An obligation to be kind? Australian TV critics and The Code

When legend Margaret Pomeranz recently spoke out about the obligation of local film critics to support the Australian film industry, she generated an interesting conversation in the critical community. Her article also inspired bookseller Martin Shaw to adopt a similar stance with regards to the literary community, in an op ed that asked why ABC’s The Book Club seemingly avoids covering Australian releases (the only Australian release discussed on the show this year was Paddy O’Reilly’s The Wonders, which panellist Marieke Hardy repeatedly referred to as a ‘terrible book’).

No one, however, has yet brought this issue to bear on critical coverage of Australian television. Whether it even warrants a similar examination begs the question: what even is TV criticism (let alone Australian TV criticism)? Taking a broad sample from what’s available, local TV crit is a melting pot that includes academic studies and publications; amusing recaps of locally produced reality television and Offspring; or focal interviews or features in the mainstream press; blogs that offer marketing spin or up-to-date news – and of course, Fairfax’s Green Guide still floats around each week, with its smattering of bite-sized reviews and increasingly obsolete listings of broadcaster airtimes. Meanwhile, the likes of Meanjin and The Monthly offer intermittent essays that contain more sophisticated textual engagement and deeper social or political ruminations on Australian television.

Television criticism is a wild, youthful beast that’s hard to tame into definition. Many arts critics dabble in discussion of television, rather than making it the sole focus of their career (perhaps due to the lack of reliable opportunities for television critics in Australia). Would those who err on the side of Pomeranz argue that critics who discuss the small screen in the public sphere are obligated to be critically kind in their local coverage?

To be honest, I don’t have answers. I don’t feel remotely compelled to cast aspersions or make demands about what writers should or should not discuss, and how they should do it. Given TV criticism’s relative infancy and the form’s inconsistency, it would be difficult to apply any guidelines. But I can speak for myself: I do feel an obligation or pressure (self-inflicted, not editorial) to ensure I regularly discuss Australian content here.

Read more at Kill Your Darlings.

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