Asia

Australia's Tony Abbott calls broadcaster ABC unpatriotic

  • 29 January 2014
  • From the section Asia
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File photo: Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott said the ABC should not "leap to be critical" of Australia

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has criticised national broadcaster ABC for "taking everyone's side but Australia's".

Mr Abbott said the publicly-funded broadcaster should show "some basic affection for the home team".

The ABC has been at the forefront of reports on abuse claims from asylum seekers and reports that Australia had spied on Indonesia.

The ABC had no immediate comment on Mr Abbott's statements.

However, the opposition said that the government should welcome media scrutiny.

'Benefit of doubt'

Mr Abbott made the comments during an interview with radio station 2GB.

He said he was "worried and concerned" by the ABC's role in reporting spying claims in documents leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.

The documents appeared to show that Australian spy agencies named the Indonesian president and other senior ministers as targets for telephone monitoring.

The reports led to a diplomatic row, with Indonesia suspending military co-operation with Australia.

Mr Abbott also criticised the ABC's coverage of allegations that Australian navy personnel had mistreated asylum seekers.

File photo: Tanya Plibersek
Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said it was right that the ABC scrutinised government

Footage obtained by the ABC showed asylum-seekers being treated for burns that they said had been caused when they were forced to hold on to a hot boat engine.

Indonesian police said some asylum-seekers had burn marks on their hands, but they did not know who had inflicted them.

The claims were strongly rejected by both the Australian military and government, which has offered to co-operate with an Indonesian investigation.

"If there's credible evidence, the ABC, like all other news organisations is entitled to report it," Mr Abbott said.

"[But] you can't leap to be critical of your own country," he said, adding that the ABC should be prepared to give the Australian navy "the benefit of the doubt".

'Welcome scrutiny'

Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said every government had "been subject to the close scrutiny of the ABC, and we should all welcome that".

"From emergency broadcasts in times of trouble to coverage of the events that shape our nation, the ABC is there, free for all Australians," she said.

Rescuers assist survivors arriving on fishing boat at the wharf of Cidaun, West Java on 24 July 2013
The number of asylum boats travelling to Australia from Indonesia rose in 2012 and the beginning of 2013

"[Mr Abbott] should stop complaining about media coverage and start behaving like a prime minister," she added.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: "We need strong voices in parliament to stand up for the public's right to an independent national broadcaster".

Critics have accused the government of secrecy over asylum policy.

The government has refused to comment on reports that the navy are towing asylum boats back to Indonesia. It has however recently issued an apology to Indonesia for "inadvertently" violating its waters on multiple occasions.

The government has also limited information on asylum arrivals and vessel-related incidents to a weekly e-mail, citing operational needs.

The ABC charter describes the corporation as "the provider of an independent national broadcasting service".

In December, ABC managing director Mark Scott defended the ABC's coverage of the spying allegations.

"We are an independent media organisation and of course sometimes we will publish stories that politicians won't be happy about," he said. "That's the role we have to play."

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