Entertainment

Q&A producer reveals 'disturbing' women problem

Long-criticised for being too "blokey", ABC program Q&A will aim for half its panellists to be women in 2016. 

A Q&A producer has spoken out about women refusing to appear on the popular panel, hosted by Tony Jones.
A Q&A producer has spoken out about women refusing to appear on the popular panel, hosted by Tony Jones. Photo: ABC

In a post for Mamamia, series producer Amanda Collinge lists the "disturbing" reasons many women refuse to appear on the talk show.

Some are concerned about online abuse, which is directed overwhelmingly at female guests

In response, the program will "upgrade" its monitoring and reporting of trolls. It is also developing a "safety strategy" with Twitter. 

Because Q&A aims to give voters access to their representatives, Australia's chronic shortage of senior female politicians is often reflected in the program. 

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Collinge says she's invited "countless erudite and eloquent women onto the show, who've declined, dripping with apologies and self-doubt, quick to suggest other women, but just 'Not me, oh God, not me!'

"On the other hand, week after week I field relentless calls and emails from men, young and old, bristling with confidence and badgering for a spot.

"Some women tell me the show is too combative, too adversarial. Many admit they're hopelessly polite. Brilliant listeners, not interrupters. But these are sharp witty women who love to talk and have me in stitches on the phone."

Frustratingly, women who do appear are given "far less time to speak" than men, according to an editorial review conducted by journalist Ray Martin and former SBS boss, Shaun Brown. 

The ABC will tackle this problem by drawing attention to it: each week, on its website, it will report how long each panellist spoke.

Waffling pollies? They'll have "strict limits" on their airtime, allowing the other guests (who are more likely to be women) a chance to talk. 

Collinge also addresses other criticisms levelled at Q&A: that it's too Sydney-centric, too old, and too white. 

"We're travelling more," she writes for Mamamia, "out of the Sydney studio, to other state capitals and regional centres – which is a good way of tapping into a wider pool of regional women. We're also aiming this year for more young panellists, under-35s, and from more diverse communities."

Q&A is regularly attacked by right-wing commentators who sense bias in the off-hand remarks of host Tony Jones, or the producers' choice of guests. 

The Zaky Mallah controversy drew sustained criticism, with then-prime minister Tony Abbott saying "heads should roll" over the incident. 

"We won't get the voice share [gender balance] perfect straight away," Collinge wrote, "but we are actively trying to improve, and being open about it."

mlallo@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Twitter: @Michael_Lallo