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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Unwarranted disciplinary action against Q&A producer

This story reveals that a disciplinary warning, for employee misconduct, has been issued against Q&A executive producer Peter McEvoy over the recent appearance of terrorism suspect Zaky Mallah on the show. Mallah was allowed to ask a prepared question from the audience - and to enter into a brief exchange with a panellist.

I am no fan of an Islamist hothead, if that's how he's best described, such as Mallah. His only credentials for appearing on the show seem to relate to his past brush with the law, and giving him such an opportunity to air his views to a mass audience could be considered a poor decision: in effect, it rewards his bad conduct.

It turns out, furthermore, that Mallah has made at least one vile, sexist comment on Twitter, aimed at two female journalists.

All that said, many people get public exposure from bad behaviour that makes them notorious, and at least Mallah was invited on the show to discuss an issue to which his views and his troubled past had some relevance. As for the sexist tweet: first, many people, perhaps including many politicians, would be considered "inappropriate" to appear on television if all it took was one obnoxious public comment (whether made on Twitter or elsewhere); second, people should not normally be considered so tainted as to be beyond the pale, and refused platforms, merely for something said (if what he said was defamatory, as it may well have been, there are remedies available in the civil courts); and third, a broadcaster cannot, and should not, trawl through the Twitter feeds of all potential guests to ensure that platforms are given only to people who are squeaky clean. All things considered, I'm not convinced that this really was such a bad call by McEvoy.

I am especially concerned that this action against McEvoy has happened so soon after the dismissal of Scott McIntyre by the SBS.

If an employee repeatedly makes poor, embarrassing judgments, it can add up to unsatisfactory performance; and that may, indeed, eventually be grounds for dismissal. But even if I could agree that Peter McEvoy displayed poor judgment with Q&A's invitation to Mallah, an act of poor judgment is not the same as an act of misconduct such as to merit disciplinary action. It sometimes appears that disciplinary actions by employers, including outright dismissals and menacing demands for resignations, are being taken at the drop of a hat.

In the case of this action taken against Peter McEvoy, the ABC has itself shown atrocious judgment, and it has created an impression of bowing to pressure from the executive government. The government itself appears far too willing to use its power to go after specific individuals who displease it.

I expect to say more about this sorry chain of events, and meanwhile I look forward to what comes of the review of Q&A now being conducted by Shaun Brown and Ray Martin. When it appears, I'll scrutinise their report with interest.

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