Lost opportunity for Live TV?

Written by Steve Carey

Over the past couple of weeks there’s been plenty of commentary from all sides about the recent incident on ABC’s flagship conversation program Question and Answer, in which ‘radical’ students hijacked the broadcast by chanting slogans and unfurling a banner.

There to highlight the federal government’s intention to further deregulate university fees in the new budget (pretty much the same as any number of student protests over the last 20 years) you would have thought that it wasn’t much of a big deal: more of a side issue than the main event.

Their timing was pretty good though… unfurling a large banner in front of a national audience with Christopher Pyne, Federal Education Minister, caught front and centre.

While other studio guests looked on uncomfortably, it was Tony Jones who seemed most unhappy as the students shouted their slogans and then all of a sudden… cut! Suddenly we’re presented with an old recording from Katie Noonan while the students were unceremoniously escorted from the building.

While the internet lit up with ‘is this undemocratic or is this democracy in action?’ the question I found myself asking was ‘Why?’

Sure, live studio can be tricky, but it’s a big call to cut a national broadcast! With all his years of TV experience, my biggest surprise was my expectation that Tony would have done better. After all, isn’t it his job to play the ringmaster, ask more questions, settle the students and provide what could have potentially been much more entertaining TV?

The same goes for Minister Pyne. Yes, he did answer a couple of questions and got heckled for it, but surely after the rough and tumble of question time he should be used to it and ready to engage?

As far as I see it, this was a lost golden opportunity by both players to show some leadership and personality. I would have loved to see Pyne stand up, face the protestors directly, reach out to the students, appeal to their sense of fairness and then let it play out a little. Plenty of time, if things continued, to call for Plan B!

My point is this – television, any television, is about engagement, information and entertainment. So, in this example, who knows what may have happened? At the very least both Jones and Pyne would have looked more statesmanlike and in control.

I accept Live TV is not for the faint-hearted. Yes, it can go pear-shaped, but the way it was handled seems like a lost opportunity to me.

If you have a confident host, seasoned political performer and an experienced program director/studio crew, this could have been turned around to benefit those who matter most: the viewers.

For those dealing with the media there are a few lessons here:

  • Be prepared for the unexpected
  • Look for opportunity when the unexpected happens
  • Rehearse in your mind potential scenarios and how you’d handle them
  • Always try to engage your audience no matter what the situation is
  • Try to remain confident