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Q&A: Jerry Springer for wonks?

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8 February 2011 10:53

Larvatus Prodeo calls the ABC's popular political panel show Q&A 'the Jerry Springer Show for people with degrees', and suggests various ways the format could be improved.

In the comments, former Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett defends the show (faintly, it ought to be said) by saying it 'gives a chance for the general public (or the part of it that's interested in politics – as opposed to policy) to get into some of the debates about political issues.'

True enough, though one does despair at the level of discussion (I didn't watch last night's episode, but did Tony Jones really ask Catherine Deveny what to do about Egypt'). That sounds like a terribly elitist complaint, and in part it is. I don't think anyone should feel embarrassed about demanding high standards in political debate. But it's also intended as an observation about television as a medium: TV is a really cumbersome and inefficient way to convey complex arguments. Most of what the panelists say on Q&A could be distilled into an average-size newspaper op-ed, and because writing allows for editing and revision, their arguments would be much clearer in written form.

But although television has severe limitations as a medium for debate, it is a highly efficient medium for conveying personality and character. That's really just an assertion on my part, based on personal observation. But I think it's on this level that Q&A succeeds, because it provides a relatively unfiltered and unscripted atmosphere which gives the audience a chance to 'read' the panelists. So when politicians appear on the program, viewers can use the show to inform their judgments about our political leaders.

Which is not to argue that what the panelists say on the show is irrelevant. But the importance of the debate is heavily circumscribed — the show is ultimately not about the 'issues' but about the panelists, and the arguments they present are, along with their appearance, manner, speaking style and so on, tools we use to judge them.

Photo by Flickr user MystifyMe.

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