This is what censorship looks like in real-time, live on air. Agree or disagree, have the debate. Kicking out a man who clearly knows more about the conflict than the presenter only makes viewers question the narrative further.
Stan Grant kicks an Australian-Russian man out of Q & A for questioning the media’s pro-Ukraine/anti-Russia coverage
There hasn’t been so much drama on Q+A since an audience member threw a shoe at then prime minister John Howard as he was talking about Australia’s involvement in the war in Iraq 12 years ago.
On Thursday night, a pro-Putin member of the Q+A audience was dramatically booted out of the ABC studio by the host, Stan Grant, after he asked a pro-Russia question that Grant said was not vetted by producers.
The young man, Sasha Gillies-Lekakis, had asked a “rogue” question, Grant said, although Gillies-Lekakis later said it had been vetted by the ABC except for a few added words. It prompted shouts of “lies” from the audience on Thursday night.
“As someone who comes from the Russian community here in Australia, I’ve been pretty outraged by the narrative created by our media depicting the Ukraine as ‘the good guy’ and Russia as ‘the bad guy’,” Gillies-Lekakis said
“Believe it or not, there are a lot of Russians here and around the world that support what Putin is doing in the Ukraine, myself included. Since 2014, the Ukrainian government together with Nazi groups like the Azov Battalion have besieged the Russian populations in the Donbas killing an estimated 13,000 people according to the United Nations.
“My question is: where was your outpouring of grief and concern for those thousands of mostly Russians?”
An audience member interjected with “That’s a lie” and “Don’t do this, it’s propaganda” before Grant tried to clarify the figures involved.
“The United Nations has listed 13,000 total people killed since the conflict, but you’re trying to suggest that is Russians killed by Ukrainians,” Grant said. “The United Nations has pointed out there is 13,000 killed since the conflict began in 2014.”
After a brief discussion, the program moved on to other issues including the floods in New South Wales and Queensland but a visibly unnerved Grant returned to address the young man later in the show.
“Something has been bothering me, I have to admit, since we had Sasha’s question earlier about Russia, and it’s been playing on my mind,” Grant said.
“Sasha, people here have been talking about family who are suffering and people who are dying. You supported what’s happening, hearing that people are dying. Can I just say – I’m just not comfortable with you being here. Could you please leave?”
But Gillies-Lekakis did not want to leave and protested.
Grant said: “You can ask a question but we cannot advocate violence. I should have asked you to leave then. It’s been playing on my mind and, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to leave.”
The audience applauded Grant’s stance and, while Gillies-Lekakis initially resisted, he did leave while the camera stayed on Grant.
Grant apologised for the disruption.
“It was not a vetted question,” he said. “It was a question that was, you know, a rogue question, if you like. It’s not good to exclude people, but we have to take those steps from time to time.”
The ABC clarified that Gillies-Lekakis did not ask the question that he had agreed to and what he said instead “contained major inaccuracies”.
“As the program developed, Stan Grant, a highly experienced presenter of live TV, was aware that other audience members were distressed,” a spokesperson said. “After careful consideration he decided the best course of action was for Mr Gillies-Lekakis to leave the studio, which was live-to-air. The ABC fully supports his judgment and handling of this situation.”