The Seagulls Pounce on the Chip – Media Watch and Fairfax

A number of people in the media have a problem with Media Watch – it is one of the few institutions that examines and assesses their work publicly. Yes, there is a Press Council and there is ACMA – but their rulings are usually buried somewhere, unnoticed by most. Media Watch, however, is there for anyone to see. And for Alan Jones to ignore. This is why there are many around waiting for Media Watch to falter and make a “mistake”. For those people, that moment came on Monday night.

This was when Media Watch, having recorded their show for the week, had a story break some hours after their recording and wrap, about staff losses at Fairfax.  Suddenly, according to a variety of media stars on Twitter, Media Watch had lost its relevance and touch because it wasn’t adding its voice to the many that were chattering about the possible impact of Fairfax. A voice that would have been rushed, though, like those in the media seem to like these days.

Rushed. Instant “analysis”. That has never been Media Watch’s thing. That didn’t stopped the claque having their say. The list of people complaining about the Media Watch “silence” on Fairfax were mostly Twitter broadcasters who usually pronounce, not engage.  Or the IPA’s Chris Berg, making wisecracks about it in the aftermath of the Melbourne Earthquake – showing that he continues to use Twitter as a way of extending his agenda of belittling an institution that suggests that there be checks and balances to a commercial media sphere seemingly driven by a desire for obfuscation and mendacity than an interest in objectivity and clarity. An engagement with Jonathan Holmes or others who understand the purpose of Media Watch (as articulated by Holmes in this piece) would have easily clarified the issues at stake.

Media Watch, to an extent, plays a similar role to that often played by PM on the ABC. A case in point was yesterday’s story about the European Commission’s President, Jose Manuel Barroso “putting down Julia Gillard”.  Today, it has been extensively reported that Jose Manuel Barroso wasn’t referring to Australia and was responding to a Canadian journalist’s question. Even today, though, we still have the article available where Simon Benson is reporting it as fact, ending with an “Abbott agrees with “the Europeans”, which demonstrates not only bias but a sudden conflation of the “criticism” to more than one European.  In a usual pattern, in the morning, ABC news outlets picked up the News Limited line and ran with it through the day – except for Annabel Crabb on Twitter, who followed up with this. Then, after the dust was settled, PM, being after the day’s back and forward version,  reported the dimensions of the entire story, which could be properly understood after a day’s reporting and investigation.

This is what PM should be – a place to bring perspective and context to the stories of the day. Media Watch should have the same role – to bring perspective, reflection and analysis after the dust has settled, the 24/7 cycle has slowed down and some context can be explored.  I dare say the impact of the changes at Fairfax and now News Limited will be explored by Media Watch – probably over a number of episodes – over the next few months. The impact of the changes at both news media organisations will occur over a long time period, so we all have a long time to observe the impact and contemplate the effects on our media landscape.