Flat White

The(ir) ABC’s gimmicky gotcha budget broadcast

7 October 2020

9:42 AM

7 October 2020

9:42 AM

In her post-budget interview with Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, ABC 7.30 anchor, Leigh Sales, seriously embarrassed herself and her viewers.

Sales aggressively pushed the Treasurer on the ‘debt and deficit’ politics of the budget after having given the most cursory look at the budget itself.  

Budget analysis was virtually absent: no attempt to understand the tax cuts, no attempt to understand the stimulus measures to create jobs and zero commentary or questions by Sales on support for the frail and elderly or on support for mental health and well-being.

Not once, twice, but three times Sales attempted to have the Treasurer say he had backflipped in his ‘back in the black’ budget promise of a year ago. This bleedingly obvious political reality hardly warranted the considerable time and energy Sales gave it.   

What Sales was hoping to achieve by her puerile pursuit of Frydenberg on this point is hard to say. Sales has form in this style of interviewing. Frequent unnecessary interrupting of interviewees (a hallmark of the Sales interview) is presumably designed to make her appear gutsy and intrepid.  In fact, this approach has the opposite effect making her appear unconfident and foolish.

The Treasurer remained calm and composed throughout the post-Budget interview — despite at one point gently telling Sales that it was ‘she’ that was being ‘cynical.’

In doggedly pursuing her pre-determined line of questioning Sales completely missed the atmospherics of this Budget. It was as if she, and the ABC, were utterly blind to the extent of the economic, social and community impacts catalysed by Covid-19.  

If the presenter had actually listened to the delivery of the Budget – really listened to it – she might have been alert to the gravity of Australia’s economic position; to the impact on jobs, business and livelihoods and of course – on the mental health of so many.

Too many ABC TV journalists speak as if they are somehow removed or separate from those in the community about whom they’re reporting. 

Sales was joined by her so-called ‘panel of experts’ Andrew Probyn, Laura Tingle and David Spears — not one of whom is employed by the ABC as an economic reporter. All cover federal politics but none exclusively the economy.   

For the ABC, if it comes out of Canberra it must be about politics. Nothing else matters and besides, politics is so much easier to report.

It is to the national broadcaster’s significant shame that ABC TV appears not to have a single full-time employee who can competently cover the economy — especially at this time of economic upheaval.

There are highly competent business and economics reporters in both radio and online platforms.

Alan Kohler has a contract to cover market activity but does not break economic stories.

As far as viewers are concerned, it seems ABC TV has all but vacated coverage of the economy in any meaningful way — and at Budget time this deficiency is all too apparent. 

Fortunately, the reliable and informative economist Chris Richardson was available to provide some useful economic insights to the debt and deficit budget we saw tonight that will influence our economy for years to come.

Richardson made the point that it’s the nation’s capacity to repay the debts currently being created that really matters — and he reported our capacity to pay is sound, notwithstanding the immense post coronavirus challenges Australia faces. 

At this moment of national crisis seen through the prism of this budget is it asking too much for someone, anyone at ABC television, to treat its audience with some respect and intelligence.

The broadcaster’s mindless pursuit of political minutiae at the expense of rigorous, professional and informed analysis of something as critical as our national Budget tells us there is something deeply amiss in ABC television current affairs. It has, it seems, reached a point where it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. 

It’s noteworthy there was nothing on the upside in the 2020 Budget for the ABC. Last night showed this decision to be well placed. 

John Simpson is a Melbourne company director.

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