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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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There were only three female Government panelists, Bronwyn Bishop, Fiona Nash and Kelly O’Dwyer. Maybe because of their lower profiles and Cabinet responsibilities they did not invite the same level of secondary challenging and questioning that their male counterparts received, notably star performers like Barnaby Joyce, Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg and Joe Hockey.

The pattern is repeated, although to a smaller degree, in the other twogroups.

Q&A Review Final Report It is clear that a female panelist on Q&A is permitted a smaller voice than a male. This is substantially due to two compounding and related factors; the extended speaking time accorded to politicians (particularly representing the Government) and the dominance of male representatives (again particularly from Government ranks) among those politicians.

Put simply, most of the females on Q&A occupied places on the panel that are expected to have a lesser involvement not because they are women but because they are not politicians and, in particular, because they are not Government representatives.

But the fact is that all female panelists are less likely to be engaged in the Secondary questioning controlled by the moderator than their male counterparts.

Combined, these actions have resulted in an inadequate level of female representation on and participation in Q&A discussions.

This is our considered view, but it could be argued that there is no clear guidance in the ABC Editorial Policies that would require Q&A to rectify this imbalance. Perhaps standards 4.2 and 4.5 are intended to address this issue, but we suspect not.

It is possible that the producers of Q&A and the moderator will not have been aware of the compounding effect of their decisions, or if they were, that a solution was not apparent to them. The purpose of this review is to assist by identifying such issues and making recommendations on how they might be addressed.

We have recommended in the previous section on Panels that Q&A correct the gender imbalance among political representatives (particularly Government) on the panels and that, in any event, panels should not routinely have a majority of male participants.

Earlier in this section we have recommended that some adjustment to the time given to Government representatives be made so that other panelists have a greater allocation of time. This may assist in rectifying the gender imbalance in participation.

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Recommendation #9 The moderator should ensure women are equally involved in the Secondary phase of questions and answers.

Recommendation #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.

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Did the questions from the public featured in each program provide an appropriate diversity of topics and perspectives (with particular reference to standard 4.5)? In your view, does the method currently used to solicit and choose questions from the audience work well, or do you believe there might be ways to improve selection processes?

Q&A has a well-established system to solicit and select questions from the public. Some questions may have already been suggested by intending studio audience members but most come in response to a “prompt” letter sent to them on the Friday before broadcast.

The prompt confirms the identity of the panelists and then, having regard to the panellists and to current events, suggests some broad issues that might generate suitable questions. The prompt encourages all studio audience members to submit questions, emphasising that the choice of question is up to each member.

A further updated prompt is emailed to audience members on Monday.

The production team estimates that between one and two hundred questions are submitted. In addition about a dozen questions, recorded on video by a prospective questioner, are also submitted. These are not in response to the prompts.

Senior members of the production team together with the moderator go through the questions and reduce them to a short list of around 30. The Executive Producer then joins the meeting and the final list of questions is agreed on.

This list generally features 10 to 12 questions although it is likely that two or three will not get asked because of time pressure.

On occasions the producers will contact the questioner to request that the question be amended so that it is less wordy and more comprehensible and direct.

Q&A Review Final Report Audience members whose questions have been selected are informed prior to broadcast. Panelists are not informed of the questions they will be asked.

On occasions additional impromptu questions will be permitted. These fall into two categories; questions from studio audience members who have raised their hand and questions submitted during the broadcast via social media.

We identified only 22 occasions when impromptu questions were permitted, 18 from the studio audience and four from Twitter and Facebook.

Some might be surprised at the small number of spontaneous questions.

With the exception of the 18 unprompted questions from the studio audience all questions were subject to a careful and controlled selection process. This means that to a very significant degree the direction of the programs was determined by the production team and not, as some might imagine, by the public.

We understand the reasons why that is the case. The producers have the responsibility to ensure that the questions, individually and collectively, comply with the ABC Editorial Standards.

Randomly selected questions from the audience carry an unacceptable risk not only of those standards being breached but also of the production lacking clarity and direction. When random questions were permitted they were often rambling and repetitive or failed to pose an actual question.42 The program requires a diverse range of easily understood and purposeful questions if it is to maintain credibility and the ongoing engagement of the viewing audience.

Hence the standard moderator’s statement “I’ll take that as a comment”.

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A wide and varied range of topics was featured in the questions asked during the 23 sample programs. Many of them concerned current events and issues although that was not necessarily the primary driver.

More often the questions were motivated by the identity of the panelists.

We studied newspaper headlines for the Friday preceding each broadcast, the day on which Q&A producers publish the first prompt.

There was no direct correlation between those headlines and the questions selected for Q&A but neither were we conscious of Q&A failing to achieve an appropriate level of topicality.

We also grouped the questions asked into broad categories.

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Other categories that attracted a significant number of questions included the Media, Indigenous Issues and Resources and Energy.

We concluded that the questions asked by the public reflected an appropriate diversity of topics covering both current and general issues. The top categories were consistent with prevailing public debate at the time, while the standing of the Women’s and LGBT Rights categories was influenced by the special programs broadcast on those subjects. We believe, in this regard, the programs met standard

4.5 of the ABC Editorial Policies.

Two special programs were broadcast covering this category; Feminism March 9 and Domestic Violence February 23.

One special program was broadcast covering this category; Gay Rights June 18.

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Some questions asked on Q&A were phrased in a neutral manner and appeared only to seek comment from the panellists on a current topic or statement. Many others though did reveal both in content and tone the perspective of the questioner.

For example, a neutral question… “Do you believe that nations should have the power to interfere in criminal punishment, especially the death penalty, in other countries?”45 …and one that reveals the questioner’s perspective.

“The British PM David Cameron has said Britain would not get to surplus on the backs of the poor. Why is your government here in Australia happy to get to surplus on the backs of the poor?”46 There is nothing wrong or inappropriate in Q&A questioners holding and expressing strong views. Individual questioners are not required to be impartial. The program dynamics require the reverse.

It is the responsibility then of the program producers to ensure when selecting questions that they represent an appropriate diversity of perspectives.

From our viewing of the sample programs we have no doubt that an appropriately wide range of perspectives was present within the questions asked. But the term of reference covering this section of our report asks us more particularly to determine whether one perspective has been unduly favoured over another47.

Asked of Panel, February 16 Asked of Joe Hockey, May 25 ABC Editorial Policies 4.5 Do not unduly favour one perspective over another.

Q&A Review Final Report There are examples where particular perspectives are consistently and strongly represented in Q&A questions particularly in the special programs.

For instance the questions in the Domestic Violence special adopted a strongly critical position while in the Feminist special most questions were posed from the point of view that the general objectives of the movement were desirable.

While such questions could be deemed to “favour” a particular perspective a simpler explanation is they merely reflect prevailing social attitudes in Australia.

But we suspect critics of Q&A identify what they define as “a lack of impartiality’ not through specific questions, but rather the cumulative effect of a disproportionate number of questions that seem to be motivated by a particular underlying political or social perspective.

Similar to the criticism of the composition of panels and audiences it is often suggested that more questions appear critical of the Coalition government than are critical of the ALP Opposition.

We have attempted to analyse the questions asked during the sample programs to determine whether standard 4.5 is being met. This is not a simple exercise and we should state from the outset that the limitations of our methodology require that the results be treated with caution.

We used the same approach as we applied to our analysis of the selection of panelists, attempting to measure questions that indicate support of or a challenge to a political party.

Most questions, in our judgement, did not qualify for the above categorisation. Apart from those that were neutral, there were many others that, although demonstrating a strong conviction or perspective on a particular issue, simply defied being categorised in the above terms.

Q&A Review Final Report We made no attempt to resolve any ambiguities. We measured questions only where the primary purpose appeared to support or challenge a particular political party. We did not categorise questions that obliquely benefited one party nor did we assume that a question challenging one party meant it was therefore supportive of another.

Consequently only 25% of questions asked during the sample programs were categorised. We excluded four special programs from our analysis48.

Political Analysis of Qualifying Questions 2015

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As can be seen, it was the purpose of very few questions to provide support for a political party; most were challenging in nature. That is to be expected.

As with our earlier findings, it was the Government that was the focus of most of the categorised questions and, overwhelmingly, those questions were likely to be challenging.

But was this negative focus because the Coalition was in power or was it a consistent style of questioning directed to the Government of the day, regardless of which party was in office?

February 23, Family Violence; March 9, Feminism; May 18, Sydney Writers’ Festival; June 18, Gay Rights

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Questions that challenge the Government of the day are standard fare for Q&A. We believe that is justified. Further, it is apparent that Q&A producers select such questions in a consistent manner regardless of which party is in power.

We note that from to time the moderator will provide some background on the questioner, particularly if it gives greater weight to the question being asked. Generally that background emerges after the initial question has been asked.

We believe the viewing audience, and the panel, would benefit if, when circumstances warrant, appropriate background were provided prior to the question being asked.

The type of circumstance that would warrant such treatment is when the questioner has a particular and relevant experience (as with Zaky Mallah), represents or is strongly associated with a particular organisation or, more generally, where audience knowledge of the questioner’s background provides an insight into the context and motivation for the question.

We make this recommendation not with the intention of limiting or in any way qualifying the legitimacy of the questions but rather to provide the audience with the information that the moderator is already aware of and which in all likelihood contributed to Q&A’s selection of the questioner.

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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.

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The gender of questioners was split evenly (52% female to 48% male).

But the age profile, as was the case with the studio audience generally, skewed young. More than half of those whose questions were selected and who were able to ask them on-air were under the age of 35.

Questioners Age Profile v Studio and Viewing Audiences and Panels49

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