Abbott Rails Against State Broadcaster Over Asylum-Seeker Coverage

Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, speaks during a session on day two of the World Economic Forum on Jan. 23. (Bloomberg Photo)

Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, speaks during a session on day two of the World Economic Forum on Jan. 23. (Bloomberg Photo)

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 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,” he 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 asylum seekers.

“If there’s credible evidence, the ABC, like all other news organizations 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 unauthorized boats in Australia, often via Indonesia, is a heated political issue and stopping them is a priority of the Abbott government.

Agence France-Presse

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