Media watched

As Paul Barry departs, we need Media Watch more than ever

The host of the ABC’s Media Watch will be on his way at the end of the year. After more than a decade – and some 500 episodes – the consensus is that Paul Barry has done a fine job exposing the bad and the ugly of Australia’s media.

For all this Media Watching, the sobering truth is that in 2024 the media has never been in worse shape.

What has the year yielded so far?

Leading the list of horrors, Channel Seven’s Spotlight program rewrote the ethics rule book by allegedly paying $10,000 for a night of Thai massage and drug purchases to land an exclusive with Bruce Lehrmann. (Seven disputes the claims.) The program also forked out around $100,000 to cover Lehrmann’s rent for a year and then failed to declare that when it was shortlisted for a Walkley award.

We have learnt via a torturous Lehrmann defamation action that Channel Ten’s The Project failed to substantiate key, explosive claims of a top-level political cover up of Lehrmann’s rape of Brittany Higgins.

Over at Nine, allegations have emerged that behind the slick facade, the network’s most senior news executive, Darren Wick, has been making life miserable for those women who resisted his drunken overtures. This culture is no surprise to long-term Nine favourite, Kerri-Anne Kennerly, who today notes that the behaviour was “entrenched by senior people (who had gone) before them”.

At the same time, Sky News After Dark has only become darker – despite Media Watch’s constant exposure of its outrage-based, truth-twisting, partisan model.

In a very real sense Media Watch has become more Death Watch as it has charted the demise of the Australian media. The guessing game has begun on who will succeed Barry. But the question is this: is the program itself still fit for purpose?

Media Watch was hatched 35 years ago, in 1989. Not just another era, this was another universe: a time when there was general agreement that truth and facts mattered in public debate (not that it was always observed) and that the news industry had the rightful role of exposing abuses of the system.

The show had the ability to name and shame in a way that had consequences. Most famously in 1999 it exposed the Cash for Comment scandal where radio titans Alan Jones and John Laws were revealed to have been spruiking for banks and casinos without letting on that they were on the payroll.

 

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But the era of shame is over. The money tranche for news and current affairs has dried up. MAFS now occupies the key Sunday night real estate once owned by 60 Minutes. And the desperation for eyeballs means increasingly outrageous positions and simplistic hot takes.

So what happens when Media Watch can no longer keep the bastards honest?  What if the bastards don’t give a toss? And what if the mainstream media is no longer the main game? What happens in a Trumpist world where facts are pliable?

Mumbrella argues that Media Watch would never be commissioned now given the changing landscape and that the program should be put to bed on the ABC and migrated to Youtube.

The ABC’s reflex might be to keep the machine going, and it might keep viewers, but this can’t address the big questions of the media’s decline in Australia. Some but not all of these are: Why are we so poorly served by Canberra-bubble journalists, addicted to gotcha questions and horse race-style coverage? Why do we have a cosy club of journalists who keep interviewing each other on programs like Insiders? Why is it that our media industry has become balkanised into tribes? How did the public interest become so subordinated to corporate interest?

And finally: why is our media so defensive when it is often so wrong?

In truth a weekly 15-minute program throwing jabs at misbehaviour can’t get to these questions – but it might land some serious blows. Who knows? It might even stop the slide.

“Human rights, not for sale!”

Pro-Tibet and pro-Uyghur protestors call for Anthony Albanese to be “bold” in raising China’s human rights record his talks in Canberra with Premier Li Qiang.

“Where’s Peter Costello when you need him?”

Bruce Lehrmann invokes the bulldozer spirit of former Nine chairman, Peter Costello, as he lashes out at a media scrum on his arrival at a Queensland court this morning. Lehrmann faces a committal hearing to determine whether he will stand trial for two charges of rape.

28%

A Resolve poll published in the Nine mastheads finds that the primary vote for Labor has slipped to 28%, with Peter Dutton gaining a narrow lead over Anthony Albanese as preferred prime minister.

More than 80 countries and international organisations endorsed a joint communique on Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s invasion.

Brazil, India and Saudi Arabia are among a group of countries which declined to sign.

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