John Menadue. Q&A – Why bother with Ministers?

Jul 14, 2015

The ABC has tied itself into a knot in trying to appease the government and get ministers back on Q&A.  But why bother? If ministers aren’t allowed or don’t want to go on the program, so be it. They would not be missed and neither would most members of the shadow ministry.

I must confess that I am only an occasional viewer of Q&A.  It is not for me. It unfortunately follows the adversarial and confrontational approach that is so debasing so much of public discussion in Australia on important issues.

ABC viewers would be much better served in my view by hearing from experts in their own fields telling us the prospects on such important issues as climate change, infrastructure, regional relations, inequality, security and refugees. Unfortunately politicians now invariably obfuscate and confuse the issues, and dish out one-liners and clichés.

For the ABC to suggest that it would shift Q&A from general programs to news and current affairs has been an invitation for editorial interference by the government. It should be resisted. Who is running the ABC, its board or the government? By suggesting that it would shift Q&A to another department it has given Tony Abbott an opportunity to get himself off the hook that he has impaled himself on.

In the 1960s Gough Whitlam objected to the ABC insisting that on current affairs programs they would not allow an opposition leader to appear unless there was a minister to provide an alternate view. In the name of ‘balance’ the ABC in effect allowed the government, by refusing to have ministers appear effectively vetoed an opposition leader from appearing.  Fortunately, Talbot Duckmanton, the General Manager of the ABC, was persuaded that the government should not be allowed to veto appearances of opposition leaders.

Neither should the ABC allow the government now to dictate to Q&A. If ministers don’t want to appear, that would be their loss. In most cases viewers would applaud.

Tony Abbott said that heads would roll at the ABC over the Q&A spat. Where heads should be rolling is at ASIO for its incompetence over the handling of Man Haron Monis. He was a real danger compared with Zaky Mallah in the Q&A audience. Could there have been a series of more serious mistakes than we saw from ASIO, the AFP and other agencies over Man Haron Monis? Despite enormous increases in funding and powers, our security services escape effective responsibility and scrutiny.  Heads should roll at ASIO, but we needn’t hold our breath.

There is one rule for the ABC and a different one for ASIO regardless of mistake after mistake.

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