ABC announces probe into feminist Q&A episode after audience complaints

Monday night's Q&A panel with guest host Fran Kelly. Source: ABC

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said the decision to investigate Monday night's Q&A program was "appropriate".

The ABC will investigate whether Monday night's episode of Q&A breached editorial standards after receiving several audience complaints about the language and ideas expressed by the panel.

The entirely non-male panel featured high-profile feminists - Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy, Indigenous screenwriter Nayuka Gorrie, journalist Jess Hill, business leader Hana Assafiri and anti-ageism campaigner Ashton Applewhite - ahead of this weekend's Broadside Festival, hosted by the Wheeler Centre.

ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the intention of the panel was to "present challenging ideas from high-profile feminists" but he acknowledged the program was "provocative in regard to the language used and some of the views presented".

Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy on Q&A.
Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy on Q&A.

"Q&A has always sought to tackle difficult issues and present challenging and thought-provoking content. However, I can understand why some viewers found elements of this episode confronting or offensive," Mr Anderson said in a statement on Thursday.

"We have received audience complaints about the program, are assessing the concerns raised and will investigate whether the program met the ABC’s editorial standards."

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said the ABC's decision to investigate the program, in which he said some panellists used "offensive language and called for or endorsed violence", was "appropriate".

One of the more controversial moments of the program came when an audience member asked when violence and aggression is an appropriate way to bring about change.

Eltahawy responded that she wanted "the patriarchy to fear feminism".

"How long must we wait for men and boys to stop murdering us, to stop beating us and to stop raping us. How many rapists must we kill ... until men stop raping us," she continued.

Host Fran Kelly then jumped in, describing Eltahawy's statement as "fighting words".

Gorrie agreed that violence, in some cases, was OK, explaining that Indigenous Australians already experience violence from "so many different places".

“I think violence is OK because if someone is trying to kill you, there’s no amount of ‘but I’m really clever. I’m really articulate … ’, no amount of that will save you. Let’s burn stuff,” they said.

In a video posted by Q&A on Thursday, Assafiri clarified that she did not support the use of violence. 

"Violence is never a go-to position for me. Violence begets violence," she said.

"I wanted us to engage in a different conversation where our intelligence and wisdom could elevate the conversation and we could lead on progressing a different conversation."

Speaking to SBS News on Wednesday, Eltahawy said she was not surprised by the backlash to her appearance on the panel. 

"This was my third time on Q&A and I’ve become accustomed to the hysteria of misogynists in Australia," she said from Sydney, where she is appearing as part of UNSW's Unthinkable talk series.

"I speak all over the world and of course, I get trolled and I get hatred but there’s something uniquely Australian about the way misogynists in this country respond to me. Especially, when I appear on Q&A.”

Several language warnings were issued throughout the program after Eltahawy repeatedly used the word "f**k".

The ABC's Code of Practice does not bar coarse language, but dictates that it must "form a legitimate part of reportage, debate, documentaries or a humorous, satirical, dramatic or other artistic work."

"What may be inappropriate and unacceptable in one context may be appropriate and acceptable in another," it reads.

Q&A is broadcast live from 9.35 pm (AEST). 

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