Each day, around 6pm, I have a tweet stream that continually passes comment on the ABC News24 panel program, The Drum. Less so as time has gone along. It’s a great idea, having people who contribute to the online Drum portal going on the panel to discuss important issues. Though, not all. We haven’t seen Ben Pobjie, Justin Shaw or Mike Stuchbery on the panel, for example. There are a lot of appearances, however, from members of the Institute of Public Affairs, the IPA. Based on the tweets I read about the program, they appear frequently, fulfilling their role of getting media exposure for the core agenda of the IPA, which is assert the primacy of the markets over regulation.
The comments on Twitter I read about the program come from people who object to the seeming preponderance of IPA members and as well as a lack of panel members from organisations and groups that encourage government intervention in the economy and spending on public infrastructure. There is also criticism of The Drum featuring former Liberal Party representatives Ross Cameron and Peter Reith, while less frequently featuring former ALP or Greens representatives. I would add that another lack on the program are contributions from people who reside is different regions in Australia, such as Tasmania, Western Australia or regional cities. I also cannot remember the last time a representative of the outer suburbs of any city was seen on the show. The balance issue may be in contest – and the producers would be well aware of having to keep a balance – but it is pretty undeniable that the program is very inner city and Canberra focused.
The people who criticise The Drum are showing disappointment that a panel show isn’t what they hoped it would be for a number of reasons. I think some were hoping for more of a voice for the progressive side of politics. The complaint that often accompanies the “IPA” call is that their views are being given a platform – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but the frequency is the expressed concern. The critics of the program are seeking the wrong target, though. It has not had an overly successful transfer to ABC 1, if initial audience numbers are to be taken into account. What most people are watching at 6pm is not The Drum, it is either the light entertainment program The Project or the news and “current affairs” programs on Channels 7 and 9.
This is why I am live tweeting Channel 9′s news this week and Channel 7′s next week. Critics of The Drum should watch the way Channel 9 package news – therefore see how most media consumers are absorbing their views on politics. There’s no IPA on Channel 9. There are bite sized sounds from various political figures, sometimes shouting across rooms, lots of colour and movement. In addition, the political stories are generally shorter than the human interest / car accident / footage of people robbing a shop stories. This seems to indicate that our major news bulletins are less willing to air opinions about politics, lest they bore their audiences. The same goes for A Current Affair, which spends time on stories about people who have recovered from accidents and dodgy “rip off” merchants than it does on political issues and interviews. It is early days, however, and later blog posts will do a more detailed breakdown of what is done with news on these programs. They certainly aren’t discussing anything in depth. Critics of The Drum should be grateful that we have any program that does news in depth. They should join me in watching the news people watch, not tweet about.