The ABC has been criticised for its decision to include conservative columnist Andrew Bolt as one of two stars on its new program I Can Change Your Mind About Recognition, due out in 2017.

As revealed by Crikey, the documentary will follow two passionate advocates on either side of the national debate around constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians as they attempt to change each other’s minds.

Bolt will be joined on the program by NSW deputy leader and indigenous campaigner Linda Burney.

A similar ABC documentary by the same production house, I Can Change Your Mind About Climate, aired in 2012 and was also widely criticised for giving a false impression of balance on both sides of the climate change discussion and overlooking scientific consensus. Producer Simon Nasht defended the program at the time: “I’ve had long battles with Tim Flannery about this, but I suppose if they saw Q&A [which followed the broadcast] he might even have admitted that Nick Minchin was entitled to hold his view. We create breathing space where people can have opinions without people going nuts.”

Andrew Bolt, who has previously been found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act, told Fairfax Media he hoped his involvement in the new documentary would show that people can disagree on recognition and that “it is possible to talk about this issue without yelling, assuming the worst of each other or abusing anyone”.

In a column for The Guardian Australia yesterday, Paul Daley accused the ABC of turning the issue of recognition into a “reality TV show”: “There were plenty of Indigenous people who could argue the case against a new constitutional settlement instead of a white, rightwing columnist,” he wrote, adding that many indigenous people had serious concerns about the recognition campaign that were unlikely to be explored given the main advocate of the “no” side is Andrew Bolt.

But ABC managing director Mark Scott last night defended the decision to include Bolt on the program. When asked via Twitter why the ABC was giving “oxygen” to the News Corp columnist, Scott replied: “Because we are strong, believe in the contest of ideas, back our performance and think our audiences are smart.”

Elsewhere online the response to the program was scathing and frequently sarcastic.

Writing for IndigenousX, Celeste Little declared: “if there’s one thing we needed more of in the discussion on Constitutional Recognition for Indigenous People, it was the centring of the voices of wealthy, conservative white men.”

“And no conservative white male voice has been sidelined more on this topic than that of Andrew Bolt,” Liddle wrote. “What with his regular News Limited column, his blog, his TV show and his radio appearances, poor Andrew has been struggling for space to elucidate why he thinks Indigenous recognition would be racist.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey