Mark Scott goes digital

mallahBeing a generally polite and well-mannered bunch, most Quadrant readers would have little knowledge of, and less use for, the winning tactic in any and every barroom brawl: Hit the other bloke hard, fast and first. More important, if he looks like getting up, put the boot in and keep him down for good.

Three weeks after being called to account by the Abbott government over Q&A‘s hand-crafted and artfully scripted Zaky Mallah provocation, the shortcomings in the Prime Minister’s reverence for the Marquess of Queensberry’s gentlemanly rules are now apparent in Mark Scott’s return to full combative form. Capering defiantly amidst the overturned chairs, the ABC’s managing director seems to be enjoying a good laugh at the pathetic attempts of the past month-or-so to see the national broadcaster conform to basic standards of decency and fairness.

Indeed, from the distance of the livingroom sofa, that gesture he keeps making looks an awful lot like a single upthrust digit.

Consider:

  • Ministers are banned from Q&A, but this has little effect. Plenty of alternate spokesmen — former ministers, think-tankers and the like — remain prepared to answer the talent-booker’s call.
    Result: the government denies itself an opportunity to air and explain policy, while Q&A still musters the token presence of conservative red meat on which the stacked audiences can dine while the compere interrupts and derails.
  • The ABC has charged two friends of the ABC to conduct an inquiry into how the ABC operates. The delivery date is set three months down the road, by which time the Zaky Mallah outrage will have faded from memory. The ABC will not say how much it is paying its hand-picked auditors, nor has there been any explanation why such a probe must be stretched over an improbable 12 weeks.
    Likely Result: The ABC will be found largely blameless, with perhaps a couple of mild suggestions as to ways in which it might present itself as seeming — and seeming is the best to be hoped for — to observe its Charter.
  • Eventually and inevitably, the ban on ministerial appearances will be lifted. As it stands, Malcolm Turnbull is denied permission to appear on Q&A — it was pure coincidence, we are invited to believe, that he just happened to be tapped when the Mallah furor was at its height — so he turns up that same night on 7.30 instead.
    Likely Result: The government backs down, giving the ABC a golden opportunity to strut and preen and skite about its purported independence. Abbott & Co., appear weak, indecisive, feckless and, to put it simply, forever ready to be insulted, set up and demeaned.

Meanwhile, up off the floor and back in fighting form, Mark Scott has commenced  the next stage of his two-fisted comeback. The Australian reports:

“I must say I thought it was a one- or two-day scandal that ran for three weeks, but I don’t think there’s been permanent harm done, just as there wasn’t permanent damage done when there was difficulty with governments in times gone by.

“The ABC Board will make up its mind on appropriate programming and organisational strategy and they will do that thinking about the needs of our ABC, the needs of our audiences, and the right thing to do, and it’s not going to be influenced in that thinking by what all the voices might say.”

A government that understood how to deal with brawlers would be wading back into the fray, perhaps wielding budget cuts as a cudgel, even more determined than before to escalate the confrontation and win it. Alas, if Scott’s latest remarks do not inspire a response, we can conclude that Abbott’s curious and craven reticence to sink the slipper will continue to prevail.

— roger franklin

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