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Q&A Review Final Report But sometimes the comments can be highly personal. Certainly that was the case early in 2015 when in the first handful of Q&A programs the tone of the twitter conversation was negative towards Australian politicians in general, but in particular to the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
In the first program of the review period,73 for example, out of a total of approximately 100 tweets around half of them might be labelled either
anti-Government in tone or critical of the then Prime Minister:
“Abbott is incapable of admitting he is wrong” “Abbott shouldn’t be booted out by his Party. We the Australian people want that privilege” “Reality is that there was always speculation with Abbott as leader from the beginning” In the two weeks that immediately followed that opening salvo, there
were more twitter cracks at Prime Minister Abbott:
“If Tony’s rich mining mates want it, it will go ahead” “Noddy no friends? What about big ears?” “If voters weren’t lied to before elections they wouldn’t have unrealistic expectations.” “Maybe the issue with the PMO is the PM” “Abbott lost the fight at the pub and went home and kicked the dog” (Whatever that meant.)
“If the knighthood is the worst you can pin on Abbott we better keep him” “Can we talk about policies instead of personalities?” “The way we treat our politicians in this country is disgusting.” “Tony Abbott is doing a great job and everyone needs to give him another chance.” We should emphasise that while the Labor Opposition was the subject of far fewer tweets on Q&A, the program’s twitter conversation about its leaders and policies seemed just as negative as those directed at the Government.
“Chris Bowen knows all about knifing PMs” “Still feel as though Bill’s odds shorten by the day” “Good govt starts today, bad govt started in 2007” Across those early weeks the prevailing Twitter sentiment on Q&A may
best be summed up in any number of tweets:
“We voters aren’t stupid. We’re sick of being lied to and patronized by politicians of every persuasion.”74 “Is it time yet to remove the title ‘Honourable’ from politicians’ name tags?”75 “Faith in politics is long gone in this country. Lies and elitism.”76 “Every year we say that political discourse is degrading but nothing changes.”77 February 2 Ibid February 16 Q&A Review Final Report We have stated previously in this section that we are not in a position to judge whether the above selection of tweets was a fair and appropriate representation of those thousands submitted for each program.
But we do know that during February and March 2015 the Australian media seemed obsessed with questions and rumours about Tony Abbott’s future as Prime Minister, along with the plummeting and oftquoted opinion polls predicting his downfall at the hands of his own Liberal Party. It is quite likely that the twitter selection on Q&A was reflecting the general mood of the Australian media and public at that time.
We detected, in the weeks after those early episodes, that the twitter conversation on Q&A seemed to pull back perceptibly from its negativity towards Mr Abbott and politicians in general, moving on to other issues like the budget, the Bali executions, education and gay marriage.
We do not know whether the program’s production team consciously decided that the negative tone was becoming excessive and moderated the twitter stream accordingly. Alternatively perhaps the news caravan had simply moved on and the submitted tweets reflected that. We suspect it was the latter.
As we have done elsewhere in this report, for comparison purposes we also reviewed the Q&A Twitter stream in 2012 and 2013 under the Gillard and Rudd governments.
We chose 10 Q&A programs at random, five from 2012 and the same number from 2013. We observed that the total number of tweets was considerably below today’s average - about 80 per show as against 120 in 2015. While that clearly adds to the overall sense of pace and urgency of programs in 2015 it does mean the producers have less time to make their selection of tweets to put to air.
Q&A Review Final Report Overall the twitter conversation in 2012 and 2013 served as a reminder of how bitterly divided Australians were – and especially Labor voters – between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. By contrast with 2015 and the early program negativity towards Tony Abbott the twitter conversation in 2012 and 2013 was a lively mix of bouquets and brickbats for both Labor leaders. The barrage of tweets simply added to the public image of a government in disarray.
“Gillard won the battle & lost the war” “Not sure whether Rudd is the most popular or least unpopular” “Who would want to be treated like Julia” “Labor needs to be voted out for own stupidity” “Labor. United we campaign. Divided we govern.” Interestingly in these episodes the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, had few twitter friends on Q&A much like Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, today. And, the twitter stream also reflected a similar distaste of all politicians.
“Why are we all shocked about their lack of trust. When did we ever trust politicians?” “Politicians were once considered noble.” In our opinion there was no discernible bias in the twitter conversation along purely party lines. The dominant attitude towards politicians of every persuasion was at best sceptical and often downright cynical.
The prevailing negative sentiment towards politicians in general expressed in the Q&A twitter stream is of potential concern. Q&A is a program driven by politics and we believe the twitter stream should not become an easy platform for the disaffected and cynical. We acknowledge that those opinions are part of the diversity of perspectives but we would caution the producers to ensure they are included as only one part of the mix of opinions.
Q&A should exercise care in the selection of comments for the twitter stream to ensure negativity towards politics in general and in particular to the government of the day are not disproportionately represented.
It was noteworthy that when positive tweets were posted on Q&A they were almost exclusively aimed at non-politicians on the panel; especially visiting overseas celebrity guests such as Cornel West, Ruby Wax, Miriam Margolyes, Nana Mouskouri and Adrienne Truscott. The underlying twitter conversation seemed to suggest that these foreign actors, singers and academics had a better perspective on life than our political leaders.
Finally, in common with our conclusions in earlier sections, we believe it would be beneficial if the process and protocols governing the selection of the Q&A twitter stream were to be made public.
Recommendation #22 A set of Q&A Program Principles should be agreed between the program and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, details how the program intends to select comments to be included in its twitter stream and what protocols it will adopt in this regard to ensure the standards set by the ABC Editorial Policies are met. The Program Principles should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.
1. A greater level of representation of politicians from the Greens and Independent/Others parties should be present on panels.
2. Q&A should achieve a greater diversity of perspectives among its overseas guests by inviting on to panels a greater number of Conservative leaning visitors.
3. The program should achieve higher levels of female representation among political panelists and in particular among those representing the Government.
4. The composition of Q&A panels should not routinely feature more men than women.
5. Consideration should be given to a modest increase in the number of panelists aged 35 and under.
6. Regardless of the practical difficulties involved Q&A can only satisfy Editorial Policy 4.2 by sourcing panelists from across Australia. Elsewhere we recommend that more episodes of Q&A be broadcast from locations outside of Sydney. If adopted, that will facilitate the selection of a broader range of panelists.
Moderation of Discussions
7. A set of Program Principles should be agreed between Q&A and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, define the role of the moderator. It should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.
8. The focus on Government should be moderated so as to permit other issues and non-Government panelists to receive a greater share of questions and speaking time.
9. The moderator should ensure women are equally involved in the Secondary phase of questions and answers.
10. ABC Editorial Policies should be amended to include a specific requirement that women are properly represented in discussion and, particularly, political discourse on all ABC information programs.
Q&A Review Final ReportQuestions
11.That, where appropriate, the questioner be introduced (or he/she introduces themselves) so as to provide relevant background on the questioner’s affiliation, qualifications and such other matters that might contribute to audience understanding.
12.Consistent with the requirement to present a diversity of perspectives, more questions should be selected from the overage group.
13.The ABC should commit to broadcasting Q&A from the fullest possible range of locations across Australia.
14.Repeat questioners should be allowed only on an exceptional basis.
15.A set of Q&A Program Principles should be agreed between the program and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, details how the program intends to select its questioners and what protocols it will adopt in this regard to ensure the standards set by the ABC Editorial Policies are met.
The Program Principles should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.
16.The age profile of the studio audience should be adjusted by including more attendees from the over-35 age group.
17.The ABC should commit to broadcasting Q&A from the fullest possible range of locations across Australia.
18.A set of Q&A Program Principles should be agreed between the program and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, details how the program intends to select its audiences and what protocols it will adopt in this regard to ensure the standards set by the ABC Editorial Policies are met. The Program Principles should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.
Q&A Review Final ReportTwitter Stream
19.Q&A should be simulcast on ABC News 24 to ensure national participation on the program’s social media platforms.
20.More of the questions asked on Q&A should be sourced from Twitter and Facebook.
21.Q&A should exercise care in the selection of comments for the twitter stream to ensure negativity towards politics in general and in particular to the government of the day are not disproportionately represented.
22.A set of Q&A Program Principles should be agreed between the program and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, details how the program intends to select comments to be included in its twitter stream and what protocols it will adopt in this regard to ensure the standards set by the ABC Editorial Policies are met.
The Program Principles should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.
Q&A Review Final Report ABC Editorial Review no.6: Content, conduct and panel composition of the Q&A program (February – June 2015) Background The ABC Board has a statutory duty under section 8(1)(c), Australian Broadcasting Act 1983 (Cth) to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is accurate and impartial.
The ABC Editorial Policies set out the editorial and ethical principles and standards fundamental to the ABC’s gathering and presentation of content. The five standards pertaining to Principle 4 (Impartiality and
Diversity of Perspectives) are:
4.1 Gather and present news and information with due impartiality
4.2 Present a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented.
4.3 Do not state or imply that any perspective is the editorial opinion of the ABC. The ABC takes no editorial stance others its commitment to fundamental democratic principles including the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, parliamentary democracy and equality of opportunity.
4.4 Do not misrepresent any perspective. 4.5 Do not unduly favour one perspective over another.
As explained in the principles underpinning the standards in section 4, in applying the impartiality standard, ABC content-makers are guided by a number of hallmarks including fair treatment, open-mindedness and balance following the weight of evidence. These, and other key concepts are explained and illustrated in the Impartiality Guidance Note
accompanying this brief. The Guidance Note may also be found here:
Q&A Review Final Report Scope and Subject This Editorial Review will focus primarily on the performance of the ABC program Q&A against the impartiality standards.
• Time span of sample: 2 February 2015 – 29 June 2015.
• Number of programs in sample: 23 (This list includes a special program on the history of gay rights in Australia, broadcast 18 June 2015).
All programs can be downloaded from the program home page at:
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/ (although files of each can be provided if requested by the reviewers). Full transcripts, biographies of all panelists and other information is also available on the website.