Let’s look at the programming decisions that ABC TV management took last night with Q&A.

On Sunday night, the ABC simulcast the leaders’ debate on the ABC’s main channel and on News 24, which produced a national audience of 888,000 (747,000 on the main channel and 141,000 on News 24). Last night it restricted Q&A to the main channel (as it has done this year on all but one occasion), and it averaged 852,000 national viewers. It was simulcast on News 24 in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia but not in the eastern states, as has been the case all year.

The Q&A format and the interaction between the guests, host Tony Jones and the audience was far more natural than what we saw on Sunday night, which was like Kabuki theatre gone rogue. It was closer to the town meeting style on Sky News at the end of the first week of the campaign which averaged 52,000 on Sky News (or around 170,000 to 180,000 adjusting for the low penetration Sky and Foxtel has of the national TV market).

But don’t expect the major parties to understand the attractions and the improvement in the quality of the debate from having greater involvement from members of the public in the audience (which is one of the keys to Q&A and why Tony Abbott, that most controlled of politicians, hated the program).

Greater voter/audience involvement clearly terrifies at least the Liberal Party. In this morning’s Financial Review, in a story on the lack of fizz in Sunday night’s debate, the paper’s political correspondent Phil Coorey wrote: “ A senior Liberal source said there would be one more debate before July 2 but not like the Sunday night format. Details were being negotiated”:

“He said the problem with community forums was that they risked not canvassing the issues of the day, including those the government wanted to talk about, because voters often had personal concerns such as the lady in the audience three weeks ago who asked about Bosnia.

“He said debates had lost their status because of the 24/7 news cycle.”

In other words the Liberals at least are not interested in Turnbull facing voters with “personal concerns”, but putting the PM in a forum where he can spruik his and his party’s concerns, no matter how distant they might be from what voters are concerned about. Given that view, it’s no wonder Sunday night was dull and boring, and why Q&A sparkled in comparison. — Glenn Dyer

On this topic, Fairfax’s Matthew Knott reports that the Prime Minister hasn’t been on the show since winning the ballot, and he isn’t expected to go on during the campaign.

“I’m not sure there’s much in it for us — it’s just another chance to f-ck up,” a Coalition strategist reportedly said.

The last time Turnbull went on 7.30, he promised to come back during the campaign. He has yet to do so.

* An earlier version of this story said Q&A had been “restricted to the main channel”. In fact Q&A was live on ABC TV in the eastern states, live on News 24 in the non-eastern states, and streamed live nationally on iview, as has been the case for every show all year.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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