Second leaders’ debate a ratings winner for Nine despite employees criticising it as a ‘shambles’

The second leaders’ debate of the election campaign, hosted by Channel Nine, attracted 641,000 viewers, however the network’s own employees have criticised the format as a “shambles”.

The Great Debate on Nine averaged 641,000 metro viewers, a relatively high figure for a 90-minute program ending after 10pm on a Sunday night.

Hosted by 60 Minutes reporter Sarah Abo, the debate won its time slot, beating Seven News’ Spotlight, Ten’s FBI and the new Australian drama Barons on the ABC.

The strong ratings performance of the second election debate gave Nine an easy win on Sunday, with 33.4% to Seven’s 30.4%, Ten’s 15.8%, ABC 12.5% and SBS 7.9%.

Leaders faced questions from three journalists at the Nine network – 2GB radio host Deborah Knight, Nine News’ political editor Chris Uhlmann, and the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age’s chief political correspondent David Crowe.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, were also allowed to ask each other two questions.

Viewers writing on Twitter criticised how the debate was run, with both leaders consistently talking over each other and the presenters asking questions.

A website Nine ran to gather audience opinion on who won the debate encountered technical issues.

On Monday morning, Ben Fordham, a talkback host at Nine’s 2GB radio station, was critical of the debate format, saying it was “all over the shop”.

“People have got better things to do than waste their Sunday night listening to two people talking over each other. It’s like watching two blokes at the pub arguing over the colour of the carpet,” he said.

“It was a shambles. It was messy, disjointed, awkward,” Fordham said.

The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age’s national affairs editor James Massola – also an employee of Nine – wrote “it was supposed to be a civilised election debate, but it ended up being a straight-up political brawl with no clear winner”.

“The two leaders repeatedly needled and jabbed at each other, talking over the top of their counterpart in a bid to unsettle them,” he said.

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the debate format was “woeful and a disservice to voters”, and backed calls for an independent debates commission to be established.

“Those of us who suffered through it watched two grown men – so-called leaders – shouting at each other, interrupting, smirking and aggressively talking over the top of others including the female moderator.

“Australians shouldn’t be subjected to this unseemly squabble again. An election debate should be a contest of ideas and vision for our country, not chest-thumping,” Hanson-Young said.

Nine’s debate drew a much larger audience than the first debate on Sky News Australia. That debate, where the audience asked the questions, averaged 175,000 metro viewers on the subscription television platform. The Sky figures do not include those who watched it via a free livestream.

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