I have a confession to make.
I’m giving up on Q&A.
Yes – I know it’s the ABC’s flagship talk show. I know it’s all about giving different views a hearing. About that all-Australian virtue of giving each other ‘a fair go’.
But it never fails to make me angry. And sick.
Q&A has this aura of respectability and seriousness. As its
About page states, Q&A is hosted by one the ABC’s most respected journalists – Tony Jones.
But every time I watch it, I can’t get over how deliberately it’s been set up to amplify conflict. And ultimately how it plays to the worst elements in contemporary media culture.
All of which has got me thinking about the deep connections between our modern Western notions of fairness — the distinctively Australian “egalitarian and larrikin spirit” boasted of on Q&A’s About page — and the way we’re increasingly held hostage to the sound bit and the scandal.
The aspirations of ‘serious journalism’ are well-known — and easy enough to sympathise with: present both sides of the story, give everyone a hearing, don’t jump to conclusions.
And such aspirations have traditionally been opposed to the stomach-churning stuff that typically dominates the tabloids — manufactured drama and conflict, rumour and innuendo, or playing up anything that might give a hook for a story (‘Wow – does Celebrity X’s choice of loose-fitting clothes conceal a baby bump?’).
But Q&A manages to bring them both together.
In doing so, I wonder if it’s the perfect apotheosis of our media culture?
Does Q&A expose the inner unity of the journalistic drive towards ‘fairness’ and the tabloid impulse towards ratings?
And hold up a mirror to the ugliness in our hearts in the process?
Or maybe that’s too dramatic…