It’s a tale of two interviews. On Tuesday, Sarah Ferguson interviewed opposition climate change and energy spokesman Ted O’Brien on ABC TV’s 7.30. The following morning former Liberal Party prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was interviewed on ABC Radio National Breakfast by Patricia Karvelas.

Turnbull seems to have a particular relationship with RN Breakfast. It is not clear whether he is asked to appear in the first instance or whether he offers his time. In any event, the former prime minister invariably receives long and soft interviews, usually by Karvelas, with few interruptions or even challenges.

This is consistent with my view that left-of-centre presenters at the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster are willing to accept a Liberal Party leader such as Turnbull. But not a politically conservative one such as John Howard, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison or Peter Dutton.

In current parlance, Coalition politicians tend to refer to interviews on the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster as an “away game”. However, the Ferguson-O’Brien discussion was more like an exchange on a battlefield (of the verbal kind).

Even some long-term critics of the ABC for its lack of political balance were surprised by Ferguson’s evident hostility to O’Brien and what he was saying. Or, rather, trying to say about the Coalition’s decision to examine the possibility of establishing nuclear power plants in Australia.

Ferguson began the interview by asking O’Brien: “How many nuclear power stations would the Coalition build and how long would it take to build them?”

O’Brien managed to get out 28 words before Ferguson interjected: “I’m just going to stop you. I’m just going to stop – I know it’s jumping in very quickly but forgive me …”

Now, Ferguson is a taxpayer-funded journalist. If she wants to proclaim policy she can always pursue a prominent role as a political player opposing nuclear energy in Australia by quitting her job and enrolling in the Greens or becoming a teal (a career change made by former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel).

As it turned out, in a 15-minute interview, Ferguson spoke for about half the time. She interrupted O’Brien so frequently that it is all but impossible to count the number. Moreover, Ferguson lectured O’Brien and effectively accused him of “trying to snow people” and refraining from “talk about the facts”.

At one stage, following an interjection, this exchange took place: O’Brien: “Let me finish my answer.” Ferguson: “No. No. No.” There followed another interjection. Needless to say, Ferguson managed to get in the last word by telling O’Brien that his comparison with another country was not relevant. Then it was a matter of “Thank you very much for joining us”. Thanks indeed.

The program 7.30 invariably puts out transcripts of its important interviews. Not on this occasion, however, despite the fact any discussion of a renewable energy source such as nuclear power is important. Especially since some polls have found declining support for wind and solar farms and the transmission costs and property interference involved. Moreover, there is evidence of a decline in spending on renewable energy projects. All of this makes a discussion about nuclear energy of value.

However, on this occasion, the ABC did not provide a transcript for the program. It can be watched on iview. A non-ABC transcript, prepared by the Sydney Institute, can be found on my Media Watch Dog blog. In this instance, the spoken word gives a better idea of Ferguson’s hostility but the written word will last as a record of what took place.

It’s difficult to imagine a more unprofessional interview than the Ferguson-O’Brien exchange. The Coalition frontbencher did very well because he kept his cool and attempted to support his advocacy with evidence.

Compare and contrast the Karvelas-Turnbull interview. The former prime minister is deeply opposed to the decision of the former Coalition government, led by Morrison, to commit Australia to purchase American or British nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS Nuclear-Powered Submarine Pathway. The initiative of the Morrison government was supported by Labor in opposition and embraced by Anthony Albanese in government.

Turnbull’s familiar presence on the ABC was linked, on this occasion, to a decision by the US Department of Defence to halve the number of Virginia-class submarines that will be built next year. The concern is that this decision (if it is put into place) will adversely affect the agreement to obtain submarines under AUKUS in due course. The Prime Minister maintains that the AUKUS deal is still on track.

Turnbull opposes the AUKUS submarine arrangement. Like Paul Keating, he believes this deal will rid Australia of sovereignty. Moreover, he favours the previous deal with the French government under which Australia would have acquired French Barracuda-class submarines.

What was interesting about the RN Breakfast interview turned on the fact that Karvelas did not challenge any of the former prime minister’s claims. She did not mention that the French subs deal negotiated by the Turnbull government had blown out in both cost and delivery time before it was cancelled by Morrison. The problems were well summarised in an article by Zoya Sheftalovich in Politico on September 16, 2021.

Nor did Karvelas ask Turnbull about his Snowy 2.0 project designed to increase the use of renewables. It is massively over budget as well as over the promised delivery date. Some engineers believe the project cannot succeed.

Karvelas can be criticised for giving Turnbull a soft interview. But no more than that. The former prime minister was treated professionally and allowed to state his case and the interviewer did not state her own view on the topic.

But, then, Turnbull is the kind of Liberal that journalists at the ABC like. As distinct from Dutton and his hand-picked senior colleagues such as O’Brien.

ABC management and senior colleagues remain in denial about falling ratings. The fact is that many of the ABC’s one-time conservative viewers and listeners have walked from the ABC, regarding it as an unbalanced, conservative-free zone. The tale of the two interviews helps explain why.