Q&A is one of the ABC’s flagship programs – generating a lot of kudos and occasionally some controversy for the national broadcaster. Since it started it has featured some of the country’s smartest people talking about some of our biggest issues. It regularly helps set the news agenda for any given week.
It is also, bad for democracy.
The format is pretty simple – host Tony Jones leads five other people in an hour-long discussion about issues of the day. Questions can come from a live audience or from people who have submitted online.
The problem for Q&A is how it structures its panels.
Since it began in 2008 Q&A has aired 94 episodes. Only four those episodes have featured a panel entirely devoid of politicians. A massive 96.75% of episodes have featured one or more politicians (or former pollies) on the panel.
And tonight kicks off in a similar vein with two prominent former politicians included.
The messages this sends is pretty clear – all issues need political solutions. An informed citizenry can’t solve problems on its own.
Too much of our daily lives are framed by expectations that politicians ‘will fix it.’ Too often we look to politicians – and just to politicians – to solve our problems. Q&A reinforces this.
I wouldn’t suggest politicians don’t appear at all, or even that politicians don’t appear on a significant number of episodes. But once you invite one politician on, you invariably have to invite someone from the other side on to balance things out. And political dialogue is a very particular kind of dialogue that isn’t always suited to illuminating a topic inside the space of an hour.
So here’s a humble suggestion, Q&A. Instead of only having one episode out of every 25 as a pollie free zone, how about you aim for one in every four. I’m sure people would watch the show if the episodes featuring politician panellists dropped from almost 97% of the total to just 75%.
It’s important to hear from our political leaders, and that we get to question them about the issues of the day. But Q&A could play a bigger role encouraging broader social discourse if it refrained from taking the easy option when putting together its panels. Let’s hear from more business leaders, more young people, more writers, more internet entrepeneurs about their thoughts on solutions to our problems. It will actually help imp[rove our democratic discourse.