Prolific media consumer Hugo Kelly is not happy with what’s being dished up our weekend broadcasters.

It doesn’t take courage and conviction to get Bronwyn on telly. She’d dive into Channel 31’s fishcam, if only they’d get a larger tank. There she was yesterday, talking up a war with Saddam, a vision in battlefield canary yellow.

Why does Channel Nine bother with this washed-up blue-rinse Liberal? Does she have something on Kerry Packer? Maybe she’s donated some of her Steel-O hairdo towards a hair transplant for the great man?

Bronwyn’s appearance on the Nine Network’s flagship current affairs program shows how low the television infotainment genre has sunk. On Sunday we have too many TV preachers, too much cheap talk. Too much chatter and not enough television.

The Working Dog crew have a lot to answer for. Ever since the Panel took off on Network Ten, having been first rejected by the genius crew at Seven, endless waffle has become the course de jour for unimaginative producers in search of cheap TV. But a visual medium needs more than a few talking heads to pass muster.

So, when Sunday’s news-breaking investigative reporters are away on assignment, the show treads water with interminable panel discussions about interminable issues, like the Middle East.

Or as moderator Helen Dalley put it to viewers yesterday: “Our very special forum on the vexed question facing Australia: should we join forces with the US in a first strike against Iraq?”

Bronwyn appeared to answer this question with a panel of more than a dozen “experts”, from fresh-faced NSW Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, to Mossad’s man in Australia, Colin Rubenstein, to Keysar Trad, an Army chaplain and member of the Lebanese Muslim association.

Rubenstein, the Australia-Israel Review editor, represented the Israel lobby with his usual gusto and gall. Colin’s credibility has been battered lately. Most recently, he deliberately misrepresented the views of an eminent scholar over the massacre of refugees in camps at Sabra and Shatila by Lebanese militia under the direction of Ariel Sharon.

And, of course, you can’t hold a Sunday TV panel discussion without Piers Akerman. It’s a sad Sunday when you have to change channels to get away from Piers – only to see him pop up on another show. While he was yacking away on Barrie Cassidy’s Insiders for the ABC, he was taking part in Helen Dalley’s pre-recorded war on terror gabfest.

He wasn’t making much sense on either show. Here’s an exchange with Dalley, as he tries to pump up John Howard’s record on refugees:

PIERS: “We’re welcoming refugees from Iraq and Iran…”

HELEN: “You’re welcoming them are you Piers? You personally! I hadn’t noticed that in your columns.”

PIERS: “We’re not talking about illegal immigrants here…”

HELEN: “Aaah.”

Will no one rid me of this meddlesome Piers? We don’t get up at 8am on Sunday, but I’m sure he was gasbagging with Michael Pascoe about the troubles plaguing Coles-Myer on Nine’s Business Sunday.

On the Sunday forum, it was media-savvy career diplomat and former Unscom Chief, Richard Butler, who stole the show with a clear-eyed analysis of why sanctions have failed and Saddam poses a disturbing threat, even in far-away Australia.

Butler: “The greatest threat against the non-proliferation regimes in nuclear, chemical and biology that exists today is the regime of Saddam Hussein. And we are threatened by that.”

And further: “I want to say on record. I was 30 years in diplomacy and I saw some horrible things, from Cambodia to Baghdad. I’ve never seen anything more wicked in my life than Saddam Hussein’s preference for weapons of mass destruction as against the welfare of 22 million Iraqis. Because that’s the trade-off he made.”

And on the sanctions that the Left blames for killing Iraqi children: “The law says that if he gave over the weapons, sanctions would go immediately.”

Why is it that the argument for dismantling Saddam’s regime sounds so much stronger in the hands of Butler, than coming from people like Bronwyn Bishop and Alexander Downer?

Maybe it’s the way Lex Loser mispronounces Saddam’s lethal cache as “weapons of mass distraction.”

Meanwhile, that tabloid weapon of mass distraction, Piers Akerman, was tackling another John Howard acolyte, the federal sex discrimination commissioner, Pru Goward, who also appeared on Insiders. How’s this for a first-up exchange:

PIERS: Pru, Piers Ackerman. You made the rather hysterical remark that breast cancer was linked to the lack of child support the other day…

PRU: I did not say that and I think you should get your quote correct.

PIERS: I’m sorry, your remark was that the early return to work hindered breast-feeding and that increased breast cancer.

PRU: I’m not going to argue with the medical evidence, Piers.

PIERS: A number of doctors have come out through this weekend and have said it is rubbish. My question is this – making this outrageous statements, is this a prelude to a political career for yourself?

And so it went.

Insiders regular, Age Canberra reporter Annabel Crabb, also appeared on the show alongside Age CEO Greg Hywood. Their exchanges revealed that she agrees with her boss – who agrees with her. Which is nice for them, but not riveting television.

They agreed that the Howard administration was isolationist. They agreed Simon Crean deserved three cheers for thinking of taking the Iraq standoff to the UN. There was lots of nodding, and Greg revealed he still pines for the Keating years, when he was a senior Press Gallery member. What we need, he told viewers, is more economic rationalism. Get rid of CPI increases for health funds, and get into some old-fashioned microeconomic reform.

For her part, Annabel is becoming a multimedia personality to rival Stephen Mayne. It’s a wonder she finds time to write for the Age. This morning, she turned up on 3AK, chatting politics with Derryn Hinch. Watch out Annabel, Derryn has a roving eye…

His current squeeze is his “manager”, the busty Marina Paul. Her previous job description was Derryn’s “producer”. A former colleague describes her as an A-Grade panic merchant whose natural response to a hint of pressure was to start yelling at the nearest bystander.

Anyone silly enough to tune in this morning got a blow-by-blow account of Derryn’s Saturday night, spent watching his beloved Melbourne Football Club. Seems Marina managed to score a seat in a corporate box, but Derryn lucked out. So, settling down in front of the TV with a flagon of red for the delayed broadcast, he made do with regular updates from Marina at the MCG. Trouble was, the game was such a see-saw event that Derryn got very confused and – what with all the red wine – was subsequently flummoxed and upset when his team lost, when Marina at the ground had given him to expect a win.

It’s good to see the chaos that infuses Hinch’s morning show continues when Derryn and Marina sign off at midday and head down to the Flower Drum for their regular long lunch.

Over at 3AW, fellow Melbourne supporter Neil Mitchell was taking his disappointment out on soccer fans. They had been misbehaviour in a local game on the weekend, and nothing like a soccer riot to get a shock-jock pumping.

Amazingly, Mitchell actually had a breaking news story on the show today, not that it had anything to do with Neil. State roundsman, Craig Wilson, had the very interesting results of an FOI request into speed camera fines. Seems fine revenue went up 40% over the past 12 months – mainly as police targeted safe stretches of road, like the dual-carriage Domain tunnel toll road.

An intriguing discovery, given that Transport Minister Peter Batchelor had told Ross Warnecke on AW last week that the number of infringements had gone up only six per cent. Either Batchelor is getting confused, or he’s retained that Nunawading head for figures.

As host Helen said to one of her panellists on Sunday:

HELEN: Richard Butler you’re shaking you’re head.

RICHARD: Sadly, I am.

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Peter Fray

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