Is it possible to overdo it when expressing sympathy for the death of someone you know? Well, listeners of ABC local radio in Canberra are today still talking about how far over the top the station, “triple-6 Canberra”, went on Wednesday.

The issue was the death of well-known former Canberra newsreader Peter Leonard, who passed away this week after being diagnosed with mesothelioma in January. He’d retired only last year from the newsreader’s role at commercial station WIN in Canberra. He’d previously worked over several decades as a newsreader and weatherman at both Canberra ABC and local commercial radio station 2CA.

A professional, well-liked bloke, with a gentle way about him. By any measure, though, almost totally unknown outside the capital and to many of the people who pass through Canberra each year in a temporary way, for business or employment. Think regional Brian Naylor or Tim Webster.

When the news of Peter’s death came through on Wednesday morning, ABC triple-6 breakfast announcer Ross Solly launched into more than an hour of reminiscing about Peter, including at least one tribute song (by Enya) and interrupted only by the required news bulletins. There was nothing else on his show between 6.30am and 7.30am, except for non-stop interviews with Peter Leonard’s former workmates, and producers. It was as if nothing else was happening in Canberra, let alone the rest of the world.

Enough, you’d think. But no, morning announcer (9am-noon) Alex Sloan declared her program would be a tribute to Leonard. More phone calls to former workmates and even a “wake-up call”, as she described it, to Leonard’s former station manager, now retired on the Sunshine Coast. If anyone was going to break the news to him, it was going to have to be Alex.

Enough yet? Not quite. Ms Sloan found it necessary to read the family’s prepared statement again, after Solly had already done in the breakfast show. Never mind that the family had called for privacy; that wasn’t going to stop Ms Sloan from making constant references to Leonard’s wife or inviting listeners to ring in and “join the conversation” — an overused mission statement at Canberra ABC — about Leonard’s passing.

At one point, just before the 10am news she started sobbing on air. It was the point at which it was clear to even the most sympathetic, compassionate listener that the publicly funded station had lost perspective. A waiting regular guest, the always cheerful online political editor for The Australian, Samantha Maiden, sounded taken aback and had to ask Ms Sloan whether everything was alright.

There was more to come throughout the day, including on the 666 afternoon show, where Leonard had appeared occasionally on the weekly commentary panel. And, last night, the local ABC television news put a very long tribute piece to air and newsreader Virginia Hausseger felt obliged to declare at the end of the entire bulletin, just before her scripted goodnight, how much Leonard would be missed. It was as if everyone at ABC Canberra was determined to outdo each other in demonstrating their compassion — a sort of emotional handball throughout the day, to see who can kick it the furthest.

And just in case anyone had missed anything throughout the day, the following lengthy story about Leonard and photo remains prominent on Canberra ABC’s website today.

It’s known that ABC Canberra received some complaints during Wednesday about the excessive coverage of what was, after all, the passing of one good bloke. Some complaints were also sent straight to senior ABC management in Sydney, bypassing the station managment in Canberra. But most of all, those who knew Peter Leonard well are pretty certain that he would have been acutely embarrassed by the maudlin self-indulgence and lack of balance that was on show by those who professed to admire him.

Peter Fray

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