leigh sales criticised for being ‘too soft’ on malcolm turnbull
The host of ABC’s 7:30, Leigh Sales, has been criticised for being ‘too soft’ on Malcolm Turnbull in his first interview on the program as Prime Minister.
Some viewers argued that, in Monday night’s interview, Sales allowed Turnbull to ramble on for too long and dodge giving concrete answers to questions of tax and industrial relations reform. In particular, criticism was aimed at Sales’ apology to Turnbull for cutting off his lengthy answer in order to ask a final question, to which he responded, ‘You’re not being rude at all. It’s quite understandable.’ She did, however, press him on loyalty within the Liberal Party as a result of the leadership spill and declining economic confidence.
Considering the consistent criticism of the ABC having a ‘left-wing bias’, it is interesting that Sales is now being criticised for going too easy on the right-wing Liberal party. Earlier in the year, her interview with then-Treasurer Joe Hockey was condemned by conservative commentators as aggressive and brutal. It was argued that Sales interrupted the Treasurer 14 times during the interview, opening with the question ‘is this what political retreat looks like?’ after the backlash to the Liberal’s 2014 budget. However, she was cleared of bias in August by the independent media watchdog.
In the wake of this interview with Hockey, Turnbull himself, as then-Communications Minister, recommended that hosts such as Sales and Lateline’s Emma Alberici be ‘less aggressive’ and take a ‘more forensic approach’ when interviewing politicians. At the time, Sales responded that Turnbull was ‘free to have an opinion on whether he thought the interview was aggressive, but it won’t change the way I do interviews.’
Leigh Sales is not the only female ABC journalist to be criticised for her interview style in recent times. Former 7.30 host and journalist Sarah Ferguson has been decried on a number of occasions for being too antagonistic when interviewing politicians. Although her own post-budget interview with Joe Hockey in 2014 won her a Walkley Award nomination, Ferguson was criticised by commentators and an internally commissioned review alike for not showing enough respect to the then-Treasurer, particularly in her opening question where she asked Hockey if it was ‘liberating for a politician to decide that election promises don’t matter.’
Earlier in the year, Lateline host Emma Alberici responded to criticism of Leigh Sales’ interview with Joe Hockey, saying that ‘people are far quicker to attack a woman in public than they would a man.’ She pointed out that she would be referred to as an ‘aggressive bitch’ when conducting tough interviews, whilst her co-host Tony Jones would simply be considered ‘tough’. Defenders of Leigh Sales this week have also pointed to this double standard, in which a female journalist is open to excessive criticism and considered too tough or too soft, regardless of their interviewing style.
Leigh Sales herself responded to criticism of Monday’s night interview with Turnbull on Twitter, by posting a tongue-in-cheek ‘template for commentating future #abc730 interviews’. The template included options such as ‘went too hard/too soft in her interview’ and ‘is a left-wing stooge/right-wing fascist’.