The ABC’s Jaunita Phillips seems to have a strong following among some men – but do these salivating neanderthals really understand the job of a newsreader? Or are they simply channel surfers who found the ABC by accident?

It’s not often that a high profile TV person enters the public arena, especially the letters column of a major paper. So it was with some amused detachment that I have watched the following exchange unfold in the Letters pages of The Sydney Morning Herald.

The subject of the exchange? ABC newsreader Jaunita Phillips, who fronts the NSW 7pm ABC News and various updates in the evening, Monday to Friday (Maxine McKew does the mid evening update on Friday nights so that Juanita can slip away home to husband and child).

She’s also been newsreader eye candy for John Alexander, the PBL CEO and former head of PBL Media, who chased her for the Nine Network’s Sydney 6pm News. But that pursuit was halted by her decision to re-sign with the ABC. Nine then changed newsreaders, moving Jim Waley out and Mark Ferguson in. But nothing Ferguson has so far done has generated this sort of response.

The exchange started on Saturday with two letters referring to the new look set for the ABC News in Sydney, especially a rather prominent laptop computer:

I note with rueful amusement that the revamp of the ABC’s TV news has seen the addition of that useless and idiotic prop that has long been a feature of commercial bulletins: the laptop computer on the presenter’s desk. Has this been added to lend an air of technological pre-eminence and intellectual credibility to the proceedings, or in case Juanita Phillips needs to knock up a spreadsheet or a slideshow during the bulletin?

May I suggest, in order that Juanita might avail herself of whatever utility the device has in this context, she should actually have it switched on? Those things take ages to boot up.

Len Keating, Balmain

There’s no way the ABC can outdo the commercial networks in tacky. First the lurid weather map, then the continuous on-screen logo, a tarted-up Juanita and now a special encore presentation of Cutting It, just like Channel Seven did with Desperate Housewives.

What next? Mike Bailey (Bailsey, maaate) doing the weather live from Crown Casino in a wacky outfit? The ABC should stick to what it does best and leave the tawdry to the networks.

Colin Clark, Valentine

Well, direct enough, but perhaps a little harsh on Juanita. Five days later this missive appeared in the SMH’s Letter pages on Wednesday 23 February:

No Len Keating (Letters, February 19-20), I don’t need a laptop to knock up a spreadsheet or two. I do need it for several other important reasons, though.

Mostly, I use it while packages are going to air to check upcoming scripts, correct any mistakes that might trip me and occasionally do a complete rewrite on a ropey script.

I use it to check unusual pronunciations and I have one window permanently on the wire services in case there’s a breaking news story which I need to ad lib.

And finally, it’s the one form of communication I have with producers who can’t speak to me through my earpiece. They send me a top-line message via the laptop instead.

So please, leave the old brick alone. It’s not just for show – if it were, we’d have a much newer and better-looking one.

Juanita Phillips, ABC TV, Ultimo

But that wasn’t the end of it. A day later the following two letters appeared and it’s clear Juanita has a large core of male viewers out there swooning over her every word, nod or eyebrow movement:

For years I’ve contributed to the Letters page in the knowledge that only other mere mortals were privy to our petty squabblings. The arrival on this page of Juanita Phillips (Letters, February 23) means that at least one goddess is keeping an eye on us. Could it be that Sandra Sully also casts a critical eye on our missives from time to time?

We’ll all need to watch our p’s and q’s in future.

Peter Maresch, Lane Cove

The skills of Juanita Phillips know no bounds. Not only is she the classiest newsreader in Australia (her diction is superb), but she is also computer savvy and now we know she can write letters to the Herald. But can she cook?

Alastair Browne, Cromer Heights