Edward Snowden

Australian PM Abbott blasts national broadcaster ABC as ‘unpatriotic’

Tony Abbott lashes out at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for reporting on NSA spying revelations and maltreatment of asylum seekers by the Australian Navy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 10:51am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 5:23pm

Prime Minister Tony Abbott launched a scathing attack on national broadcaster ABC on Wednesday, accusing it of taking “everyone’s side but Australia’s” in coverage of asylum-seekers and the Edward Snowden leaks.

His comments follow government criticism of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation late last year after it broke a story about Australian spying on Indonesia, which sparked a major diplomatic crisis.

More recently, the conservative leader has been unhappy with ABC’s reports about asylum-seekers’ claims they were tortured by the Australian navy during an operation at sea.

“It dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but Australia’s and I think it is a problem,” Abbott told commercial radio station 2GB.

“You would like the national broadcaster to have a rigorous commitment to truth and at least some basic affection for the home team, so to speak,” the prime minister said.

The ABC, together with Guardian Australia, late last year ran allegations in leaked documents from US intelligence fugitive Snowden that Australia had spied on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife in 2009.

“The ABC seemed to delight in broadcasting allegations by a traitor, this gentleman Snowden,” Abbott said.

“The ABC didn’t just report what he said, they took the lead in advertising what he said. That was a deep concern.”

ABC chief Mark Scott has defended the decision to reveal Australia’s tapping of Yudhoyono’s phone as in the public interest. The broadcaster had no immediate comment on Abbott’s latest broadside.

The premier also hit out at reporting of asylum-seeker claims that Australian sailors forced them to hold hot engine parts, burning their hands, as part of the government’s military-led operation to stem the flow of boatpeople.

“If there’s credible evidence, the ABC, like all other news organisations is entitled to report it, but ... you shouldn’t leap to be critical of your own country,” he said.

“You certainly ought to be prepared to give the Australian Navy and its hard-working personnel the benefit of the doubt.”

The Navy has denied the allegations and the government has defended the military.

Asylum-seekers arriving on unauthorised boats in Australia, often via Indonesia, is a heated political issue and stopping them is a priority of the Abbott government.

Deputy Labor opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said Abbott should “stop complaining about media coverage and start behaving like a prime minister”.

“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.

“Since it began, every government has been subject to the close scrutiny of the ABC, and we should all welcome that.”