«December 2015 Q&A Review Final Report Contents Introduction 3 Executive Summary 6 Questions #1 Topics 16 #2 Panel Composition 19 #3 Moderation of ...»
Including Miriam Lyons, an Australian currently on sabbatical in Europe
During the review period 113 panelists appeared comprising 61 male and 52 female. The overall imbalance may not in itself be dramatic but if you exclude the two single gender special programs16 then the ratio of 60 male to 47 female is significant.
A more detailed analysis identifies a further underlying issue that is of concern.
The imbalance between male and female panelists was due substantially to the very low level of female representation among the ranks of panelists representing political parties.
Male politicians were twice as likely to appear on Q&A as their female counterparts. Across the 23 episodes 28 male and 13 female current representatives of political parties appeared on the program (68% male to 32% female).
This, in turn, was substantially due to the marked gender imbalance among representatives of the Coalition. Overall, the Government was represented by 19 panelists of whom only four were women (79% male to 21% female). Excluding some special programs17, the 16 programs where Coalition panelists were aligned against Opposition panelists featured only two female representatives of Government (89% male to 11% female).
In itself the low representation of female Federal politicians is of concern. But the impact of this under-representation of the female perspective among Coalition panelists is then amplified firstly by the dominance of the Government contribution to discussions (from which the female perspective is largely absent) and secondly from the lesser amount of time and involvement made available to individual female panelists by the program moderator. This is dealt with in the subsequent section covering the role of the moderator.
The Feminism Special on March 9 featured five female panelists and the Budget Special on May 25 featured Joe Hockey on his own.
Julie Bishop (March 9, Feminism Special) and Bronwyn Bishop (June 15, Magna Carta Special) were not representing the Government in debate with the Opposition and Joe Hockey (May 25, Budget Special) appeared solo.
Q&A Review Final Report But returning to the question of the gender imbalance among political panelists and Coalition representatives in particular, we are conscious that this is a problem not entirely of Q&A’s making. Indeed the program may argue the gender balance of political representation on Q&A is in line with the make-up of Parliament overall and the Government ministry at the time.
During the review period Federal Parliament comprised 157 male and 69 female representatives18 (69% male to 31% female), which was closely aligned to the 68% male and 32% female political panelist allocation on Q&A. The Government ministry was 25 male and 5 female19 (83% male to 17% female) again broadly in line with Q&A panelists.
But we question whether this practice, if it is deliberate, is appropriate.
Faithfully reflecting the gender balance in Parliament when allocating places on Q&A panels, in our view, challenges the program’s ability to provide an appropriate diversity of perspectives.
Apart from diminishing the female voice in political discourse the program may even be contributing to the underlying issue by creating in the minds of viewers the impression that male dominance of politics is a natural state of affairs.
We are not sure whether standard 4.5 applies to this issue. Does permitting male dominance of political debate on Q&A constitute unduly favouring one perspective over another? We suspect the issue of gender balance was not in the minds of the authors of the ABC Editorial Policies when they drafted standards 4.2 and 4.5. But we believe this is an important issue and we can find no other ABC standards that clearly
address it. We make a recommendation on this matter in Question 3:
Moderation of Discussion.
The program should achieve higher levels of female representation among political panelists and in particular among those representing the Government.
Representation of Women in Australian Parliaments 2014, Dr Joy McCann and Janet Wilson Ibid Q&A Review Final Report We note that the program did exceed, albeit slightly, the gender balance in the shadow ministry when choosing panelists to represent the Opposition. During the review period the shadow ministry of the ALP was 18 male and 11 female20 (62% male to 38% female). Representatives of the ALP on Q&A panels comprised 10 male and 7 female (59% male to 41% female).
We acknowledge that the final decision on which politician appears on Q&A may well be subject to the approval of the party leadership. We hope that by identifying this issue and recommending stronger levels of female representation on the program the producers of Q&A will be assisted in their negotiations with the leadership of political parties.
Should that not be the case then we believe the program should investigate other options, including from the State level of politics, to achieve the desired female representation21.
In part the under-representation of female political panelists is offset by the female representation among the non-political panelists. In the review period 33 male and 39 female panelists who were not current politicians appeared on Q&A (46% male to 54% female).
It is our understanding that this occurred in accordance with an internal program policy that required panels never had less than two female members.
While in our view the setting of a minimum level of female participation is commendable and consistent with the program’s obligation to provide an appropriate diversity of perspectives, too often the minimum also became the maximum. After excluding the two single gender programs22, the remaining 21 in the review period featured the minimum two female panelists on 16 occasions (76%).
In other words, three quarters of the Q&A episodes we were asked to examine featured three males (plus the male moderator) with only two females.
Ibid The recent appearance of NSW Premier, Mike Baird shows the potential value of including State politicians.
March 9, Feminism Special and May 25, Budget Special Q&A Review Final Report On only two occasions was there an equal number of male and female panelists and on only three occasions did the number of female panelists actually exceed the number of males.
We accept that female under-representation among political panelists lies behind these findings but we believe the outcome is not acceptable and requires a strong commitment to greater female participation overall.
The composition of Q&A panels should not routinely feature more men than women.
The male dominance of the panels is further amplified by the fact that the moderator is invariably a male. We are not suggesting this be changed but we do believe it heightens the on-screen perception of gender imbalance.
We assessed the age profile of the panellists by placing them into three groups. Of the 113 panelists, 10 were aged 35 and under (9%); 69 were aged 36-55 (61%) and 34 were aged 56 and over (30%).
It can be argued that the dominance of those aged 36-55 reflected the levels of experience, engagement and authority held by this age group in society generally.
But, having regard to the age profile of the studio and viewing audiences and the studio questioners, we believe there is merit in adjusting the panel make up to include slightly more panelists from the younger age group.
Recommendation #5 Consideration should be given to a modest increase in the number of panelists aged 35 and under.
One of the key conclusions of this review is that Q&A failed to meet the diversity of perspectives standard defined in 4.2 of the Editorial Policies because the vast majority of programs were broadcast from the Sydney studios. During the period under review 21 of the 23 programs were staged in Sydney23.
The impact of this constraint is dealt with in greater detail in Question #4: Questions and Question #5: Studio Audiences.
But, in our opinion, it also had an effect on the make-up of the panels.
The following table compares the percentage of panelists from each state to the percentage of population for each of those states and territories. Overseas panelists have been excluded from the calculation.
Q&A Panel Composition by State & Territory
Programs outside of Sydney were April 20, Melbourne and June 15, Canberra.
Q&A Review Final Report NSW based panelists were selected in far greater numbers than the state’s population would suggest is appropriate. Furthermore, overseas guests visiting Sydney were just as likely to appear on a Q&A panel as representatives from the states of WA, SA, Tasmania and the Territories combined.
The Sydney bias is even more explicit in an analysis of panelists from major cities24, again compared to the share of the populations of those cities25.
Q&A Panel Composition by City
There were many more Sydney panelists than from all the other major cities combined.
We are not suggesting that Q&A should follow a strict apportionment of panelists according to population data. But, in our view, the number of Sydney panelists cannot have been due solely to selection on merit.
Selection was clearly influenced by the cost and inconvenience involved in other potential panelists having to travel interstate.
The share of panelists is calculated as a proportion of panelists from major cities The share is calculated as a proportion of the total population of the six major cities Q&A Review Final Report The consequence of that constraint is that the national audience is exposed disproportionately to the views and perspectives of residents of one major city. In our view different regional perspectives are important and audiences in Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane should be entitled to see those perspectives being advanced by members of their communities.
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.
The conclusions and recommendations included elsewhere in this section are based on our assessment of the average panel make-up across the 23 programs.
ABC Editorial Policies clearly permit Q&A to deliver the required diversity of perspectives “over time”. While in many respects it is appropriate that diversity of perspectives is achieved across a series rather than in a single program, in some instances we believe an appropriate representation of views should be achieved within the individual program.
The producers of Q&A are obviously cognisant of that obligation. For instance they invariably match Government and Opposition representatives in a single program. Similarly they attempt to maintain a broad balance of Progressive and Conservative panellists within a program and their commitment to never having less than two female panelists on each panel is an attempt to provide some form of gender balance within each program.
With the exception of gender balance, we find the producers manage this obligation well and in the overwhelming majority of programs we reviewed we found an appropriate mix of perspectives delivered by a broadly balanced panel. The concerns we have expressed earlier in this section arise from the cumulative selections across all programs and not necessarily from the selection of individual panels.
But we did identify two programs (out of the sample of 23) where the panels did not, in our opinion, satisfy a reasonable test of a balance of perspectives within the individual program.
The program of June 18 was a special episode discussing progress on the rights of the LGBTI community and was broadcast immediately following the screening of the documentary Between a Frock and a Hard Place. It included debate on marriage equality.
Q&A Review Final Report The panel comprised five gay or transgender panelists26 and NSW MP, Fred Nile, the founder of the Christian Democratic Party. The Rev Nile opposed homosexual decriminalisation in 1984, believes homosexual acts are morally wrong and in breach of “God’s law” and strongly opposes same-sex marriage.
We question the panel composition on two grounds.
1. The Rev Nile was a single voice on one side arguing against five formidable advocates on the other.
2. The Rev Nile’s fundamentalist views on marriage equality did not adequately represent the range of opinions held by other opponents of this proposed reform. If the merits of this proposal were to be properly debated other, more nuanced perspectives deserved inclusion.
In our view Q&A had two choices in mounting this special; have a panel comprised entirely of representatives of the LGBTI community (similar to the approach adopted by the Feminism Special on March 9) where the viewing audience would have understood these were uncontested views or, have a panel comprised of a diversity of views where the merits of marriage equality and other issues raised by the LGBTI community could be properly and fairly discussed.
We believe the option taken, to have a token, single and not entirely appropriate voice of opposition included in the panel, was poorly judged.
The other panel composition we question was in the program broadcast on June 22. The panel was expanded to six members four of whom, in our judgement, were Progressive voices and only two Conservative27.
While accepting that a complete mathematical balance is not expected or required by the Editorial Policies, we were curious as to how the panel had ended up so lopsided. The tone of the discussion, particularly as the two Progressives from overseas were strident and outspoken, reflected the imbalance.
Dennis Altman, Paul Capsis, Julie McCrossin, Julia Doulman and Katherine Hudson.
We assessed Linda Tirado, Joel Fitzgibbon, Dee Madigan and Antony Hegarty as being Progressive and Steve Ciobo and Grahame Morris as Conservative.