'The Leigh Sales treatment': Sarah Ferguson cops abuse after only one night behind the desk at 7.30

‘The Leigh Sales treatment’: Sarah Ferguson cops abuse after only one night behind the desk at 7.30

Sarah Ferguson

Television journalist Sarah Ferguson hosted the ABC’s 7.30 on the Monday night, stepping into the esteemed role for the first time since the departure of Leigh Sales from the program.

Her guest was Defence Minister and Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles, with Ferguson conducting an incisive political interview about Australia’s relations with China.

Despite a stellar performance on her first day on the job, it wasn’t long before Ferguson started copping criticism from commentators on Twitter. “Aggressive”, “argumentative” and “rude”, among other descriptors were used by multiple people to describe her interview style.

As Amber Robinson swiftly noted, it was plain to see that Ferguson was “already getting the Leigh Sales treatment”.

“Is it that some men just don’t like assertive female interviewers?” Robinson asked. “Or they don’t like seeing a member from their ‘team’ grilled? Talk about a tough gig.”

There’s no denying that Ferguson’s style of journalism is direct, pressing her interviewees to answer questions clearly, especially when they are skirting around the edges of an answer. Surely, that’s one of the most important and necessary skills of the journalist holding one of the top news and current affairs gigs in the country.

To be called “aggressive” and “argumentative” on the first day on the job seems a stretch too far.

Ferguson has spent years as one of Australia’s most distinguished journalists through her work at Four Corners, on multiple documentaries, and as a foreign correspondent. She’s also a Gold Walkley Award winner.

She’s well versed in how best to hold powerful political figures to account – she’s done it not only in Australia, but internationally too.

The commentary on social media about Ferguson’s interviewing style being too “aggressive”, unfortunately follows years of sexualised, misogynistic commentary directed at Leigh Sales, who copped large amount of online abuse.

During her time hosting 7.30, Sales sometimes chose to share screenshots of some of the sexualised abuse she had received online, saying it was always worse after conducting a big interview.

Whatever you might think about the interviews Sales conducted, the misogynistic and sexual nature of the criticism she copped was not acceptable on any level.

While the online commentary about Ferguson has not yet descended into the depths of misogyny it did for Leigh Sales, it’s worth asking why hard-hitting female journalists are unpalatable to so many.

On Monday night, Ferguson was doing her job, and she did it really well. As Australia settles into the new agenda of a recently elected federal government, it’s excellent to have a journalist of such high calibre taking the reins of 7.30, holding our leaders to account.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox