Although it may appear that our politicians are more accessible due to the continuous coverage of politics on TV, radio and the internet, the amount learnt from this access is decreasing; the science and art of spin has given us less, more often.
When I heard that Tony Jones was to host a new show that would fill in some of the blanks, I was keen to be involved. After registering on the Q&A website and attending the pilot episode, I was invited to the first live-to-air screening at which the Prime Minister was to be a special guest.
The process of getting your question to the guest is an interesting one; the Q&A team are trying to find a balance between allowing the audience freedom to engage with the guest, and structuring a program that flows and makes good television. Questions are submitted by the audience before the show by email or, written down on cards (as below) and handed to the Q&A team, who then sort through the pile (it was suggested that this was somewhere near 1,000 submissions), identifying key topics and then ordering the questions into a logical flow.
Tony retains a fair degree of power as a moderator; after kicking off a topic with one of the pre-screened questions from either the audience or via sms, he selects follow up questions from the studio audience. This is where the real opportunity for participation occurs; however those selected came only from within Tony’s line of sight and the first half dozen rows.
Having been to the pilot episode, I had learnt a little of what questions the Q&A team were looking for. Tony and the Q&A team are quite open about this: make it relevant to the issues of the day. Combine this with making it a little personal and you will be in with a better than average chance.
The thing that sets Q&A apart from other shows with audience interaction, however, is that the guests are not told the questions before the show.
The studio audience last night was relatively well behaved. It appeared to me to be a mix of respect and comfortable curiosity. Respectful in that there wasn’t as much booing or challenging as there had been at the pilot with panellists such as Tanya Plibersek and Tony Abbott. Comfortable, in the way the audience missed addressing the Prime Minister by his title.
Prime Minister Rudd appeared genuine and open throughout the hour. He joked about his chair not being able to swivel; he engaged Tony and the audience in friendly banter; yet he appeared to carefully consider each answer.
The real benefit of this show is the ability of the audience to push the guest when they believe the guest is simply toeing the party line. The issue of gay marriage was the best example last night. The audience made it clear that they weren’t happy with Prime Minister Rudd’s rehearsed response in a way that no respected journalist would be able to – with loud boos.
I would recommend participation in Q&A for the interested citizen. If you’re growing tired of scripted sound bites and pro-forma responses, get involved and ask a politician yourself. Just make sure you sit up the front, put your hand up strong and high and are prepared to challenge the answer you get. There’s hope for democracy yet.