In her address to the Lowy Institute Media Award dinner, ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie emphasised the ABC’s soft power potential. Afterwards, Radio National presenter Mark Colvin asked her about what exactly her comments meant (Colvin's question can be heard in full from 38:27 in this podcast):
Mark Colvin: What do you understand by 'soft power'? Because as an announcer, as a reporter, as a broadcaster, I don’t want to be the voice of Australian Government, I want to be the voice of Australia.
Michelle Guthrie: Absolutely, you make a great point. I think that actually where you can show Australia at its best is showing something like Q&A, or showing some of our very rich and critical debate, because that’s how you demonstrate democracy in action. It isn’t about propaganda, that’s not what I’m advocating in any way shape or form in terms of soft power. But I do think that being present is important and having a voice is important. That doesn’t mean being the voice of the Australian Government but I do think it is engaging with the region, absolutely.
If you’re not Australian and not particularly familiar with Australia’s domestic political scene, you may not know what Q&A is. So for The Interpreter’s international readers, here is a sample from last night's edition of Australia at its best:
To be fair on Guthrie, not every episode of Q&A features guests as parochial or misinformed as Senator Malcolm Roberts.
But Guthrie’s choice of what show to emphasise is peculiar. There's little publicly available data on the international viewership of ABC programs, but when I think of what BBC shows Australians tend to watch, I think of Sherlock, QI, and Doctor Who, not Question Time; despite the sheer amount of BBC programming on Australian television it’s hard to think of any political or current affairs programs with a substantial following.
There are some from the US, but these (Jon Stewart-era Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) aren’t panel shows as such – the closest ABC shows in format are probably The Weekly with Charlie Pickering or Mad as Hell. Australians aren’t discussing the panellists’ antics on Real Time with Bill Maher around the dinner table. Q&A may be a news and current affairs powerhouse for Australians both in the country and overseas, but it’s doubtful international viewers unaware of Australia's culture wars and domestic politicking will find it nearly as engaging.
The totally fruitless exchange between Cox and Roberts also brought to mind Sam Roggeveen’s point (from an article last year) that the time for attempting any actual productive discourse on climate change has most likely passed:
By now it ought to be pretty clear that climate sceptics are unlikely to be swayed by evidence. In fact, it may be that presenting strong evidence of climate change merely entrenches their views. There may also be strong peer-group reasons why climate sceptics hold the views they do — it would be socially risky to sway too far from their peers, with uncertain benefits… I think a more productive approach is to basically give up trying to change minds and just appeal to people's interests, be they economic or political.