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«December 2015 Q&A Review Final Report Contents Introduction 3 Executive Summary 6 Questions #1 Topics 16 #2 Panel Composition 19 #3 Moderation of ...»

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That conclusion revealed the Coalition received more Secondary questions in Opposition in 2012 than the ALP in Opposition in 2015 (7.3 to 5). Secondary questions comprise three categories – questions seeking clarification, challenges to answers and supplementary questions. The Coalition in 2012 received more clarification questions than the ALP in 2015 (3.3 to.6) but the ALP in 2015 was more likely to be challenged than the Coalition in 2012 (3.6 to 2.5). The ALP in 2015 also received more supplementary questions than the Coalition in 2012 (1.5 to.8).

On balance, while it is evident the Coalition Opposition received more time and questions than the ALP Coalition, we are inclined to view this as probably beneficial to the Coalition and reflective of the more engaged and assertive performance of its representatives in 2012 than the ALP in 2015.

But does this demonstrate an inconsistent approach by the Moderator, permitting the Coalition Opposition greater freedom to interject, answer more questions and consume more time than their ALP counterparts in 2015? Although three years apart it could be argued that this would constitute a breach of standard 4.5 (Do not unduly favour one perspective over another). We do not believe that to be the case.

Having observed both sets of programs we are satisfied that the treatment of the two Oppositions was reflective of the circumstances of the time and the dynamics of the issues and panelists featured on the programs. The comparative benefit obtained by the Coalition in 2012 was not, in our view, due to a lack of impartiality by the Moderator.

But if the Coalition benefited from extra questions and time in Opposition in 2012 it could be argued that the additional Secondary questions put to it in Government in 2015 were not beneficial and instead posed a greater challenge than that put to the ALP in Government in 2012.

Q&A Review Final Report We believe this difference is due to the manner in which a handful of programs were moderated at the beginning of the 2015 series. Four programs broadcast during February and March featured an unusually high level of Secondary questions put to the Government representative (and in one instance, the Opposition) by the moderator.

A particular element of this questioning deserves consideration. There were occasions where the moderator seemed intent on securing a new or varied policy position from the panelist despite it being apparent that one was not forthcoming.

The following examples all involve the moderator (not the original audience questioner) directing a persistent line of questioning to a panelist.

Feb 2: Barnaby Joyce questioned on whether the Treasurer’s push for state asset sales was a mistake.

Feb 9: Jamie Briggs questioned on whether the proposed Medicare co-payment would be dropped and whether superannuation tax subsidies for the rich should be discontinued.

Mar 2: Josh Frydenberg questioned on how improved childcare and paid parental leave would be funded.

Mar 2: Andrew Leigh (Opposition) questioned on likely funding of ALP proposals.

Mar 16: Joe Hockey questioned on the need for further stimulation of the economy, industrial relations reform and changes to superannuation concessions.

We do not challenge the legitimacy of these questions or that they should be put forcefully. But, because it is extremely unlikely a new policy statement would be forthcoming in such circumstances, we see little point in the questions being repeated (sometimes in slightly different form) on several occasions.

Q&A Review Final Report Perhaps it was in the hope of an unguarded comment or a slip up generating a news headline. In any event the repeated questioning served to elevate the Secondary question count and to create a perspective of the panelist being relentlessly pursued for a response.

By way of comparison we could identify only one occasion in our 2012 review period where the ALP Government was similarly questioned in such a sustained manner35.

We hold the view that this style of interrogation and challenge is more appropriate to a one-on-one current affairs format such as the 7.30 Report. It is possible the program’s producers reached the same conclusion because this approach was not evident on Q&A after the early episodes.

The Q&A team was unable to provide us with a program brief which, among other things, would define the role of the moderator. We suggest a documented statement of principles would be useful in clarifying for all parties exactly what is expected of the moderator.

Recommendation #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.

While the statistical approach has thrown up one or two anomalies we do not believe they constitute a breach of the Editorial Policies. In reaching that conclusion we have had regard also to the general impressions we have from watching all the programs in question in 2012 and 2015.

In our view the Government of 2012 (ALP) had every bit as difficult a time as its counterpart in 2015 (Coalition). In many respects watching the two sets of programs was similar to watching two productions of the same play but with different casts.

February 20, 2012; Bill Shorten Q&A Review Final Report In both periods there was ongoing discussion about leadership and speculation about a change in Prime Minister, there were charges of economic incompetency, accusations of broken promises and even controversy around alleged abuse of entitlements by the different Speakers of Parliament.

In such periods of heightened political tension it is perfectly valid for Governments to face challenging questions from the public and moderator and criticism from other panelists. Indeed, given the primacy of politics in the Q&A purpose, it is inevitable that much of the debate and question revolves around the conduct of the Government.

We do not believe the scrutiny of Government apparent during the programs reviewed is inappropriate or in breach of the ABC Editorial Policies. However, we offer the following recommendation.

Recommendation #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.

–  –  –

There is another area of moderator performance that, in our view, may be a source of some of the criticism of Q&A. In the program of June 29

panelist Tim Wilson made the following allegation:

“And once again, Tony Jones, you have used this platform to make a snide remark and aside rather that actually addressing the fundamental issue.” We should state that on this occasion we do not believe the comment made by the moderator justified Mr Wilson’s allegation, but his claim is one that is often made either on the program or by external critics.

Are comments made by the moderator evidence of partiality or are they part of the general banter that often accompanies the discussions? Is the moderator trying to score a “gotcha” moment or is he/her trying to provide some added humour to the proceedings? Should the moderator be even permitted to make comments?

First, as alluded to earlier in this report, we believe the moderator does have a significant role in contributing to the “entertainment” element of the program. He/she does have responsibility for ensuring the production contains a suitable degree of light and shade.

Furthermore, the panelists are among the brightest and most articulate commentators in Australia. The moderator cannot be a plodding and dull administrator of time and questions uninvolved with the wit and banter of the sharp intellects that surround him/her.

So it is our view that the program, if it is to continue to capture a large and varied audience, requires the moderator to be capable not only of managing the serious discourse which is central to the program’s purpose but to be an active participant in the by-play of comment and humour that is essential to the program’s appeal.

This of course requires a balanced approach. The ringmaster is not the main act. Careful judgment is required to ensure he/she maintains an appropriate level of detachment, a sensible gravitas while occasionally, when circumstances permit, adding some spice to the proceedings.

Q&A Review Final Report It is inevitable that, within 23 hours of live and often controversial television, the moderator’s judgment will not always be perfect.

We identified a handful of occasions where the moderator appears to have overreached himself (the examples all involve Tony Jones), where comments reflect, in our view, questionable judgment.

March 2:

Tony Jones: Josh Frydenberg, if you had one word to describe Tony Abbott and we should leave out the one that some of your colleagues, at least, would probably give him and this is “doomed”.

March 30:

Michael Franti: …they’re looking for a bigger, better, cheaper Viagra pill, you know, that can sell a lot which I'm sure a lot of politicians would probably like that type of pill but...

Tony Jones: (to Christopher Pyne) Do you want to jump in there, Christopher, by any chance?

April 20:

Tony Jones: (interrupting Dave Hughes speaking about alcohol and sport) What about Tony Abbott. He doesn’t look like a drinker but he is, as it turns out.”

May 4:

Mark Butler: (talking about politicians and humour) In spite of it often being incredibly uncomfortable, and cringe-worthy sometimes, it is… Tony Jones: (interrupting) Sorry, are we talking about Bill Shorten?

–  –  –

Jack Charles: To remove us off our – you know the people of the Top End, to remove them from their lands, to develop – you know to take away funding for the remote territories and that, strikes me as peculiar, strange, and I can’t I’m trying to look for another word and I can’t find another word.

Tony Jones; There’s actually a phrase and the phrase was “lifestyle choice”.

June 1:

Judith Sloan: (talking about the power to strip Australians of their citizenship) It’s someone who may be able to claim the citizenship of another country. I mean it seems to me that the way I’d like to see it go… Tony Jones: (interrupting) Someone like Tony Abbott you mean?

We don’t intend this handful of examples of overreach or poor judgment to be defining of Tony Jones’ contribution. To the contrary, more often than not, his occasional interjects and asides are appropriate and effective, adding piquancy to the discussions without being disruptive or intrusive.

Nevertheless the examples we have given are the type of comments that, in our view, feed into some of the criticism of Q&A and, in particular, the performance of the moderator.

We have not identified a particular guideline against which such matters should be judged. We can, therefore, offer only our professional view that the moderator should be careful not to exceed the boundaries of his/her role however infrequently.

–  –  –

In the previous section dealing with Panel selection we have identified an imbalance in gender composition of the panels generally and in particular among those panelists representing the Government. We now address the consequential impact of this imbalance and the way in which it is further compounded by the allocation of questions and time by the moderator.

For the purpose of this analysis we have excluded the two special programs where only one gender was represented in each36.

Using the above “line-count” methodology we estimate that the panelists’ overall speaking time across the 21 programs was split 62% male and 38% female. While this skewed result was heavily influenced by the greater number of male panelists it is also the case that on average a male was permitted to speak for 22% of the available time while a female was allowed only 17%.

Furthermore, in almost two-thirds of the programs, it was a female panelist that received the shortest speaking time.

As explained earlier, this significant imbalance resulted from the fact that Government panelists – who were mostly men - received more questions and speaking time, than every other panelist.

But even if female Government representatives were given the same time as their male colleagues (and they weren’t) it would not have restored the balance overall.

In the following table we compare the speaking time allowed, on average, for male and female representatives of different groups37. This demonstrates that in all groups, except the ALP, a female representative was likely to receive less speaking time than their male counterpart in the same group.

March 9, Feminism Special and May 25, Budget Special The calculation measures the average speaking time by for each gender by group measured against the average speaking time available on average across the 21 programs.

–  –  –

So, how does the moderator engage both the male and female panelists? Is there a discernible pattern? We used the Primary/Secondary method of analysis as outlined earlier in this section.

Average Q&A Allocation by Gender (21 Programs)

–  –  –

Government representatives appeared in 17 of the 21 programs (14 male, 3 female) ALP representatives appeared in 17 of the 21 programs (10 male, 7 female) Greens/Others appeared in two of the 21 programs (2 male, 2 female) Not Politicians appeared in 20 of the 21 programs (34 males, 35 females) Q&A Review Final Report It is readily apparent that in the 21 programs, where both genders were represented, males were likely to be involved more in the questions and answers than women. The biggest contributor to this outcome was the greater level of Secondary engagement directed by the moderator to men.

The table below focuses on the allocation of those Secondary questions to the different panel groupings.

Average Allocation of Secondary Q&As by Gender (21 Programs)

–  –  –

The biggest difference occurs in the treatment of Government representatives.

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