Talkback 2. A radio program in which members of the public participate by telephone. (Macquarie Dictionary, 2nd ed., emphasis mine)
My favourite occasional talkback caller to 7ZR, Hugh, rang in this week (1/3/05) to remind me why talkback radio on the ABC hasn’t been the same since Tim Cox went on leave. Ironically, Hugh is the only caller I’ve ever heard rattle Coxie, during one of his regular calls to criticise various aspects of the ABC – on that day, the ABC’s alleged promotion of private businesses was in Hugh’s sights, leading Coxie to first bluster and then philosophise on the issue … proving Hugh’s point somewhat I thought at the time.

Anyway, Hugh rang to have a whinge about the way the current ABC compere treats the public when they call talkback. In particular, he alleged that the compere favours those who ring in as paid apparatchiks for the woodchipping industry, whilst hurrying along and generally being quite harsh on the general public who ring in.

I guess Hugh was listening the day before (28/2), when the compere was somewhat inconsistent in the treatment of callers, especially the first two for the day:

(9:10am, 28/2/05) Compere: Let’s get to some calls. In Richmond, Wally, good morning Wally. Wally: Good morning Louise, how are you this morning?

C: I’m well, sun’s shining, all’s right with the world.

W: Yes, we could do with a drop of rain again.

C: I know, it’s true.

W: Look, I, er, Mr Gordon’s {of the Pulp Mill Task Force} not in the
studio now is he?

C: No, he’s coming in at 10:30am.

W: Now look, I’ve listened to most of the debate on the pulp mill and I couldn’t understand what Christine Milne was on about, er, the chlorine as if it was a toxic poison that you know that it would kill you. I worked on a dairy farm and it’s used to wash up, er, it’s used to put in your water to wash, to flush your milking machine out. It’s used in flushing out the lines in hotels, the beer lines, you have it in your swimming pool and now you know we’ve got someone coming along and saying you know, it’s a bad poison, it’s toxic and all this sort of thing but that’s, that’s, I don’t think that’s right and I think that’s something that wants clearing up. Now the bus, the bus, um …

C: Chlorine gas though is something that is quite poisonous I think. Chlorine gas was something used as the basis for bombs and when you work with chlorine you are usually advised not to use it in a closed space. So,
potentially, if used wrongly and in certain ways, it is a dangerous chemical.

W: Yes, yes, there is a gas that comes off it when you’re using it you know, I’ve used heaps of it so I’m clearly qualified to say that, but I can assure you it’s never affected me in any way. The, the bus situation, I, you know, I reckon it’s one of the greatest things you know that’s ever been with any huge development like this because it’s going to give people the chance to have an insight and be able to go into that bus and you know get the information that they require, you know. I watched the ad that was on TV last night and we’ve got three of the most experienced people in the world here now and advising on the construction and development of this project. For Peg Putt to say you know, what a waste of a huge amount of money, $30,000, we’re not talking about a huge amount of money. I read the late Jim Bacon spent twice that much to give her a car to go around and keep people out of work, so you know I think that’s a very poor argument. So you know, like Christine Milne stopped it ten years ago and put this country back, put this state back 10 years and I just hope that, you know, everyone, we’ve got a poll saying that 80-odd per cent of people want this mill and you know I don’t think whatever she does now, or Bob Brown neither, they won’t stop it going ahead. Things like the roads, that’s the thing that I’m interested in, what’s going to happen you know with the development up there with the roads, because with the influx you know, we’re going to have a lot of trucks so obviously we need a lot of revamping of our tracks in that area.

C: I’m sure it will be addressed and we will get some answers on that. Thanks for your call Wally.

W: Good, thank you. Compere: Thank you. On the same subject, Jim from Lutana. (9:14am) Jim: Aaaah, greetings Louise.

C: Greetings.

J: Yes, I’ve got real concerns about this pulp mill, because when this starts and start it will there’ll be no turning back. It will change Tasmania forever. I think it’s more, er, it relates, er, it should not relate to just John Gay and Hidding and Lennon and Chipman and them. If this thing happens to produce the potential nuisance that it could and apparently there is the potential there, nobody could really say, this could tarnish Tasmania’s image all over. For the few jobs that could be there in the north, it may well impact on the rest of the state and, I, I think, er, that, er Lennon and them, they’ve got these forest destroyers I call them into a frenzy of redneck mindset, they wouldn’t care if they were just going to bleach this stuff in pure dioxin, they’re going to have it at any cost and down the track, you see, this fibreboard thing they’ve just rescued, I’ve read dozens of reports where that industry has been out of control and Georgetown has been covered in fibre and that from accidental plant disruptions. This thing’s going to be so big it’ll not only threaten the future of the forests, they’ll never really catch up with it. I know that we’ve had problems with Bell Bay haven’t we with, I think fluourosis was the term, emissions there into the cattle. Nothing ever seems to change, it doesn’t matter how bad these sort of things happen, we just go on, we say that’s the way its going to be and you’re going to cop it…

C: … thanks Jim

J: Alright.

C: An interesting point perhaps, raised by Jim, is the question of balancing tourism with industrial development, with, with major infrastructure development. If an economy starts to rely too heavily on tourism, the criticism is often made that you need to concentrate on solid technology, you need to get into industry. Is it therefore the right thing to start to balance out the income we get from tourism and what we also need to do in terms of solid economic development.

So the ABC promised Wally that “we will get some answers on (his issue)” while Jim’s call was completely misrepresented, after he was cut off what’s more. There is not a single mention of tourism or balancing it with development during Jim’s call. Not one. The compere appears to have summarised some other opinion or call, but only after cutting Jim off so he couldn’t correct her. I know she pulled Wal up on the “chlorine is not poisonous” idiocy, but her decision to allow the nasty and unnecessary stuff at the end of his call was not too good either, especially when viewed in context with the treatment of the next caller. Unfortunately, the misinterpretation has been going on for a while:

“I’m getting a bit sick of ABC radio compere Louise Saunders adding her (often incorrect) view of talkback callers’ issues and/or opinions after she cuts them off. If she doesn’t know the full facts then she should make her assertions while the caller is still on the line, so they can correct her, as they so often do when allowed.” Jason, 20/1/05, ABC936 website:

Former compere Tim Cox was a ringmaster able to generate partisan comment while remaining reasonably neutral and most importantly, a man able to cut listeners off nicely and still keep the flow moving.

Since Tim went on holidays my urge to switch the radio to 7ZR at 9am has declined markedly. Talkback resembles a desert these days, with long political interviews and regular music dominating the phone calls from ordinary people. The decision to limit the many “regular” callers to a single 2 minute call per week in this dry environment is also quite strange – given the paucity of real people calling in at the moment, shouldn’t 7ZR be encouraging everyone to ring more often and talk for longer?

Anyway, I hope Coxie’s enjoying his “holidays” (house husbandry is actually hard work).

Jason Lovell is an acerbic social and political commentator.

All About Louise