ABC's Q&A: Exercising Democracy
SYDNEY, May 17 -- SYDNEY, May 2 -- ABC Australia’s show Q&A has been criticised for politicising social issues rather than exercising democracy.
Robert Hoge, a media advisor for the Queensland Government, believes that shows like Q&A become negative when they focus too much on politicians .
“The signal they send by choosing so many politicians is that society needs politicians all the time to solve problems. Government is a subset of society, not the other way around," he said.
Despite some of the criticism towards the abundance of politicians, the show has gained a lot of support since its inception in 2008, with over 600,000 viewers now tuning in each week.
Still far from ratings juggernaut The Voice (Network 9) which had over 2 million viewers in its early runs, Q&A remains competitive in its timeslot. Last week Q&A had 633,000 viewers, biting the tail of rival commercial offering Pictures of You on Channel Seven with 647,000 viewers, and outdoing NCIS: LA on Channel 10 with 469,000.
According to the ABC, Q&A “is about democracy in action.”
The show is “energetic and opinionated - Q&A brings Australia's egalitarian and larrikin spirit into the studio,” encouraging people to engage with politics and society, the publicity blurb states.
Journalist Tony Jones leads a panel of talking heads who answer questions from a live studio audience and an online audience.
The show follows a similar format to Question Time in the UK, with politicians, public figures and artists invited on the panel each week.
David Knox is the editor of TV Tonight, Australia’s largest television blog. He says the show's format is its winning element.
“The show hacks into the popular town-hall forum culture where the public gets access to people in decision making positions and politicians,” he says.
“It’s a television version of talkback radio, where people can give an opinion, and it’s a more contemporary version, it’s entertaining."
But Hoge, a writer and communications specialist, is critical of the format and the show's entertainment factor.
“From time to time it plays a really important part in society, as a catalyst or a touch point. But too often it’s a bit too over-filled with its own self-confidence,” he says.
“Too many politicians, too often. Politicians should be on the show and on regularly. But choosing to put so many on so often, for example on the April 30 episode, there were three pollies [sic] scheduled, dilutes the potential power of the show."
“And you can clearly see by the number of repeat appearances they have that the producers place a premium on people who look and speak well on TV,” says Hoge.
“That's fine but as soon as you put a politician on from one side, you need to balance it with one from the other. So, right then and there, a third of the panel is filled with politicians.”
Hoge believes the dominance of the panel by politicians sends a bad message to society.
“Our democracy would be healthier if we didn't readily reach for political solutions to our problems,”he says.
But the biggest criticism of the show comes from the inclusion of a Twitter feed.
A Twitter feed runs on the bottom of the screen throughout the show, allowing users at home to exercise democracy and Tweet in their comments using the #qanda hastag.
The tweets are chosen by the show’s executive producer, Peter McEvoy and a team of two moderators. One moderator casts their bucket into the live #qanda stream, pulls out a selection of tweets, and the other moderator filters them, McEvoy told the Sydney Morning Herald daily.
“They're looking to find that nugget of gold to go live,” he was quoted as saying.
Over the last month, the show had over 36,000 tweets. Averaging over 7,000 tweets on the day of broadcast, according to the Topsy Twitter search database.
Ben Turner, 23, has been a part of the live audience several times and often watches the show at home.
“The show is great. It’s something that couldn’t happen in a lot of countries. It’s great that we can hear discussions from figures about things that are important to us,” he says.
“My only problem is the Twitter feed they have. Most of the time the comments are too comical or satirical and it doesn’t give people the right of reply.”
"You know if they don't like your Tweets it won't get picked, so there's some censorship."
And this is something David Knox has noticed too.
“TV shows need to be careful about the over use of Twitter and over clutter. Q&A leads the way and it is doing it pretty well, however the show lends itself to humorous tweets, it needs to be careful about trying to put up a punch line all the time,” says Knox.
“I have felt the balance has shifted towards witty tweets, whereas in the early shows, they were more thoughtful.”