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Independent Australia managing editor David Donovan presents his detailed analysis and research about the limited range of views and lack of diversity found on ABC's popular 'Q&A' current affairs panel show.

INDEPENDENT AUSTRALIA STUDY INTO ABC Q&A

ABC's 'adventures in autocracy'

(By David Donovan, Independent Australia, 12 March 2012)

SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

  • Close to 100 per cent of shows have one or more speakers from each of the two major parties (Labor and Liberal).

  • Q&A is evenly balanced in terms of total progressive and conservative politicians.

  • Minor parties and Independents seldom appear on Q&A.

  • About half of all guests are sitting or former politicians.

  • Apart from politicians, the show has an emphasis on guests from the media and entertainment industries.

  • Close to half of all guests reside in Sydney.

  • Capital city residents are over-represented, while regional voices are very underrepresented.

  • As a proportion of population per guest, NSW and Tasmania are significantly over-represented, while Queensland and Western Australia are extremely under-represented.

  • 10 sitting senior Federal MPs have appeared on Q&A 8 times or more

  • 10 sitting senior Federal MPs have never appeared Q&A.

  • Several prominent Australian identities have never been asked to appear on Q&A.

  • Q&A favours certain think tanks over others, with the IPA having 4 staff members making 11 appearances, while no representative from The Australia Institute has ever been seen on Q&A.

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SPECIFIC FINDINGS


1.  THE POLITICAL DIVIDE

An analysis of the political affiliations of the guests on Q&A shows a remarkable consistency. (See Appendix A for a full list of guests by episode). In almost every show, Q&A includes two current sitting Federal MPs – one from Labor, one from Liberal – and one other politician — usually a former Liberal or Labor MP, or more rarely a representative from the Nationals, Greens or an Independent.

In the final analysis, it could be argued that the show has a slightly progressive bias, with Labor and Greens representatives making up a total of 170 of the 680 panellists, while the Coalition has 155.

Figure 1:



However, if one includes the IPA (11) [see Figure 1 above], which generally acts as a Coalition lobby group on Q&A, the strongly conservative country Independent Bob Katter (2) [see Appendix B – Appearances by guest] and former Family First senator Steve Fielding (1) [see Appendix C – Appearances by organisation] the difference becomes 170-169.

(Note: How to class the other Independents (5) is a contentious issue, however this study classes them as neutral — neither conservative nor progressive.)

FINDINGS:

 
  • Close to 100 per cent of shows have one or more speakers from each of the two major parties (Labor and Liberal).

  • Q&A is evenly balanced in terms of total progressive and conservative politicians.

  • Minor parties and Independents seldom appear on Q&A.

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2. THE INSIDER PHENOMENON


An analysis of the primary professions of the guests [see Figure 2] shows that close to half of panellists are sitting or former members of parliament (304 out of 680). This total does not include mayors, councillors, political candidates, or political staffers.

Figure 2:



Apart from politicians, the show favours members of the media, with journalists from News Ltd, Fairfax and the ABC being the most common media guests [see Figure 2].

Comedians and writers round out the top 5 professions included on Q&A.

FINDINGS

 
  • About half of all guests are sitting or former politicians.

  • Apart from politicians, the show has an emphasis on guests from the media and entertainment industries.


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3. SYDNEY OR THE BUSH


Q&A is usually filmed in Ultimo, Sydney, though it does occasionally go on the road. An analysis was done of the guests on Q&A using the best available data in their bios. This was sometimes difficult to obtain, and some guests have no doubt moved around between their appearances on Q&A, something not captured in this study, which only lists one address per individual. Where a residential address was not able to be found, this study used the address of their primary employer or where they usually seem to reside or be in their bio to obtain a place of residence. We hope that this information will be able to be corrected and refined, though we are confident it is within acceptable tolerance thresholds.

Bearing that in mind, it seems around half of all guests on Q&A reside in Sydney [note figure 3].

Figure 3:

In terms of capital cities, Sydney has about a third of the population per guest as compared to Brisbane, and about one-sixth when compared to Perth. Hobart appears to be the most overrepresented city in Australia, having the same number of guests as Perth despite having about one eighth of the population.

Guests from non-capital cities are even more under-represented than Perth, with an average of one Q&A guest per 111,001 people in regional Australia, as compared to one per 14,760 for Sydney.

In terms of the states, the situation is even more stark for Queensland and Western and Australia, with NSW having 4 and 5 times the representation of those states respectively [see Figure 4].

Figure 4:



It is tempting to think that Q&A favour Sydney guests because of cost and convenience considerations — it being easier and cheaper to book guests from Sydney. However, when asked:
‘Is location are factor, given Sydney residents appear to be over-represented, as against guests from other places?’
The Q&A production team replied in the negative:
‘Guests are invited from all over Australia with flights and accommodation covered by the ABC.’
It can only be concluded that the producers of Q&A operate under the Paul Keating maxim: "If you don’t live in Sydney, you’re sleeping rough."

FINDINGS:

 
  • Close to half of all guests reside in Sydney.

  • Capital city residents are over-represented, while regional voices are significantly under-represented.

  • As a proportion of population per guest, NSW and Tasmania are significantly over-represented, while Queensland and Western Australia are very under-represented.

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4. PLAYING FAVOURITES

The study shows that the programme uses an extremely narrow range of talent. Out of the 680 panellists appearing since the show began, only 345 different individuals have appeared — an average of close to two shows per guest. This average is bumped up because some guests have been on the program up to 13 times, including tonight’s guest Tanya Plibersek, despite only becoming a senior minister until December last year. Another guest appearing tonight, Malcolm Turnbull, is making his twelfth appearance on the show [see figure 5].

Figure 5:



IA asked Q&A the following question:
‘You appear to get the same guests on the show over and over again; why are people such as Tanya Plibersek, Bill Shorten and Craig Emerson so attractive as guests, for example?’
Q&A responded as follows:
‘Usually two and sometimes three politicians are included on each panel. The small number of senior politicians inevitably leads to repeat appearances.’
Why it is necessary to have senior politicians on every Q&A is not explained.

In any case, this response does not appear to stand up to scrutiny. Analysis of the Federal Parliament shows that there are a great many politicians who have never appeared on Q&A. Even on the current front bench in both parties there are 10 senior politicians who have never appeared on Q&A [see figure 6].

Figure 6:



For comparison, there are 10 senior politicians who have appeared on Q&A eight times or more [see Figure 5].

Outside of politics, Independent Australia also approached some distinguished Australians to find out if they had been asked to appear on Q&A. IA asked the Australian Conservation Foundation whether prominent environmentalist and executive director Don Henry had ever been asked to appear, and received the following response:
‘Don Henry has never been invited to be on Q & A. Neither has ACF’s president Professor Ian Lowe. Both would welcome the opportunity to go on the program to discuss some of the important environmental and sustainability issues facing the nation.’
We received a similar response world renowned anti-nuclear campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Helen Caldicott:
“I’ve never been asked and would like to be. I find it somewhat stimulating, but a limited range of topics is discussed.”
It appears the producers also have their favourites when it comes to “thinktanks”, with the free marketeering IPA topping the list with 4 different panellists and 11 appearances in total (not including appearances by former staff members) [see figure 7].

Figure 7: Think tank representation on Q&A:



Meanwhile, prominent progressive think tank The Australia Institute has never featured on Q&A, despite TAI’s current head Dr Richard Denniss debating Lord Christopher Monckton about climate change at the National Press Club last year and its former head being prominent author and intellectual Professor Clive Hamilton.

“As the director of Australia’s largest progressive think tank I am sure the producers of Q&A will have me on one day,” said Dr Denniss in a statement provided to Independent Australia.

“Given the Institute’s research into the impact of the mining boom, climate change, tax reform, superannuation and the role of government in the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine they don’t think we’d have something to say about the big issues.”

FINDINGS:

 
  • 10 sitting senior Federal MPs have appeared on Q&A 8 times or more

  • 10 sitting senior Federal MPs have never appeared Q&A.

  • Several prominent Australian identities have never been asked to appear on Q&A.

  • Q&A favours certain think tanks over others, with the IPA having 4 staff members making 11 appearances, while no representative from The Australia Institute has ever been seen on Q&A.

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APPENDIX A

List of guests on ABC Q&A since inception: http://independentaustralia.net/wordpress-opt/wp-content/2012/03/App-A-Guests-on-QA-since-inception.pdf

APPENDIX B

Appearances by guest: http://independentaustralia.net/wordpress-opt/wp-content/2012/03/App-B-Guests-alpha-collated.pdf

APPENDIX C

Appearances by organisation interest: http://independentaustralia.net/wordpress-opt/wp-content/2012/03/App-C-Organisations_full.pdf

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
 

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