BEN POBJIE. Why ‘Q&A’ Is A Complete Waste Of Time (10 Daily).

With Tony Jones announcing his imminent departure from Q&A, it seems timely to take a good look at the little political panel show that his calm stewardship turned into a ratings semi-behemoth for the ABC.

And pay tribute to his hosting tenure, which most industry experts estimate has lasted between 30 and 40 years. I hope that when Tony reads this, he will take it in the spirit it was intended: as a comment.

When I think about Q&A, what I am struck by is how incredibly useless it is. I hope nobody misinterprets that statement — least of all Tony himself or any of his loveable sidekicks on the show such as Christopher Pyne or the guy who threw a shoe at John Howard.

I don’t mean it’s useless as a TV show. Indeed, as a TV show it ticks all the boxes: conflict, drama, occasional unconsciousness. It does exactly what a TV show is supposed to do, which is attract viewers, and the way it does this is by making as many people as possible incredibly angry.

Anger is why people watch Q&A, as we all know. People do not tune in to find out what the Shadow Minister for Aged Care is really like, or to get a more nuanced take on current fiscal policy settings. People tune in to see someone they hate say something they don’t want to hear, so they can work themselves up into a near-erotic state of fury. It’s like Orwell’s Two Minute Hate, except it lasts an hour and you can tweet about it.

So when I say that Q&A is pointless, I am not saying it doesn’t make great television, in the sense that “great television” is whatever makes viewers the angriest. I’m saying that in terms of the show’s stated aims — “putting you at the centre of the conversation” and displaying “democracy in action” — it not only fails: it doesn’t even really try to succeed.

I’m sorry if it shatters anyone’s illusions — especially Tony’s — but Q&A has basically nothing to do with “democracy”, except in the sense that, like all good entertainment, it distracts us from worrying about its rapid decay.

The idea promoted by the show is that it allows Ordinary People Just Like You And Me to ask questions on the Things That Matter To Us, and we will get answers. The theory goes that in this way we gain access to our leaders in a way that is otherwise impossible, cutting through the spin of parliament and press conferences to engage in real, unfiltered interactions between politician and citizen, much in the fashion of the town square of ancient Athens.

Firstly, the responses politicians give to questions on Q&A are about as free from spin as a Mumbai test match. It doesn’t matter what you ask an MP, they will give the answer they want to, and it’ll be the answer programmed into them at Party HQ. Secondly, the questioners are carefully selected not for their potential to cut to the heart of a matter but to maximise the chances of the Labor and Liberal representatives on the panel shouting at each other.

But more than the outrage, more than the empty slanging matches and prepackaged answers, the most glaring truth about Q&A is that nothing that happens on it will ever, ever change anyone’s mind.

The show runs to a formula: the Liberal gives the Liberal position, the Laborite gives the Labor position, the Liberal cheerleader backs up the Liberal, the Labor cheerleader backs up Labor, the Designated Reasonable Centrist asks why we all can’t just get along, and everyone in the country sits back with a post-coital sigh as they reflect for another week on just how correct they are about everything.

Like opinion writers, satirists and your mother, Q&A exists purely to reinforce your prejudices, preconceptions and sense of moral rectitude. Which is perfectly fine if it weren’t for the show’s irritating habit of framing itself as a constructive discussion rather than an exercise in collective ideological masturbation.

Of course, not every episode of Q&A features political enemies hurling slurs at each other. Sometimes the panel is made up of writers and artists with no party affiliation. These episodes perform a very different service: reminding us how boring writers and artists are. It’s handy every now and then for the show to demonstrate that as frustrating as seeing smug politicians argue is, seeing smug creatives agree with each other is even worse.

So good luck to you, Tony Jones, and well done on your leadership of what has truly become an Australian institution, for better or for worse.

The author has never been asked to be on Q&A and is not bitter. Ben Pbjie is a writer and a comedian. 

This article was written by 10 Daily on the 12th of February 2019. 

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14 Responses to BEN POBJIE. Why ‘Q&A’ Is A Complete Waste Of Time (10 Daily).

  1. Peter Small says:

    Yes Ben, true to your profession, albeit a day early, (tomorrow is the 1st April ) they came in hook bait and sinker!

  2. david roth says:

    The show is really about Tony Jones. He is a relentless interrupter and I often feel he asks many more questions than the audience, to the extent sometimes that the panel member can’t really complete their answer. Fair enough if the panel member goes off topic, but not when it’s Tony’s interests being pursued.

    The real danger for people asking inconvenient questions is being doxed by the LNP, as we saw with Duncan Storrars, who had his name, upbringing and reputation crucified by the Murdoch press. And his family photographed. I certainly wouldn’t be game to ask a question.

  3. Could not disagree more with Ben. I love the show. I have had my opinions challenged and changed. The politicians can get a bit boring when they throw stats around and talk about $$$ being spent. The artists and the writers are usually the highlights. I am not sure why Ben would think they are the boring ones and I would love to hear some examples. I have read a bit of Ben’s writings and I must say I struggle to come to grips with his perspective.

  4. Neil Flanagan says:

    I watched the first episode and even sent in a question naively thinking that I could participate in democracy by seeking answers to my questions. Well five minutes in I realised I had been conned and rarely ever ventured back and even then I can’t last more than 10 minutes.

    I just think the days of asking questions of politicians and expecting a thoughtful honest answer are over. They just don’t play by the old rules, so why do we continue to give them air time and exposure. It is insanity to keep on trying to get a real answer when we’re had 20 years of non answers.

  5. Ian Robinson says:

    Ben Pobjie has accurately described Q&A at its worst, which is most of the the time, and as one perceptive commentator above has pointed out, that’s mainly when two rival politicians are on, and Tony Jones is forced to allow an infinite series of rebuttals of rebuttals for fear of being accused of bias, while other guests sit politely by. But every so often it surprises with a gem of a discussion, most often when there are no politicians and few men. The decision on whether to watch or not must be base on each individual’s assessment of how many swine they can tolerate to get the occasional pearl. I usually give it 5 minutes before deciding whether to go off and do something more illuminating or not.

  6. John Vincent says:

    After reading this article, I wondered whether the writer had actually watched/listened to Q&A and given any in-depth critical though about its content and value to public debate in Australia. Or, perhaps the article was just written to garner some laughs by a comedian? The author is correct in noting that when our politicians appear on the show we just get the same old spin on policy, no matter which party the participant represents. As a regular viewer of the show, I too find that the constant political spin by politicians on the show is annoying, but having them on the show allows viewers to assess not only the content of what politicians say and the parties they represent but also to assess the character and calibre of our politicians and the societal values and communities they represent.

    To argue that the show is useless and, . . . “that nothing that happens on it will ever, ever change anyone’s mind”, also makes me wonder whether the writer watches Q&A and thinks about the issues and questions raised and the points made by the participants. For example, we can all learn something from viewpoints expressed by past participants on Q&A like Eddie Woo, Missy Higgins, A C Grayling, Catherine McGregor, Muhammad Yunus, Stan Grant, Jane Goodall, Magda Zubanski, Frank Brennan, Nyadol Nyuon, Brian Cox, Gillian Triggs and Pasi Sahlberg, just to name a few. I challenge anyone not to have learnt something by watching the Q&A show on 26 March 2018 – “A Night with Michael Sandel”. Over the years, the show has confronted important social, economic and political issues that we in Australia need to debate openly and respectfully. Without a show like Q&A, where else would these debates be considered and aired across Australia? The echo chambers of social media? No thanks! But, I agree, a few less politicians on the show, who just reiterate the usual political spin and, “hurl slurs at each other”, would improve the show further.

  7. Kien Choong says:

    Hi, I only watch Q&A occasionally, but I don’t agree that it is “completely useless”. Democracy works best through public discussion and good reasoning, and (in my view) we have too little of both.

    Rather than “diss” Q&A, the author should suggest ways to improve Q&A! And also evolve through experimentation.

    Here’s a suggestion: I recall hearing about some social media platform, where participants are given points if they successfully cause other people to change their views on something. Perhaps at each Q&A session, take a random sample of the audience (both on-site and remote) to report whether they have changed their minds on anything during the Q&A session, and identify which speaker(s) lead them to change their minds. Keep a public record of these statistics. It would be an interesting measure of how successful Q&A is in helping people change their minds.

  8. Malcolm Crout says:

    If Q&A is rubbish then the viewers would cease to tune in. If it doesn’t reach the intellectual discourse considered appropriate then stop watching and whining about it and turn the damn television off!

    Now if you want rubbish, try the 10 Daily facebook site.

  9. Ted Egan says:

    The minute I see there is a politician on the panel I switch off. They assume that they have the right to dominate and even hosts as good as Tony Jones and Virginia Trioli seem unable to contain them.

    • Jim KABLE says:

      Absolutely, Ted. I find there are better things on NITV. I can’t stand the so-called balance. If you have someone from this side of politics then you have to have their opposite number from that side – then it’s all rude shouty in which each “mouth” tells the audience what the other side supposedly says or has done – but never what they themselves believe or have done. I find I can catch up with the revelations in brief form the next day – if those moments of outrage or revelation on Q&A were significant enough.

  10. Mike Yewdall says:

    My thoughts exactly. Keating, I think it was, called Q&A a dog and pony show and said he wouldn’t have allowed Labor members to appear. The shows has always had the ability to reinforce prejudices and to allow you to feel superior to those with a different point of view. A bit like life, I guess. Tony Jones calm demeanour through all the BS has been commendable.

  11. Robert Buckmaster says:

    True, but occasionally the show is informative in spite of itself. When they make a judicious selection of guests, we have informed discussion – such as a writer’s festival special. It’s definitely the exception. Sometimes Tony Jones undermines these well-spoken guests and tries to turn the show back into a slanging match. I’ve seen plenty of useless programmed political debate on there – my talking points are better than yours, and I’m so angry!

  12. Bill Legge says:

    I don’t watch Q&A, not only for the reason Ben so accurately describes: the way it circumscribes the boundaries of acceptable political discourse is profoundly dispiriting. Politics is central to all our lives – whether we like it or not. The Q&A definition of politics is joyless, loveless, meaningless, and ultimately, pointless. When the various apparatchiks from different the branches of the Party, or the media, lament the degree of public disengagement one only need look at Q&A as the paradigm example of why people are disengaged, and why more and more are looking to the margins for a political program that at least seems to reflect their struggles.

    • Malcolm Crout says:

      Ummm….with respect, for someone who doesn’t watch Q&A you seem to have some extremely well defined opinions of the program. Just saying.

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