Q&A can be one of the most stimulating and informative shows on television – but not very often.
The ABC’s flagship panel discussion program offers a forum for reasonably lengthy discussion on important subjects ranging from the existence of God to the impact of social media on society.
All too often, however, the show is a political platform that does little to further debate, instead offering combatants the chance to engage in a trench warfare of abuse and pre-determined talking points.
A typical panel will see Labor, Coalition and Greens/Independent Parliamentarians slugging it out over the issues of the week.
Unfortunately, those issues seem to be the same every week. Immigration, gay marriage and Labor leadership seem to be the hot-button topics to which the discussion always returns.
Unfortunately, when you have panellists who are locked into a policy position, the debate inevitably regresses into name-calling and platitudes. That’s great for political cheerleaders in the audience and at home, not so good for the rest of us.
Regular guests like Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Opposition ‘chunderkind’ Christopher Pine are symptomatic of the problems with Q&A and politics in general. The former is the sort of uninspiring leader who breeds apathy, the latter a sniping political animal who breeds antipathy.
Unfortunately, the other guests on the panel tend to be ideologues who stick to predictable lines of thought on most issues.
How refreshing it would be to hear the token artist/actor/author demanding that asylum seeker boats be turned back. Maybe the man in the suit from the Institute of Public Affairs could shock us all by supporting same sex marriage?
Unfortunately, most of the guests tend to be locked-into a left/right point-of-view that sees them back ‘their’ side no matter what the issue.
By far the best Q&A this year was the Easter Monday God v Science debate that pitted Catholic Cardinal George Pell with professional atheist Richard Dawkins.
Host Tony Jones led a lively discussion between two passionate and intelligent men, without the need for party lines or (too much) grand-standing.
It was no coincidence that this was one of the highest rating Q&As for the year.
If the question was ‘do people want smarter debates with less politics?’, the answer seems to be a resounding ‘yes’.
– Danny Buttler