Tim Palmer, the outgoing executive producer of Media Watch , fully expects the press to jump to conclusions about his move to become executive producer of the current affairs program Lateline.
Based on past experience he knows that some will see it as punishment for poor performance, although why a promotion to one of the corporation’s plum jobs would be purgatory is a mystery.
The same thing happened a few years ago when he became the ABC’s Indonesia correspondent. Back then Labor backbencher Michael Danby claimed he’d been sent there as punishment for his efforts as the Middle East reporter. Although, again, it seems strange that you’d send someone to the most populous Islamic country on earth to chastise them for their coverage of the Middle East.
The Australian today suggested Palmer was bailing out of the job — or as media writer, Sally Jackson, put it, “parachuting.” She wrote that he had “survived years of international troublespots but just one controversial season as executive producer of the Media Watch program.”
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The Australian has led the criticism of Media Watch this year, accusing it of ignoring big media issues such as the leaking of Mohamed Haneef’s transcript of interview and the on-the-record/off-the-record conversation between three Canberra press gallery reporters and Peter Costello
But Palmer says that “every time The Australian had a closely observed comment about Media Watch , without exception it followed Media Watch making a closely observed comment about The Australian .”
For example, The Australian’s allegation of triviality came soon after an edition of Media Watch in which the show alleged the newspaper’s environment writer Matthew Warren had verballed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Hardly trivial,” he says.
Palmer reckons the critics don’t understand that a weekly 15 minute TV program isn’t like a print journal of record. It has to pick what it can say that’s different and compete with a growing number of outlets chasing stories about the media. Palmer says the stories about Haneef and the Costello briefing, broke early in the week and had been done to death by the time Media Watch came around the following Monday. He says “The Haneef story broke on a Tuesday and was being discussed as a media issue within hours.”
Palmer nominates stories about the poor standards of new forms of media as his most significant. The program has exposed cases of lousy fact checking and has followed trivial stories about polar bears or people supposedly adopting sheep as pets to expose the way media outlets have let standards drop in their online departments. He says the program has also exposed the way media outlets are prepared to allow racism to pervade their online sites in ways that would never be tolerated in traditional media. He says Media Watch has also analysed the ways the Australian military is controlling media coverage in Iraq and has dedicated whole programs to it.
Nevertheless Media Watch was undermined this year by the ABC’s managing director, Mark Scott, who promised a review of the “format and content to ensure there is more opportunity for debate and discussion around contentious and important issues.”
So will the show be back next year? At deadline Crikey was assured the program will be, but details about its exact form were not available.
So what do you think? Has Media Watch done a good job this year? What were the memorable stories? What should Mark Scott’s promised review recommend?
Leave your comments at the Media Free-For-All here.