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How impartial is Media Watch?

April 7th, 2006 at 12:12pm

This is the question I was left asking myself after Monday’s show, in which the following was the final story.

On the other hand we had hoped to tell you about an ongoing legal matter involving the ABC, but late today Media Watch was directed not to broadcast that story.

The director of ABC TV Kim Dalton said

“It is not appropriate for the ABC to comment on a matter before the courts in which the ABC is involved where the perception may arise that the ABC is attempting to influence the outcome of the court’s deliberation.”

Until next week – good night.

The story in question is one Media Watch covered the previous week.

The Packer family’s Bulletin magazine carried a lengthy discussion on the future of the ABC two weeks ago.

Communications Minister Helen Coonan had this to say.

“It won’t be the same ABC it is today in a year’s time – we are in for some very exciting changes.”

— The Bulletin, 21st March, 2006

And boy, she meant it. Talk about moving fast!

“Restructure of ABC Board
The Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) will be restructured …

The staff-elected Director position on the ABC Board will be abolished and legislation to give effect to this change will be introduced as early as possible.”

— Senator Coonan, Media Release – Restructure of ABC Board, 24th March, 2006

The election for a new staff director is already underway. The nominations are in. The Australian Electoral Office is gearing up.

So the government has to let that process continue. But once ABC staff have voted – the government will axe the position.

Now that’s forward planning! So where will that leave the board?

The staff elected director will go. A permanent replacement for the managing director is yet to be chosen and it’s not clear whether Chairman Donald McDonald will be re-appointed.

That leaves just four board members whose tenure is secure. Senator Coonan has promised to appoint two new board members soon. ABC staff will meet later this week to discuss the changes.

We’ll keep you posted.

Good night.

Up until now, the ABC has made Media Watch look like an independent 15 minutes of airtime, something over which management take no control over, and is free to do as it pleases, including scrutinise the ABC. With this image, surely there was no problem with Media Watch looking into the story, but instead management have come along and destroyed this image in order to prevent Media Watch from talking about the story. This also makes me wonder what Media Watch found out that management wanted to hide?


Update (3:50PM 7/Mar/2006): It turns out that the story in question was NOT about the staff-appointed director fiasco, but instead about a woman who is suing the ABC for a breach of privacy. Whilst this still raises questions about the impartiality (or lack thereof) of Media Watch, a report in yesterday’s The Australian newspaper casts a different light on it, with host Monica Attard and executive producer Peter McEvoy threatening to quit. You can see the article on The Australian’s website by clicking here, or read on for my “archived for historical purposes” copy (naturally The Australian retain copyright over the article, and any request they may make for me to remove the article from this website will be honoured).

Media Watch resents ABC gag
Amanda Meade
April 06, 2006
MEDIA Watch host Monica Attard and her executive producer Peter McEvoy issued an ultimatum yesterday to ABC’s new director of television, Kim Dalton: stop meddling or we will quit.

The staff at Media Watch are still fuming over the removal on Monday night of a story from the program’s line-up. It is believed to be the first time management has interfered significantly in editorial decisions since the program started in 1989 with barrister Stuart Littlemore as its first host.

Attard and McEvoy believe the story was removed not for legal reasons but because it was not in the corporate interests of the public broadcaster.

After seeing the Media Watch script late on Monday, acting managing director Murray Green and Dalton further consulted legal advisers and directed the story be dropped.

The censored item was about a Melbourne woman who is suing the ABC for breach of privacy.

In two radio bulletins broadcast on the ABC in 2002, the victim of a rape was identified, which is against the law.

The victim, whose husband was convicted for the rape, is suing the ABC for breach of privacy and seeking compensation and aggravated damages.

The woman told the court after the broadcasts she felt as if the “whole world knew” she had been raped.

The national broadcaster’s media watchdog was going to make the point that a legal precedent may be set if she was successful, which could affect media reporting.

Although the story had been cleared by in-house lawyers, Green and Dalton said it may be seen by the magistrate hearing the case as the ABC exerting pressure on her.

Monday’s program reported on the internal tension.

“We had hoped to tell you about an ongoing legal matter involving the ABC, but late today Media Watch was directed not to broadcast that story,” Attard told viewers before reading out a statement provided to the program by Dalton: “It is not appropriate for the ABC to comment on the matter before the courts in which the ABC is involved where the perception may arise where the ABC is attempting to influence the outcome of the court’s deliberations.”

Sources insist, however, that the item was not a comment on the case but a simple report of the facts in the case, which were of significant interest to the media industry.

Last night sources told Media the meeting with Dalton was lengthy and constructive and no one was threatening to quit the program. However, if Dalton takes a heavy-handed approach to the program, he may find himself with a fight on his hands. Media Watch was axed by previous managing director Jonathan Shier and then reinstated by former director of television Sandra Levy. Although she was a hands-on director, Levy did not meddle, former presenter David Marr has said.

Entry Filed under: Bizarreness,TV/Radio/Media

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1 Comment

  • 1. Chuck A. Spear  |  April 7th, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    Good observation Samuel.


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