Australian Muslims Want The ABC To Apologise For This Week’s ‘Q&A’

The clash between Jacquie Lambie and Yassmin Abdel-Magied might boost ratings but is it fair to denigrate minority communities?

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On Monday night Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie and activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied got into a heated discussion on Q&A that has since sparked a national discussion about sharia law.

The fiery exchange has made again made Q&A a media talking point but now a group of Australian Muslims have written an open letter to the ABC accusing the broadcaster of breaching its values of respect and integrity. and calling for an apology. The letter also argues the show failed to meet its own aim of providing “a safe environment where people can respectfully discuss their differences”.

In particular the letter states that Jacqui Lambie “made a number of comments which are considered, by any measure, racist, Islamophobic and crude, and constitute racial abuse and bullying that would not be allowed at your workplace. Lambie used undignified, demeaning slurs that were personal attacks against Abdel-Magied and her integrity as a Muslim woman.”

It’s been signed by prominent Muslims including human rights advocate Sara Saleh, playwright Samah Sabawi and Aseel Sammak, the vice-president of the Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth. A petition accompanying the letter has been signed by more than 1,100 people.

During a debate about migration policy on Q&A Lambie said that “anybody who supports sharia law in this country should be deported”, which led Abdel-Magied to ask the senator whether she actually knew what was sharia was, before explaining that the basic tenets of Islam such as praying five times a day were examples of sharia.

As the discussion became more heated, the show’s host, Tony Jones, called on both Lambie and Abdel-Magied to stop shouting as it wasn’t “going to help”. The letter notes that Jones “made no attempt to acknowledge the reasons behind Abdel-Magied’s frustration and legitimate concern at the bigotry she was forced to respond to.”

It also points out the “asymmetry” between Abdel-Magied and Lambie, who has “Parliament House, news outlets and press conferences as platforms to express her irresponsible and harmful views, whereas Muslim youth are largely underrepresented and their voice often absent from conversations about Muslims in this country.”

Studies have shown that Muslims tend to be portrayed in a negative way in the Australia media. Harmful media stereotyping has also been directly connected to the increase in political attacks on Muslims.

The letter accuses the ABC of using the clash to “boost ratings” at the expense of “fairness and respect to panellists and members of minority communities.”

Controversial episodes of Q&A tend to increase the show’s ratings in the short term, as  2015’s Zaky Mallah scandal showed. After a week of non-stop media about Mallah’s controversial question to a government minister about terrorism the show recorded its highest ratings all year with nearly 800,000 viewers.

Last year the show saw big ratings in the lead up to the federal election and attracted nearly 1 million viewers.

So far this year the show has received a lukewarm response. Last Monday’s episode only attracted an audience of 544,000, down 40,000 from the week before. It was less popular than The Chase and The Project.

It will be interesting to see if the Lambie vs. Abdel-Magied debate does increase ratings, even if, as some Australian Muslims have warned, it comes at the expense of minority communities.

Update: The ABC has released a statement in response to the letter, saying “Some viewpoints aired may challenge the audience some of the time, especially when controversial and emotive issues are being discussed, but Q&A never sets out to gratuitously offend. Jacqui Lambie is an elected senator representing the people of Tasmania in the Federal Parliament and a legitimate person to comment on these issues.

“Obviously the ABC doesn’t manage or control what federal MPs say. Host Tony Jones was an effective moderator in this particular debate.”