Flat White

ABC 7.30: ‘Underwhelming – on any measure’

1 June 2021

5:00 PM

1 June 2021

5:00 PM

High paid ABC TV current affairs presenter, Leigh Sales, likes nothing more than rattling off carefully compiled, pre-prepared questions to federal Coalition ministers but, curiously, not allowing the ministers to answer them.

While interviewing” Health Minister Greg Hunt last week on the subject of Covid vaccination rates, Sales spoke over the Minister to make the unqualified claim that Australia’s performance is underwhelming — on any measure.”

A failed Sales’ zinger perhaps?  Hard to tell. 

What isn’t hard to tell is that Sales appears to have had no intention of providing air-time to the Minister to respond to her cynical provocations.  She scolds ministers when they don’t come on the show — and routinely talks over them when they do.

Sales overlooked to add to her Coalition Covid management scorecard that Australia is the envy of the world over the nation’s very low infection rates and our strong, effective national management processes. 

Worse than this omission, Sales at no point referenced the abject failure of the incompetent government in Victoria — which in 2020 directly led to more than 800 of the 910 deaths in Australia.   It is Victorian Labor health ministers (there have been two in under a year), the Premier, advisers and departmental officials who carry to shame of what happened last year and its lethal consequence.

Several senior figures in the Victorian health hierarchy have now departed — but once again Victoria is plunged into a fourth sudden, shocking and economically catastrophic lockdown – further throwing the spotlight on the calamity that is Victoria’s administration.  Sales blames only the federal government. 

Meanwhile, political editor at Nine Newspapers, Peter Hartcher, also slammed into the PM in a weekend piece headed: PM’s complacency is infectious.’  The failings by both SA Health and the Victorian Health Department are the fault of the Prime Minister, he arguedin a piece based solely it appears on an interview with former health secretary, Jane Halton.

The Andrews Labor government knew it was heading into the Covid-19 nightmare with a contact tracing ‘system’ better suited to 19th-century public health management. This proved to be the case, but no mention of any of this by Sales or Hartcher.  Because both are ‘national’ reporters they go for the big players — whether justified or not. 

In her staccato, interrupted interview with Hunt, Sales went for the jugular on two fronts:  vaccination rates (for the elderly in particular) and what she claims is the Commonwealth’s tardiness in authorising more remote quarantine facilities. 

All this, on the very day Victorians went into a seven-day lockdown for the fourth time, trashing businesses, employment prospects, the mental health and well-being of young and older people and the creation of more chaos and more uncertainty.  Sales spoke as if the Federal Government was solely to blame for the tragedy unfolding in the State — not that she spoke with any empathy for Victorians. 

Her performance in this interview was partisan, pedestrian and plainly — for all to see — unprofessional.  Sales confrontational contortions were not informative, were not edifying and did not resemble the high standards of journalism the ABC was once known for.

The Hunt interview was not a one off.   Sales has form in treating publicly elected officeholders with overt disdain. Whether politicians are or aren’t worthy of our trust is for voters to determine, not ABC presenters, however omnipotent they may regard themselves.  Sales wants to tell viewers what to think, not how to make up their minds on the facts. 

Another attempted zinger from Sales was this charmer: “Whose head is going to roll? Yours, or Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck’s?” Very classy, Leigh. We all know that Sales’ on-air antics will not be reigned in, nor will she be censured by anyone at the Corporation. Her brand of disrespectful, abrasive engagement will continue while she sits in arrogant judgement over others. 

Try giving audience feedback to the ABC. Our billion-dollar broadcaster could not give a tinker’s about your views or mine. Giving comment, feedback and or suggestions to those behind the logo is an exercise in futility.

I’ve tried hard with the ABC. I want ABC TV news and current affairs to succeed and to attain the credibility and world-class output produced by its Radio National cousin. ABC Radio National is, in the main, outstanding.

My hopes for better from ABC TV seem forlorn if audiences are going to be continually subjected to the trash that passes for journalism on ABC television current affairs programs.

Finally, after almost nine months of searching and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers money spent, the ABC will shortly welcome three new directors to its board.  

It’s to be hoped these three, at least, might encourage the corporation’s current affairs folk to treat their audiences with intelligence and respect.  

Until such time as this occurs, it is clear ABC 7.30 will remain underwhelming — on any measure.

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

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