Flat White

A is for arrogant, B is for boring and C is for contemptible

10 May 2021

6:35 PM

10 May 2021

6:35 PM

Over a year ago I wrote that ABC TV current affairs was in trouble and drifting badly.

The people, policies and practices causing the decline in standards inside ABC TV — and the absence of proper current affairs journalism — appear to have got worse.  Much worse. 

With the easily observed decline in television current affairs standards has been a commensurate rise in the arrogant demeanour of presenters and their guests.

Nothing says ‘end of the line’ for current affairs TV quite so much as the absurdly stilted nightly panel talk showThe Drum. The only research involved in this artificial edifice are the talking points supplied by hassled production staff to the anchor.

Also struggling are the supposed heavyweight panel show Q&A conducted by maestro Hamish McDonald and the oh so dull 7.30 presented (mostly) by Leigh Sales.  National audience figures remain desultory for all three of these taxpayer-funded offerings but still the ABC persists with mediocrity dressed as professional journalism.

Any show that attempts to ‘entertain’ an audience for an hour, five nights a week had better be good. The Drum consistently and spectacularly falls short of this objective.  

It’s a confusing production mostly involving five carefully selected advocates for this ‘policy’ outcome or that ‘social‘ objective.  The ‘social objective’ is assumed to be virtuous and the show fails hopelessly to represent the diversity of views which its producers claim.   Frequently, panelists are invited to comment on matters about which they have zero knowledge or little apparent interest.  The ABC calls this journalism. 

The ‘darling’ panelists of the show appear with remarkable regularity ensuring ‘reliable’ contributions to whatever ‘line’ the ABC production team and the trusty anchor have pre-determined for ‘our’ edification.

“When it matters to you, it matters to us,” extols the latest lame ABC TV promos.

We all know that’s rubbish! Try this version for ABC-think “If we think it should matter to you (the voters), we’ll make sure it does.”   

Given the parlous state of current affairs journalism at the national broadcaster,  it’s no wonder so much of our dosh is spent telling us it’s good for our brains when it is so obviously more brainwashing than professional journalism.

Of the main presenters — Julia Baird and Ellen Fanning (there’s a long list of stand-in presenters) — the latter wins the award for blatantly ‘leading the witness.’ Fanning’s ‘trait commun’ is to conclude her frequent interventions with the word, “right” – thus imploring the audience (and panel members) to her viewpoint.  

This show demeans the intelligence of the show’s dwindling audience and reflects a determination to ‘push an agenda’, which of course is no stranger to the national broadcaster.  ABC radio current affairs equally, is not immune from this malady, but at least consistently outperforms its TV cousins. 

The Drum airs nationally across Australia, live from the ABC’s HQ in Sydney (of course) with a special ‘week in review’ episode broadcast on Saturday evening. It is also streamed live on iView, and broadcast in over 40 countries across the Asia/Pacific region on the ABC’s international channel, ABC Australia.

The program, we’re told, brings together a panel of prominent ‘experts’ and high-profile opinion-leaders to discuss the key issues “gripping or confounding Australia.”

Note the focus in this promo ‘flim-flam‘ stating ‘experts’ and ‘high profile opinion leaders’ are preferred as panelists. Bunkum!

Social media or repeated television appearances do not bestow wisdom.  It may bring familiarity but not wisdom as The Drum appears determined to remind viewers with every passing episode.   

Regular panelists include Jane Caro (‘social influencer’), Dee Madigan (advertising guru and Labor campaigner), John Hewson (former MP), Wesley Enoch (Australian playwright and artistic director), Kate Carnell (quango head), along with others.

It’s well known that social agitators and catastrophists who regularly appear on news/current affairs shows, do so because they’re selling an idea, a policy, an ideology or perhaps more prosaically a book, social media platform or just themselves.   

That the ABC — which is not permitted to advertise under its Charter — should so overtly allow regular air time to people pushing agendas underscores just how far the organisation has drifted from the ideals under which it was created. 

The Drum is five hours of space filler cloaked as something bigger.   It’s not professional, it’s not representative and it’s not journalism.  

Why call it current affairs television when it so obviously isn’t? A is for arrogant. B is for boring. C is for contemptible — and M for money wasting.   

In this latter quest, the ABC has no peers. 

John Simpson is a company director and former ABC radio and television journalist.

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