SBS Insight showed how it was done this week when it invited Young Liberal pin-up boy and noted dog whistler Corey Bernardi to sit alongside fervent Muslims in a live on-air debate about banning the burqa. This was rather akin to asking British historian David Irving to a roundtable with Holocaust survivors. One knew before it began that it would not end well. And sure enough, there was lots of shouting and popping of veins.
60 Minutes pioneered these "mixing-fire-with-gasoline" community hall specials many years ago and was widely condemned for exploiting emotionally charged community issues for entertainment value. So it was rather sad to see the ethnic broadcaster provoking a fight for the sake of it.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with television current affairs shows tackling difficult issues. But this approach of just sticking extreme advocates together in a room and having them scream blue murder at each other in front of a live audience does seem a tad, well cynical.
It's also cheap. Instead of going out into the field and interviewing the protagonists separately, providing background and historical context and aiming primarily to inform, discount broadcasters like SBS can put the whole thing together in the studio with no script, no editing and little research. Best of all, it rates its little socks off, while cementing every viewer's existing prejuidice, for or against.
Thinking about this television ethic of entertainment above everything, it is rather reminiscent of what that great mythical broadcaster 'Howard Beale' said on a fictional TV network 34 years ago:
"Television is not the truth; television is a goddamned amusement park; television is a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, actors, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers and football players. Folks, we are in the boredom killing business. You won't get any truth from us."