Australian PM lifts controversial Q&A programme ban

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, then the Opposition leader, sits with Q&A host Tony Jones on the set of the TV show Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prime Minister Tony Abbott was once a regular guest on Q&A

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has lifted a ban on government MPs appearing on a popular current affairs television show.

Mr Abbott imposed the ban after a convicted criminal and former terror suspect appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corp. 's (ABC) Q&A show.

Zaky Mallah had been included in the audience of a live broadcast.

Mr Abbott lifted the ban after the ABC's board moved the show to the ABC's more rigorous news division.

On the show, Mallah had questioned a member of the government about tough new citizenship laws, and accused the government of encouraging Australian Muslims "to leave and go to Syria and join [Islamic State]".

Mr Abbott had questioned the ABC's allegiance to Australia over the whole affair.

In turn, he has been accused of setting a dangerous precedent by interfering in the broadcaster's editorial decisions.

Editorial independence

The public broadcaster, funded by taxpayers but editorially independent of the government, on Thursday agreed to Mr Abbott's demands to shift the show from its TV division into news.

The shift to news will not come into effect until 2016, but Mr Abbott said the ban was lifted "straight away" now that the ABC had "guaranteed" it would make the change.

"It's exactly what I was calling for and at last we've seen a bit of common sense after the notorious Q&A program of some weeks back," Mr Abbott said on Friday.

"And look, I'm pleased that they've accepted what the government sought," he told local media.

"Give them a bit of a pat on the back for doing the right thing and I don't want to talk about the length of time that management decisions might take," he said.

The move legitimised government interference in the ABC, Friends of the ABC spokesperson Graeme Connelly told the BBC.

"And having legitimised interference it's a slippery slope," Mr Connelly said.

Opposition Labor communications spokesman Jason Clare said the prime minister should not interfere in the ABC's editorial and management decisions.

"The real question now is, does Tony Abbott have the guts to appear on Q&A?" Mr Clare said, reported Fairfax Media.

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