting in the death of the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister; or
    (c) causes harm to the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister, or imprisons or restrains the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister; or
    (d) levies war, or does any act preparatory to levying war, against the Commonwealth; or
    (e) engages in conduct that assists by any means whatever, with intent to assist, an enemy:
    (i) at war with the Commonwealth, whether or not the existence of a state of war has been declared; and
    (ii) specified by Proclamation made for the purpose of this paragraph to be an enemy at war with the Commonwealth; or
    (f) engages in conduct that assists by any means whatever, with intent to assist:
    (i) another country; or
    (ii) an organisation;
    that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force; or
    (g) instigates a person who is not an Australian citizen to make an armed invasion of the Commonwealth or a Territory of the Commonwealth; or
    (h) forms an intention to do any act referred to in a preceding paragraph and manifests that intention by an overt act.”
    A person is not guilty of treason under paragraphs (e), (f) or (h) if their assistance or intended assistance is purely humanitarian in nature.

    Somehow, I don’t think the charge will hold up against the PM.

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