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November 17th 2014 print

Roger Franklin

Farr From Good on Sunday Morning

There are two ways of looking at Insiders on the ABC. The first extends forgiveness to those talking heads who are less than fair because, well, it's Sunday morning, when few are at the top of their game. The second perspective is more simple: Why is "editor-in-chief" Mark Scott ignoring the broadcaster's charter?

insidersEven without a full measure of over-indulgence the night before, simple things can sometimes seem fuzzy, a little more difficult to grasp, on a Sunday morning, which is entirely understandable. For most, a day of rest stretches languidly ahead, that nasty weekday obligation to spring from the warm fug of restful sheets, don workaday attire and join peak hour’s rush mercifully suspended. As the coffee brews, one can amble about the house and savour that rare, foggy luxury of not having to think too hard or deep.

Not all are so lucky, however, most notably some the Fourth Estate’s poor unfortunates. Turn on the telly at around 9am and, if the set is tuned to the ABC, you’ll likely be confronted by the eroded features of Barrie Cassidy hovering above Insiders’ seated guests. Must do something about those slugs and gall wasps, you may well think, not quite knowing whence that thought arose, except that pottering in the garden is the standard celebration of the suburban Sabbath. You might even wonder in that vague, unfocused sort of way why the national broadcaster’s $1.2 billion budget cannot cover the cost of a chair for the compere. Could it be that piles are his curse? But just then the toaster pops its crumpet and that particular avenue of speculation is mercifully foreclosed by the more appetising distraction of butter and jam.

Some, though, aren’t so lucky, as yesterday morning’s babble from the living room’s screen once again made clear. No sharper at that hour than their Sunday audience, Cassidy’s guests must nevertheless make the effort to appear as if they are. Why else would “editor-in-chief” Mark Scott’s ABC send cheques to Insiders’ revolving circle of Sunday intimates if not for the insights they are alleged to offer? Surely they aren’t paid  for the mere act of throwing off their dressing gowns and turning up? Yet all that was on offer yesterday was the parroting of the wisdom universally accepted by all but one or two of the others to whom “editor-in-chief” Mark Scott sends those cheques: Prime Minister Tony Abbott is an international embarrassment.

This view was showcased by a short video clip lifted from Abbott’s opening address to his fellow G20 leaders in Brisbane. Abbott spoke for a little over eight minutes, of which the ABC managed to feature only a relative few seconds, and that footage was devoted entirely to the Prime Minister’s account of what he promised the electorate and the difficulties he has encountered in delivering it. At that point, the show’s In The Papers Segment cut back to host Cassidy, who tossed a wide-eyed set-up line – “What was that all about?” — to guest Malcolm Farr.

“Who knows!” marvelled Farr, who might have known had he troubled himself to absorb Abbott’s entire address. But it was Sunday morning, he was amongst friends, and who can be bothered with such trivialities as a little due diligence and fair analysis of the day’s big news? Or, perhaps he did watch the full Abbott clip (also below, if the embeddding link works) and found it required just too much effort to put the aired snippet in context. After all, it was Sunday morning.

What Farr and Cassidy called “Abbott’s introduction” was, in fact, an aside that came after several minutes of preamble and intended to illustrate the issue he was asking his fellow leaders to consider: the hurdles between any government’s intended reforms and the opposition of those who  don’t like them. As Abbott also noted, no leader can cut or change a government program without one interest group or another getting, well, shirty about it. It would be nice, Abbott went on to explain, if the G20 leaders could address that gulf between promises and practicality.

Farr, a large and meaty man who would be well advised not to sit before the camera in sideways silhouette, was fairly wobbling with mirth as he scoffed at Abbott’s reference to Queensland’s long-abolished upper house. “I didn’t know,” Farr continued, “if the Prime Minister wanted the G20 to advocate the abolition of all upper houses or whether he was trying to get international action against Jacqui Lambie at some stage.”

Host and fellow guests, current Fairfax Media solon Jacqueline Maley and Mike Seccombe, who works for a rich dilettante’s little-read vanity press, thought that last line a wonderful joke and chortled at the Prime Minister’s strange pronouncements – strange, that is, only to those who missed (or chose to ignore) Abbott’s recounting for his G20 guests of the way in which a Queensland government scuttled opposition to its policies by the simple expedient of abolishing the chamber which had been blocking them. This was Cassidy’s cue to introduce a snippet from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who endorsed the Insiders dim view of the prime ministerial speech: Abbott’s opening remarks were, he said, “nothing short of weird”.

But it really wasn’t all that weird, as the Insiders crew subsequently admitted in a roundabout, po-faced sort of way. Having depicted Abbott as weirdly unhinged, Cassidy finally provided the missing context of Abbott’s attempt to prompt a discussion about politics as the art of the possible. No doubt, because of that special Sunday torpor, the host was just a bit more confused than normal.

Could it be that Cassidy & Co. set out, quite deliberately and unfairly, to paint Abbott as a dill, then added just a dash of honesty to defuse potential critics? Perish the thought! They couldn’t possibly get away with such a blatant stitch-up, surely not while answering to “editor-in-chief” Mark Scott, whose job description obliges him to make sure his employees cover the news with a straight bat.

That is what Mark Scott is supposed to do. But it was Sunday morning after all, so maybe he just slept in. Perhaps the job is too much for him because that seems to happen rather a lot.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online. He derives greater enjoyment from the ABC’s Sunday morning fare by leaving the television turned off.