The ABC should find a regular presenter for its Q+A show, instead of shuffling through three of its employees week after week, after one of the trio, Stan Grant, proved conclusively on 24 February that he is incompetent to do the job.
Grant asked a member of the studio audience to leave after the man, a Russian-Australian named Sasha Gillies-Lekakis, asked a question about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which contained an erroneous fact. It did not appear to be popular with the audience and the panel which was heavily tilted towards Ukraine.
Gillies-Lekakis would do well to consult a lawyer about his ejection; as an Australian taxpayer, he is also one of those who fund the ABC which receives a little more than a billion dollars from the Federal Government each year.
Referring to the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region, which has been going on since 2014, Gillies-Lekakis claimed that there had been 13,000 ethnic Russians killed there. The truth is that while the total number killed is exactly that number, all the dead are not ethnic Russians.
Grant interrupted the questioner, not allowing him to complete his question, but did not offer a detailed factual answer to rebut what Gillies-Lekakis said. Only two panellists, Liberal politician Jason Falsinki and Labor MP Brendan O’Connor, were asked to answer the query.
It is worthwhile noting that though the centre-left media in Australia generally turns a blind eye to any faux pas by the ABC, this time one writer, from the Nine Entertainment stable of newspapers, has come out and criticised Grant. Right-wing media, who generally beat themselves into a lather over what they call freedom of speech, have been notoriously silent.
Curiously, in a video [below] of the incident posted on YouTube, it looks like Grant reacted immediately after the question was asked and answered, though this is not the case, as there was a gap of about 20 minutes before he asked Gillies-Lekakis to leave.
Justifying his decision to ask Gillies-Lekakis to leave, Grant claimed that the question had not been vetted. In saying that, he revealed a major issue with Q+A itself; all questions are expected to be vetted and Grant should have had the text of the question with him.
“You can ask a question, but you cannot advocate for violence,” Grant said while ejecting Gillies-Lekakis , though the man had done no such thing. He had only made a false claim and it was Grant’s job to correct it. In failing to do so, Grant stood exposed as someone who is incompetent to host the program.
Numerous politicians who appear on the show repeat lies of various kinds during their pontifications and they are generally unchallenged by the host, no matter if it is Grant, Virginia Trioli or David Speers. The fact that three people are hosting the show in some kind of rotation is because the last host, Hamish Macdonald, left in July last year, due to issues which are still unclear.
Grant is a man who loves the sound of his own voice. He has a tendency to often re-frame questions that are asked, at times changing them in ways that the questioner never meant. It would not be too wide of the mark to claim that when he hosts, he is easily the person who speaks the most. And most of what he spouts are vapid, motherhood statements.
Additionally, Grant has been careful not to let the fact that he is close to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute be disclosed. He has had an association with this so-called independent think-tank which in reality is a lobby group for big weapons manufacturers.
On two occasions when Grant hosted Q+A, a woman named Lavina Lee was present as one of the panellists. Lee is a member of the ASPI Council, but this fact was never disclosed, though when questions about Australia’s relations with other countries, especially China, are asked, such affiliations would be bound to colour one’s opinions.
Back to Gillies-Lekakis, the full question he posed was this: “As someone who comes from the Russian community here in Australia, I’ve been pretty outraged by the narrative created by our media depicting the Ukraine as the good guy, and Russia as the bad guy.
“Believe it or not, there are a lot of Russians here and around the world that support what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is doing in the Ukraine, myself included.
“Since 2014, the Ukrainian Government, together with Nazi groups like the Azov battalion, have besieged the Russian populations in the Donbas, killing an estimated 13,000 people, according to the United Nations.”
When Grant performed his self-righteous act of asking the man to leave, he said: “Something has been bothering me, I have to admit, since we had Sasha’s question earlier about Russia, and it’s been playing on my mind.
“Sasha, people here have been talking about family who are suffering and people who are dying.
“You supported what’s happening, hearing that people are dying. Can I just say — I’m just not comfortable with you being here. Could you please leave?
“You can ask a question, but we cannot advocate violence. I should have asked you to leave then. It’s been playing on my mind and, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to leave.”
Given that Grant took a full 20 minutes to react, it seems obvious that someone from the ABC administration would have whispered something into his headphones after Gillies-Lekakis asked the question.
The ABC claims that Gillies-Lekakis was “asked to finish his question and the issue was aired in the panel discussion”, failing to add that Grant quickly shut down discussion over what had been asked.
Forums where the public are involved are popular, but they have often proved to be slippery ground. And that is mostly because the hosts are not well-versed in the art of managing people.
Australia has pretty strict defamation laws and, additionally, the Federal Government, being of a right-wing persuasion, is always waiting for a chance to hammer the ABC over what are perceived as its faults. Thus, whoever hosts Q+A has to walk a very fine line.
Grant has conclusively proved that he is unable to manage this show. The ABC should urgently look to hire some senior people who can do such a job; it is too much of a strain to expect Trioli, who hosts the ABC’s morning weekday radio show in Melbourne, and Speers, who hosts the corporation’s weekly Insiders program on TV, to continue doing the job.
Grant should be shown the door and confined to other programs where his brand of bloviation is needed.