Q&A's plan to improve gender and diversity in its panels: Interview with Amanda Collinge
Q&A is aiming for a 50/50 target of male/female panelists over the 2016 season. What motivated the target?
It’s a really big bold step on our part because when you are doing a political panel in this country it’s hard to get a 50/50 representation because the political ratios are so unbalanced. Both the Coalition and Labor have far more males than females in senior positions. Worse than this is the amount of airtime that the female panelists are getting, so the 50/50 target is only part of it. I am really proud we have taken this shot and I really think we are going to get there.
We really are serious about this. It’s not just a statement of good intention. We are going to be a watchdog on ourselves. Being transparent is key to this and I hope other people take this up. There is a problem with women in panels, in the business world, in the tech world and you often go to panels and they are all men and it’s just got to change and the answer lies in measuring it your progress. We were falling into a really bad habit, it was affecting our ratings and we really were becoming a blokey space and that’s very problematic.
You also mentioned that you are going to put strict limits on airtime given to politicians to expand airtime of other guests, who are often women. How will you do this?
The whole team is very united on this and we are going to be very transparent. We have started publishing to the website a transcript each week of the percentage of air time that each panelist received. There you will be able to see, according to gender, the voice share between panelists.
Because the politicians are trained to soak up as much air-time as they can and they really go for it on Q & A, other people who are less media trained, many who happen to be woman, have been sidelined. We now have a new guideline for the politicians and that is they have to try to stick to one-minute answers and two follow-up questions and that’s it. No more 4-minute answers. And this is really going to help address the gender balance issue as well.
Do you feel that female panelists are more likely to be subjected to online abuse and harassment and do you feel that has been a barrier to participation on the show?
It is a problem, and some male panelists get it as well, before and after they appear on the show. There is more of it directed at women. And the stuff directed at women has a horrible, violent, sexual edge to it – misogynistic, vicious and violent language. It's filth really and it’s quite frightening, very high-level abuse. We are very concerned about that and we have got together with Twitter to create a safety sheet, which provides them with the latest information on blocking, muting and reporting and we are developing our own monitoring of trolls. We are trying to make it a safer environment for our panelist and update them on how to stay safe as well as updating our own monitoring.
You’re also aiming for young panelists, under 35 and from more diverse communities. Can you speak on this?
Often they feel they aren’t going to be good enough or they aren’t experienced enough when in fact we really need those young people. And when they come on they are fantastic because they cut through the political tit-for-tat. We are going to try to have a panelist in their 30s every week, but if we are failing to attract young people I think you will see a Q&A youth panel this year because we find that really ignites interest in University groups, school groups, community groups and young people in general. These people are just as sophisticated; they are across politics, and they have opinions.
Q&A has also run panels with diverse groups and voices, how have audiences reacted?
We can tell from the ratings that the audience is increasingly enjoying the specials - whether it’s gay politics, science, religion or domestic violence - they really like them.
They are really good because they tap into different communities and whether they like us or not it’s good to remind them that they can go on Q&A too. It gives us a chance to give people who might not necessarily want to go on with politicians give their opinions.
We also need to improve on ethnic diversity. We need more people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and more people from diverse sexual backgrounds. They are two other areas we are looking into. When you look back on it we haven’t done particularly well and we need to do better.
What would Q&A’s dream panel look like for 2016?
I guess it would be really good to get Tony Abbott, given that he hasn’t come on for four years, Gina Rinehart – now that would be amazing - and Ian Thorpe would be fantastic. They are the sorts of people who are really hard to get and the whole point of Q&A is to have an uncontrolled environment and it would be beautiful to see those people in action.
Now that Q&A is actively opening the space to more female voices, what would you say to any females in the screen industry who are thinking of participating?
I would really encourage them to give it a go. What we find is that women in particular are often terrified for the first 5 minutes and then they have a great experience, and really enjoy being on and they often say ‘that was great, I wish I’d said more’ and they plan on coming back on again.
I think it’s a really good experience and a great opportunity to get your message out. We get a million viewers on average a week, panellists get a massively increased Twitter following and you get really cheap ABC wine in the green room, so how can you say no?