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Q&A cleared on impartiality

2015-07-01_1623

An independent panel reviewing Q&A has cleared the ABC programme on Impartiality but has made a lengthy list of recommendations including on the make-up of panelists, gender imbalance, location of broadcasts and Live Twitter use.

ABC again confirmed Q&A will move from ABC Television to the ABC’s News Division in early 2016. while the News management will develop a detailed response to the recommendations.

Former SBS boss Shaun Brown and journalist Ray Martin did not specifically re-visit the issue of Zaky Mallah’s appearance, in the Review which was commissioned before the broadcast. But it did look at 23 episodes from Feb 2 – June 29, 2015 amid a backdrop of an “emotion-charged national divide.”

They concluded, despite some shortcomings, that Q&A was “a responsible, professional production that strives to meet the standards expected of it by the ABC and by the wider community.”

“The most commonly expressed criticism is that the program lacks impartiality and maintains a left wing anti-Coalition bias. We believe, after close analysis, this general impression is not substantiated,” they said.

“We have concluded that, to a substantial degree, the persistent challenging of the Government of the day is not only inevitable but also desirable. Q&A functions not only as an arm of the Fourth Estate, with its attendant responsibilities to hold accountable those who exercise power, but it is also an important conduit for direct public participation in that process.

“Government representatives, usually highly capable, senior Cabinet members, have much more time on Q&A than anyone else to answer the criticisms.”

But it found there were fewer female panelists than men and those that were selected were asked fewer questions and permitted far less time to speak. Broadcasting nearly all the programs from ABC Sydney undermined the program’s claim to represent “democracy in action”. It recommended more panelists under the age of 35, more older audience members and more Green / Independent politicians. It also suggests the show be Live on News 24 to enable more representative social media opinions.

But producers made an error of judgement in the June 18 episode immediately following the screening of Between a Frock and a Hard Place when Rev. Fred Nile was the only opponent to same sex marriage on the panel -however his “fundamentalist views on marriage equality did not adequately represent the range of opinions held by other opponents of this proposed reform.”

Elsewhere it found that while Tony Jones interjections and asides “are appropriate and effective, adding piquancy to the discussions without being disruptive or intrusive” it did caution that the moderator should be careful not to exceed the boundaries of the role.

Recommendations:

Panel Composition
1. A greater level of representation of politicians from the Greens and Independent/Others parties should be present on panels.
2. Q&A should achieve a greater diversity of perspectives among its overseas guests by inviting on to panels a greater number of Conservative leaning visitors.
3. Theprogramshouldachievehigherlevelsoffemale representation among political panelists and in particular among those representing the Government.
4. The composition of Q&A panels should not routinely feature more men than women.
5. Consideration should be given to a modest increase in the number of panelists aged 35 and under.
6. Regardless of the practical difficulties involved Q&A can only satisfy Editorial Policy 4.2 by sourcing panelists from across Australia. Elsewhere we recommend that more episodes of Q&A be broadcast from locations outside of Sydney. If adopted, that will facilitate the selection of a broader range of panelists.

Moderation of Discussions
7. A set of Program Principles should be agreed between Q&A and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, define the role of the moderator. It should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.
8. The focus on Government should be moderated so as to permit other issues and non-Government panelists to receive a greater share of questions and speaking time.
9. The moderator should ensure women are equally involved in the Secondary phase of questions and answers.
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.

Questions
11.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.
12.Consistent with the requirement to present a diversity of perspectives, more questions should be selected from the over- 35 age group.
13.The ABC should commit to broadcasting Q&A from the fullest possible range of locations across Australia.
14.Repeat questioners should be allowed only on an exceptional basis.
15.A set of Q&A Program Principles should be agreed between the program and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, details how the program intends to select its questioners and what protocols it will adopt in this regard to ensure the standards set by the ABC Editorial Policies are met. The Program Principles should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.

Studio Audiences
16.The age profile of the studio audience should be adjusted by including more attendees from the over-35 age group.
17.The ABC should commit to broadcasting Q&A from the fullest possible range of locations across Australia.
18.A set of Q&A Program Principles should be agreed between the program and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, details how the program intends to select its audiences and what protocols it will adopt in this regard to ensure the standards set by the ABC Editorial Policies are met. The Program Principles should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.

Twitter Stream
19.Q&A should be simulcast on ABC News 24 to ensure national participation on the program’s social media platforms.
20.More of the questions asked on Q&A should be sourced from Twitter and Facebook.
21.Q&A should exercise care in the selection of comments for the twitter stream to ensure negativity towards politics in general and in particular to the government of the day are not disproportionately represented.
22.A set of Q&A Program Principles should be agreed between the program and ABC editorial management that, among other matters, details how the program intends to select comments to be included in its twitter stream and what protocols it will adopt in this regard to ensure the standards set by the ABC Editorial Policies are met. The Program Principles should be a public document, displayed on the Q&A website.

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