Australian minister turns on PM Abbott over attack on national broadcaster ABC

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Jan 23, 2014. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday came under pressure from his own communications ministe
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Jan 23, 2014. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday came under pressure from his own communications minister over his criticism of the national broadcaster, with Mr Malcolm Turnbull saying the ABC must not be accountable to politicians. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday came under pressure from his own communications minister over his criticism of the national broadcaster, with Mr Malcolm Turnbull saying the ABC must not be accountable to politicians.

Mr Abbott on Wednesday accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of being unpatriotic by taking "everyone's side but Australia's" in its coverage of asylum-seekers and the leaks by US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden.

"It dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone's side but Australia's and I think it is a problem," Mr Abbott told commercial radio station 2GB, adding that ABC was "lacking affection for the home team".

But Mr Turnbull, while defending Mr Abbott's right to critique the publicly funded broadcaster, told the Sydney Morning Herald the ABC must retain its editorial independence and be accountable to its board of directors, not politicians.

"What's the alternative... the editor-in-chief (of the ABC) becomes the prime minister?" said Mr Turnbull, who lost the leadership of the conservative Liberal Party to Mr Abbott in a 2009 party challenge by a single vote.

"Politicians, whether prime ministers or communications ministers, will often be unhappy with the ABC ... but you can't tell them what to write."

The broadcaster had no comment on Mr Abbott's broadside, but former ABC managing director David Hill savaged the premier's opinion as "laughable if it wasn't so dangerous".

"This is the first serious suggestion I know of, certainly in the last half a century, where a prime minister of the country is suggesting the Australian public be denied access to the truth," he told the Herald.

"And the first time that a prime minister has seriously intimated that the ABC should censor and withhold information from the Australian public."

Mr Abbott has had a strained relationship with the ABC, criticising it late last year after it broke a story about Australian spying on Indonesia, which sparked a major diplomatic crisis.

More recently, the premier has been unhappy with its reports about asylum-seekers' claims they were tortured by the Australian navy during anti people-smuggling operations at sea.

The navy has denied the allegations and the government has defended the military.