Image for ABC ‘on the side of Australia’, managing director Mark Scott says, amid firestorm over Q&A

ABC managing director Mark Scott has defended the national broadcaster as being “on the side of Australia”, after Prime Minister Tony Abbott said “heads should roll” over Monday night’s Q&A program.

The Federal Government has launched an investigation into the broadcaster’s decision to allow Sydney man Zaky Mallah into the show’s live studio audience to ask a question of Liberal MP Steve Ciobo.

Mr Mallah was found not guilty of preparing a suicide attack on a Commonwealth building after being held for two years in Goulburn jail, but in a plea bargain he pleaded guilty to threatening to kill ASIO officials.

He had also travelled to the war zone in Syria.

Mr Abbott has described Mr Mallah’s appearance on Q&A as a betrayal and questioned “whose side” the ABC was on.

The ABC had already conceded it was an error of judgment and in a speech on Thursday night Mr Scott said the “risks and uncertainties of having [Mr Mallah] in a live programming environment weren’t adequately considered”.

But Mr Scott declared the ABC was on Australia’s side.

“In any team, you can be playing on the same side, but often you will be playing in a different position, with a different role and responsibility,” he said.

“You’re on the same side, but with a different job to do.

“The ABC is clearly Australian, it’s on the side of Australia.”

Speaking at the event for the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs, Mr Scott described the media “firestorm” since Monday’s Q&A as “ferocious”.

“But even for the ABC, things seemed to have been taken to a new level when on Wednesday we scored four covers in one day in the News Limited tabloids, complete with photoshopped ABC flags being waved by jihadi protestors,” he said.

“Not all parties to the conversation have seemed vested in pursuing rational discourse.”

He also pointed out that some of these media outlets had themselves spoken to Mr Mallah in recent years.

“If giving him space or time to express his views is an act of sedition, then the round up of the seditious will take some time and include, I should add, The Australian newspaper which ran an extensive article on him in 2012, charting his journey from when terrorism charges were first laid against him,” he said.

“He also graced the pages of The Courier-Mail.”

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• peter adams in Comments: ... Ciobo said Julia Gillard, when she was PM of Australia, should have her throat slit; his little mate Graham Morris said she should be kicked to death and Alan Jones said she should be tied in a chaff bag, taken to sea and dumped. All should have been charged with treason and making threats against the Prime Minister. Does the media report this no, no, no, no . . .