On Monday night I saw another nail in the coffin of quality journalism on the ABC.
It was what could risibly be called an interview between former federal Liberal MP, Julia Banks, and 7.30’s Laura Tingle.
Ms Banks, who resigned from the Liberal Party and sat as an independent after Malcolm Turnbull was ousted by the party room and then went on to run against Greg Hunt in Flinders during the 2019 election, has written a book “Power Play” about her claimed experiences.
An excerpt of her book appeared in the Nine Newspapers’ Good Weekend magazine on Saturday, July 3, where she laid out a litany of uncorroborated allegations of sexism, bullying and misogyny including one account when a cabinet minister allegedly ran his hand up her thigh while at a function in the Prime Minister’s office.
It is clear from reading the excerpt that Ms Banks has little time for Prime Minister Scott Morrison and some of her former (male) colleagues.
And that is fair enough. It is her memoir and she can write what she likes and The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age can choose to run any excerpt it chooses to sell its paper.
And that brings us to Monday’s “interview” by Laura Tingle.
The actual “interview” lasted 18 minutes and covered much the same ground as Good Weekend excerpt.
In that time Ms Tingle gave free rein to Ms Banks and barely interrupted her monologue of grievance, in particular attacking Prime Minster Morrison, with a question.
Ms Tingle’s interview was more akin to a barrister leading a client through their evidence.
The first slab of the monologue from the start of the interview lasted for 7.5 minutes before Ms Tingle asked why Ms Banks decided to leave parliament. Her next answer went uninterrupted for 3.15 minutes before a question, the next for 3.20 and the last for two minutes.
In all Ms Banks spoke for 15 minutes of the 18 minute pre-recorded interview with barely a question from Ms Tingle. It was a free-kick for Ms Banks to say what she wished.
I am not a fan of “gotcha” journalism or the constant harrying of an interviewee by a journalist. It gets no one anywhere and rarely elicits and useful information.
However, this interview needed insightful questions asking Ms Banks to verify her accounts, to extract detail rather than blindly accepting her allegations.
Remember this is different to the publication of a memoir’s extract; this was an interview by what is meant to be the preeminent current affairs programme in the country.
The “interview” is emblematic of the fall of current affairs journalism on 7.30 which now resorts to tabloid TV empty chair stunts to try and bully subjects into interviews.
Uncritical acceptance of a person’s story would be better placed in the ABC’s Australian Story rather than on a current affairs programme.
Watching the interview it was clear that Ms Tingle accepted uncritically Ms Bank’s version of events.
Her job should have been to test some of these claims, not give them free rain.
As I watched I was reminded of an election campaign I was involved in where I was working with the ABC on free time statements for the Liberal Party where the broadcast is topped with “Here is a broadcast by XYZ for the Liberal Party of Australia for the X year election” and tailed with “Authorised by XYZ for the Liberal Party Canberra.”
During this particular election, we produced an “interview” style question and answer session with the leader for broadcast which was within the guidelines.
However, the ABC rejected it saying it was similar in style to an ABC interview and it may confuse people who listened and who may think it was the ABC going soft on the opposition leader, or worse endorsing him. We had to recut the broadcast.
It struck me that 7.30 should have put a similar top and tail on this “interview.”
It should have been topped “Here is a broadcast by Julia Banks for herself promoting her book Power Play” and tailed with “Authorised by Julia Banks for Julia Banks.”
This pre-recorded “interview” should not have gone to air in its unquestioning format. The fact it did indicts the programme and leaves it open to claims of issues partisanship where selected issues are aired unquestioningly.
Ms Banks has every right to make her case and say what she wishes.
The ABC on the other has a duty to question; not to give free rein to political positions in the guise of current affairs interviews.
It abjectly failed in this on Monday night.
The full interview is available from the ABC. Judge for yourself.
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