Margaret Simons wrote yesterday about the Greens lack of coverage by the ABC during the election. The Greens have a case but the problem isn’t the ABC as much as it is the other political parties behaving like children and spawning a frankly ridiculous set of agreed rules because they believe those rules disadvantage them least and don’t give the other major party an advantage.

This is the version of the rules as I have always understood and followed them when covering elections for the ABC.

Once an election is called the two major parties get equal time and the rest are covered as “editorial judgment” decrees.

Let’s now move to a real time application of those rules as they were enforced at the last state Victorian election in relation to the radio show I used to present which covered the Wimmera, the Mallee and Central Victoria through the offices of the ABC stations in Bendigo, Horsham and Mildura.

At that time the only parties that had seats in the prime broadcast area were the Nationals and Labor.

The Liberals had as many Lower House seats as The Greens, One Nation, the CEC, DLP, the Communist Party and the Nazi Party — you get the point.

However as soon as the election was called  the rules were the two major parties, i.e. Labor and Liberal, get equal time despite one of them (the Liberal Party) being unrepresented in the area. This was clearly to the detriment of the Nationals who were, de facto, the real opposition and — lest we forget — not in coalition.

It would have been unfair to the Nationals to suddenly just make them disappear in the name of equal time for the major parties and loose change for the rest. It would have meant that their constituency which was clearly significant in the area would have been largely excluded from the pre election debate and a reasonable expectation they would hear what their party of choice at the previous election had in store for them this time round.

One solution was to say “well we’ll just make an ‘editorial judgment’ that the Nats get as much as Labor and the Libs” but that idea didn’t thrill Labor people much as they rightly point out they lose 66-33 to two conservative parties with a history of coalition anyway.

It isn’t easy and it gets harder when you understand that the reality of elections are that even the most sanguine level headed party worker turns into an attention demanding jealous three-year-old so any perceived advantage to the other side is seen as treason, certainly actionable by hanging and the screaming is long loud and well worth avoiding if possible.

The ABC is a public broadcaster, and it has many outlets, so getting balance right is a fraught process at the best of times. In an election it is doubly so and the current system is a very blunt and very unsatisfactory tool.

The only alternative would have to be a group of representatives of all parties who are fair minded and really committed to excellence in election coverage for the sake of democracy — even if it meant their side didn’t get as much coverage at the end of the process as another party .

In the absence of such a pact, we are stuck with the present unsatisfactory arrangement and ABC folk will continue to run interviews during elections for no better reason than the times are out of whack and one side needs to catch up. Or worse still, two minutes of idle chitchat with one candidate will be given the same weight as two minutes of full-on electioneering by another because they both lasted two minutes.