Critics of the ABC’s Q&A often write-off the program with claims it is left-leaning and biased.
Even our former PM Tony Abbott labelled the flagship Monday night show “a Left-wing lynch mob” and “outta control”.
But veteran journalist Ray Martin and former SBS managing director Shaun Brown have audited the show and reckon those claims don’t hold up.
But they did find another problem – women’s voices are being heard less often than men’s.
The duo examined six months’ worth of episodes – they watched the 23 shows repeatedly, examined the transcript and pored over questions and tweets – as part of an ABC-ordered audit of the program.
Martin wrote for News Limited that the show wasn’t a “drag-‘em-out, knock-‘em’-down style of Town Hall public debate”, nor an out of control lefty lynch mob, nor “democracy in action”, as per the program’s claims.
“Q&A is a top-rating, professional but tightly controlled, live television discussion, in which the only thing that’s unpredictable are the panellists’ answers,” Martin writes.
Watch some highlights from the program (post continues after video):
He said one of the main issues with the show was that females were less likely to be picked as Q&A panellists than men – and those that were picked, got less airtime.
“If picked you will almost certainly get less time to voice your opinions than males,” he said.
“You will also be asked fewer times to comment.”
“There are arguably valid reasons for this gender imbalance, such as the chronic shortage of senior women in the Coalition government’s ranks.
This, however, is no excuse.
I can only assume that the program’s producers are not aware of this stark imbalance or else they would have corrected it, which causes me to ask: ‘If they didn’t know, WHY didn’t they know?”.
In 2015, the voices of Australian women should be heard as often and as loudly as men.
(Maybe this discrepancy can be explained away by the suggestion that Australian women are by nature less pushy, quieter and uncomfortable speaking over men. From personal experience I doubt that’s the case.)”
Martin also found the show was too Sydney-centric, likely as a result of tight budget constraints and logistics, and that it gives politicians greater time to talk to voters about policy and opinions than any other public forum, but also subjects them to greater scrutiny – an outcome he says “seems only right and proper”.
He said, while on rare occasions the show may be guilty of being biased or politically overcharged, overall it was a “balanced, entertaining and informative program”.
“With everyone from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and influential conservative broadcaster, Alan Jones, to the odd transgender guest and sometime terrorist suspect, Zaky Mallah, appearing and voicing an opinion or three,” he said.
“The simple fact is, like it or loath it, Q&A discusses serious politics and important social issues at a more intelligent level than anywhere else on Australian television.
“Could the program be improved? Undoubtedly.
“Is it a valuable part of the public debate? Unquestionably.”
Martin and Brown’s full audit report can be viewed here.