Anyone who saw Monday night’s episode of Q&A would agree it was a wild ride. And we’re not just talking about the swearing, as prolific as it was.
To coincide with the feminist ideas festival Broadside, the all-female panel was dominated by Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, whose comments were liberally sprinkled with “fuck the patriarchy” and who asked at one stage, “How many rapists must we kill until men stop raping us?”.
Senior management at the ABC are concerned the panellists got a little over-excited and weren’t suitably wrangled on the program, which was hosted by Fran Kelly and executive-produced by outgoing veteran journalist Peter McEvoy. Weekly Beast understands the ABC chair, Ita Buttrose, was approached this week to appear on Q&A in Perth later in the month but politely declined. She was unimpressed by Monday night’s antics.
One of the panellists, the Muslim feminist Hana Assafiri, felt so strongly that she hadn’t been able to get her views across that she asked producers later in the week to post a video of her explaining her attitudes towards violence, and towards men.
It’s no wonder then that the ABC received more than 200 complaints and the independent audience affairs department is investigating whether it breached editorial policies. The provocative episode will not be repeated and has been pulled from iview.
The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the episode “generated significant community concern”, and he welcomed the investigation.
The ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, announced the investigation minutes before the Celebrate ABC 2020 launch, held in Studio 22 at Sydney’s Ultimo studios on Thursday.
Anderson told Weekly Beast he knew the program was problematic when he watched it go live on Monday. He said he was not worried about what the ABC’s usual critics said about it, but what viewers thought.
While swearing is allowed after 9pm, Anderson felt the audience was not sufficiently warned about the content and he was concerned they weren’t given enough context about the challenging nature of the ideas at the Broadside festival at the top of the show.
“Q&A has always sought to tackle difficult issues and present challenging and thought-provoking content,” Anderson said in a statement. “However, I can understand why some viewers found elements of this episode confronting or offensive.”
ABC bangs its own drum
But the Q&A probe didn’t dampen Anderson’s excitement about the program launch, which was his first as managing director. He said his predecessor, Michelle Guthrie, wasn’t keen on holding a showbiz-style event in a TV studio, but he was keen to bring it back. “We are in television after all,” he said as he excitedly explained that he had ordered the suit of the Bluey character, who was strolling around the studio, and how he got the ball rolling for several of the new shows when he was head of television.
The event took place on several sets around the giant studio, with ABC personalities Michael Rowland and Lisa Millar, Sarah Ferguson, Annabel Crabb, Shaun Micallef, actor Asher Keddie and author Bruce Pascoe among the celebrities.
Missing from proceedings were the new Insiders host, David Speers, and new Q&A host, Hamish Macdonald, two ABC hires who are still contracted to commercial networks Sky and Ten and couldn’t get a day pass to attend.
Why the long face?
The anti-Melbourne Cup sentiment seems to be spreading slowly through the media despite the devotion of News Corp Australia to all things racing. Race enthusiast Alan Jones has kept his spirits up, labelling the 7.30 expose of racehorse slaughter a sensationalist result of the “often twisted agendas of a leftwing ABC”.
Attendance at the Melbourne Cup was 81,400, the lowest since 1993, and television audiences followed suit.
The number of people who watched the race, broadcast on Ten this year, was down significantly. The average figure for Ten’s coverage was 1.3m, down almost a million from 2013, when it was 2.2m. There was a drop of 500,000 from last year alone.
As Peter FitzSimons wrote in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald, “attending the Cup is suddenly a bad look”.
But the best coverage of the race has to go to news.com.au, which had a stunning scoop shortly after the finish on Tuesday: “Horse storms to victory to claim Melbourne Cup”.
Back to Stef?
When Nine’s Today show had a problem with its ratings and bad publicity this time last year, management found a solution: get rid of Karl Stefanovic! Stefanovic kept his $2m salary but was pulled off the breakfast program in an attempt to stop the bad publicity he was attracting since splitting from his first wife.
Fast-forward 12 months, and if reports are to be believed, the solution to Today’s current woes is to bring back the highly-paid presenter. The rumours about the pairing of Stefanovic and 60 Minutes reporter Alison Langdon have been swirling for months, and were given credence when Langdon was given a key role at the Nine upfronts last month.
After Nine dumped Stefanovic last year his co-presenter Georgie Gardner was joined by Deb Knight. The chemistry never worked and the ratings continued to drop. On Friday they hit a low of just 155,000 viewers, beaten by ABC’s News Breakfast with Lisa Millar and Michael Rowland on 159,000. Arch rival Sunrise, with David Koch and Samantha Armytage, had almost double the numbers on 298,000. Another name that has been thrown around for the role is Nine’s Today Extra host and singer, David Campbell. Nine says no decision has been made on the line-up for next year.
Whatever Stefanovic’s apparent sins, he is a very good broadcaster. As Brigid Delaney wrote earlier this year: “How many people could do three hours a day of live breakfast television, where you are required to segue from the federal budget to weather banter to pet of the day, without breaking a sweat?”
One journalist whose name has not been suggested as a host for Today is the Sydney Morning Herald columnist and former Today show reporter Peter FitzSimons, who told a funny story against himself in his Andrew Olle address on Friday.
In 1992 he was given a chance to co-host Today with Liz Hayes and he thought it went really well. “Sadly, the people who agreed with me could be counted on the fingers of one finger: Liz Hayes!
“But the critics were everywhere. When I came off-air after completing my stint, the head of news and current affairs at the time, my friend Ian Frykberg, pulled me aside and said ‘FitzSimons, that show just put your television career back by five years’.”
Dog fight at Sky
Sky News viewers got a live demonstration of what happens if you stray from the party line this week when a former editor of Queensland’s Sunday Mail, Peter Gleeson, slapped down Sky veteran Janine Perrett for disagreeing with him on greyhound racing.
Gleeson, who took over from Perrett as the host of Heads Up on Sky News this year, suggested her views were not welcome at the station.
“You know what?” Gleeson asked aggressively when Perrett said she didn’t like the sport. “Maybe you should work at the ABC.”
Perrett, who has been with Sky for 10 years, shot back: “You know what? You’re allowed to have a different opinion here, but if you think they should all be on the ABC, that’s fine.”
Gleeson showed his trademark lack of subtlety this week in his regular newspaper column, when he compared the Greens to Australia’s worst serial killer, Ivan Milat.
“The problem with the Greens party in this country is that they actually believe they are on the side of the angels,” Gleeson wrote. “Like serial killer Ivan Milat, who went to his grave saying he was innocent, they have convinced themselves they are the font of all knowledge and wisdom.
“It’s selfish, narcissistic and dangerous. According to the Greens, we – normal people – are heathens, marching like lemmings to extinction, fuelled by our climate change ignorance. To the Greens, farmers are the anti-Christ, Melbourne Cup Day is for animal abusers and music festivals should just be re-named drug festivals, with pill testing brought in immediately.”
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