Why aren't all Q&A's sexist panelists put under the same scrutiny as Zaky Mallah?

Zaky Mallah in his controversial appearance on the ABC's <i>Q&A</i> program.

Zaky Mallah in his controversial appearance on the ABC's Q&A program.

 With the furore over Zaky Mallah's appearance on last night's Q&A dominating the news cycle for the past week, it was inevitable that the topic would be extensively covered on last night's show. Although Tony Jones mounted a strong defence of Q&A's decision to have Mallah appear in the audience to ask his question, he said that if the team had been aware of an offensive tweet Mallah posted about News Corp journalists Miranda Devine and Rita Panahi six months ago he would not have been invited to speak.

It was only in the aftermath of last week's show that Panahi tweeted a screenshot of Mallah's offensive tweet:

"The Q&A team were not aware at the time Zaky Mallah appeared, of the very offensive misogynistic tweet that he put out about two female journalists," Jones said. "Had we known, we would have rejected his participation."


This is an interesting perspective on the issue, not least because Zaky Mallah couldn't possibly be the first person with a history of posting offensive tweets to pose a question to the panel (anyone care to look up the Twitter history of every past live audience questioner?) - but because individuals who are known to have made offensive, violent, misogynistic public statements before have been invited to speak on the panel itself.

On the very same night that Mallah asked his question, there were two politicians on the panel who are known to have made offensive and violent statements in the past - not about female journalists, but about then-PM Julia Gillard.

Steven Ciobo was heavily criticised after making this comment on Lateline in 2013: "I think that if anybody had the opportunity to slit Julia Gillard's throat, [Labor backbencher Nick Champion] would be one of the first ones to be there." At the time, Tony Abbott excused the imagery as 'metaphorical', which obviously makes the comment OK and sets it apart from tweets like Mallahs, which should be read as literal because they weren't uttered by a politician.

Ciobo has been applauded for his response to Mallah's question even though it was factually incorrect (and possibly defamatory) to suggest that he was acquitted from terrorism charges on a mere technicality. Not to mention how openly willing he said he would be to deport Mallah for what he did. That responding to alleged crimes with cancelling citizenship has become a thing our politicians are willing to be openly in favour of is mind-bogglingly scary.

Former Howard chief-of-staff Grahame Morris was also on the panel that night. This is the man who on Sky News earlier this year went on a bizarre rant about the Irish in a bid to suggest Australia shouldn't follow them on a marriage equality referendum: "These are people who can't grow potatoes, who have a mutant lawn weed as their national symbol and they can't verbalise the difference between tree and the number three," he said. Charming, to be sure.

Oh and then there was that time he said, of Julia Gillard, that Labor lawyers "ought to be out there kicking her to death".

Inciting violence against the Prime Minister of Australia? Again… 'metaphorical'. Probably. Certainly nothing as literal as a pissed-off teenage loudmouth telling an ASIO officer posing as a journalist that you'd give him the "scoop" on threats to kill security officials, in return for $5,000 cash and your face in the paper, right? Hmmmm.

The previous week, Q&A had notorious anti-gay campaigner Fred Nile on a special LGBTI themed episode. Not everyone was happy about this decision given Nile's well-known extreme stance and history of making offensive statements about LGBTI people (and others who don't conform to his Christian-Right ideals), but in the end the platform showed him up for his jurassic views.

Earlier this year, broadcaster Alan Jones appeared on the Q&A panel despite the fact that he said publicly on his radio program in 2011 that both Julia Gillard and Clover Moore (and some others) should be put in a chaff bag and drowned at sea. Again, these comments are of course metaphorical and not serious enough to warrant silencing. 

Zaky Mallah is a young loudmouth with a troubling history - though one that, as the incredibly eloquent and insightful counter-terrorism expert Anne Aly explained last night - could be used for positive ends, with the right support.

His tweet was offensive. Was it actually an incitement to rape? Was it worse than public statements made by politicians in positions of power, or experienced, influential media professionals who despite their bile continue to be invited - not just to sit in the audience and ask a question - but to speak on the panel with all the authority that such a position confers? 

Don't get me wrong: Mallah's tweet was disgusting. Nobody is denying that - whether you agree his use of the word 'gangbang' actually implies an incitement to rape or if it's just crudely sexist and pornographic. But if you're going to impose a rule, it needs to apply equally to all of the misogynists who think it's OK to respond to ideological differences with offensive, sexist, violent language. 

If anything, those in positions of real power and influence should be scrutinised even more deeply, but our willingness to accept the excuse that the privileged speak in 'metaphors' means that they get a free pass to have their brand of hate speech heard, while voices on the margins are shut down.