Features Australia

ABC Breakfast lacks any sizzle

It’s like Sunrise without the cow

27 March 2021

9:00 AM

27 March 2021

9:00 AM

It was a ghastly week. Home alone – that’s not the ghastly bit – I had to descend the stairs to make my morning cup of tea – and, no, that’s not the ghastly bit either.

I sat at the table in the family room and decided to turn on the TV. It’s an old set we inherited from my mum, but we lost the remote control in the move. I can turn it on and off but the channel is stuck on ABC 2.

For this reason, I had to endure day after day of ABC News Breakfast. Mind you, it completely puts you off your breakfast.

Hosted by smarmy Michael Rowland and chipper Lisa Millar, it ranges from being a complete disgrace in journalistic terms to trivial reporting that would fit in very well on commercial television.

Why anyone would be interested in a cat café in Darwin is anyone’s guess. And what about the coverage of actor Idris Elba doing an informal gig in Sydney – care factor: low to zero.

One aspect of the show that constantly raised my blood pressure was the continuous insertion of short, sneering, anti-government responses to stories of the day, particularly by Michael Rowland. You know the sort of thing – the brief aside telling us what the hosts really think.

There was the story about some of the difficulties getting the Covid vaccine rollout up and running. At the end of the story, which included some measured comments by Health Minister Greg Hunt, Rowland turns to the camera and ironically declares ‘just teething problems’.

It’s as if he winked. He was telling the audience that I’m a member of the green-left tribe you belong to – with very few exceptions – and don’t think for a minute I believe anything the Coalition government says. (Let’s not forget his shameful coverage of the recent US election.)

It was exactly the same with the Women4Justice marches. Notwithstanding being male, white and privileged (he has been with the ABC for well over a decade), his line was clear: the government is misogynistic and has no policies to assist women. Wink, wink.

Another dreary aspect of News Breakfast is the extraordinary amount of promotion of other ABC programs carried every day. At one stage – I hadn’t finished my tea – I considered working out the proportion of airtime taken up with this indulgent cross-promotion.

Take it from me, it’s a big number. It rather puts paid to the notion that the ABC doesn’t carry advertising – it’s forever advertising its own products, be they other TV programs, radio programs, on-line articles or podcasts.

Talking about advertising, there is also a massive amount of free promotion going on in terms of the ‘experts’ chosen. Evan Lucas, donned in floral shirt and stripy socks, works for a private company, InvestSmart, and is a regular commentator on financial matters.

Mind you, it’s just as well because the ABC News Breakfast’s finance journalist, Madeleine Morris, doesn’t seem to understand financial matters very well. But she has written a whole book on bottle feeding babies.

During my ghastly week, there were thankfully relatively few throws to obscure academics from obscure universities providing gratuitous and almost always green-left opinions on the topics of the day.

By contrast, during the Covid crisis, those poor quality Zoom deliveries were de rigueur, particularly if the obscure academic was prattling along the preferred ABC lines – be afraid, enormous number of deaths, more lockdowns, border closures, higher government spending, etc.

More generally, it’s worth thinking about the ‘experts’ that are chosen by the ABC because it is a sure-fire way for these experts to benefit, both commercially and in other ways.

The women from Equity Economics have been getting a run lately and Dr Liz Allen of the ANU is the ABC’s demographer of choice, notwithstanding her unrelenting support of Big Australia and use of colourful (non-academic) language.

Marcus Padley of the Marcus Padley Newsletter was a favourite on ABC local radio in Melbourne.

Talking about floral shirts and stripy socks, the sartorial sense of the weather man, Matt, on ABC News Breakfast plumbed new depths as the week wore on. Again, his knowledge of the specialist topic seemed very thin, although he is a firm believer in climate change – of course.

And there’s always the cracking of lame jokes with the whole team chuckling along – hilarious. When the sports reporter declared that his nickname is Cuddles, the on-screen response resembled a group of kindergarten children reacting to a fart joke. It was like Sunrise without the cow.

I guess that’s what $1 billion plus of taxpayer monies delivers.

But here’s the real rub: the ABC claims to be the most trusted source of news in the country. It has surveys to prove it. Yes, Minister-type surveys, to be sure, with a series of leading questions and attempts to shame the respondents into giving politically correct answers.

The central unanswered question for the ABC is that, if it is the case that the ABC is the most trusted source of news, why are its ratings so poor and falling? Fewer viewers are tuning into the 7 o’clock news on television and 7.30 is much less popular than was once the case.

The ratings for the excruciating and boring Q&A were so low its timeslot had to be moved.

This is where the important work on the ABC undertaken by the Menzies Research Centre comes in. Instead of falling for what statisticians called ‘elicitation bias’, the commissioned survey simply asked respondents what they would be prepared to pay to watch/hear/read the output of the ABC.

The key result was that 80 per cent of respondents would not be prepared to pay anything for the ABC if it were a streaming service, akin to Netflix. Of those who were prepared to pay something, the average contribution came to just under $3 per month.

Unsurprisingly, two-thirds of respondents thought that the ABC is more left-wing than right-wing. They wouldn’t be wrong.

The conclusion I came to from my ghastly week of watching ABC News Breakfast while I drank my tea is that the television set has to go. Come the next hard rubbish collection, that’s where it will be – sitting on the nature strip waiting to be crushed.

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