This year’s Media Watch started (February 10) with a flashy new introduction and Jonathon Holmes sitting at a new angle to the camera — but still looking like the cat that had caught the ABC canary. Well actually while it was yellow, what he caught was more like an ABC lemon.

Media Watch decided to start the year by bucketing the ABC’s Melbourne TV News and its new high tech something-or-other that managed to inject great big dobs of black space between edits and cross overs…or something. It was all good fun, particularly the fact that the new high tech something was soon to be installed in more of the ABC’s major city newsrooms.

But the program then returned to its same old style of bucketing the slick and powerful as well as some poor little sod who failed the high moral standards set by the ABC’s self-appointed nanny. Which raises the question just what is Media Watch really all about? What is it trying to achieve? Why is it there? Surely not just to report on one of Alan Jones’s advertising lapses, or some minister of religion who lifted an inane piece of nothing from some website and published it in something called The Extra.

Looking back on many of last year’s Media Watch episodes it is easy to come to the conclusion that Media Watch is some sort of antipodean version of schadenfreude — the pleasure of seeing someone else embarrassed — or as the philosopher Theodor Adorno explained, “largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another.” And in Media Watch’s case the “another” is usually a fellow journalist.

A quick example of how Media Watch works can be found in the second last Media Watch for 2008, episode 38, which featured a 7 minute item entitled Intervention Yes or No. The target was Russell Skelton, reporting for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Russell’s crime was simple — he quoted an aboriginal elder, Peggy Brown, from the Tanami community of Yuendumu. In his article of the 28th of October, 2008, Brown wrote, “Peggy Brown OAM has no doubts about the emergency intervention or having half her income managed, ‘It’s working, no doubt about it’, she said.”

The same day Peggy Brown issued a statement (in Warlpiri language, with an English translation) denying she made the statement and claiming “My name was used telling lies.” She also claimed that the same day she had signed a petition against the intervention. Russell Skelton, when questioned by Media Watch, said that Peggy Brown had made the statement and he had witnesses to prove it.

Now you would think this was just a normal everyday event whereby a journalist and an interviewee disagreed with what was said during an interview. But no, Media Watch constructed a 7 minute post mortem on Russell Skelton’s article and walloped him for not mentioning the “petition”.

The closing spank, after 7 minutes of tedious dissection of the “evidence”, went something like this. “Well, frankly, Russell I don’t think that’s good enough reason to ignore the petition altogether. Your readers deserve the full picture, even if it is a bit muddy.”

Four days before Russell Skelton submitted his story on the Aboriginal communities intervention another Australian journalist, John Pilger, was filing his story with the British national daily, the Guardian. Pilger brags on his website, “In a report for the Guardian, John Pilger describes the deception behind the pretext for a ‘national emergency’ declared by the Australian government in Aboriginal areas. A political cry to ‘save the children’ can also mean the profits of uranium and toxic waste.” Wow!

Pilger goes on to use his hatchet on Kevin Rudd, John Howard, the Australian people, journalists, academics, the ABC’s Lateline, and include in his spray Dick Cheney, David Irvine, and some company called Kellog, Brown and Root. Pilger claims that of the 7433 Aboriginal children examined during the “intervention” a maximum of just four possible cases of abuse were identified.

Russell Skelton or John Pilger — whom should Media Watch have been watching? Check the websites — judge for yourself.

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