Every year the ABC’s Media Watch — together with Four Corners, Foreign Correspondent, Q&A and a host of other shows — retires in early November for the summer, not to be seen again until February. It is always a shame.

And it is about funding, pure and simple. The rest of us are still at work and yet to enter the summer daze, yet the ABC’s key current affairs programs seem to adhere to the academic teaching year, rather than that of the rest of the working and political world.

But this year, the end of the Media Watch season in particular is close to a scandal, a mega public broadcaster fail.

Last night was the final Media Watch for the year, yet today sees the beginning of the public hearings of the federal government’s media inquiry — surely one of the most important events in journalism for years.

By the time Media Watch returns, the inquiry will be finalising its report. All over, done and almost dusted without a single acerbic comment from Jonathan Holmes. Or not on the airwaves, in any case.

Holmes tells me that he plans to cover the inquiry on the Media Watch website, and on The Drum. A lot better than nothing, but not enough in my view.

The lack of more coverage is also one of the consequences of the killing of the ABC Radio National Media Report many moons ago now. That was a bad decision (and will be reversed next year with a remounted media program). We live in an era when almost any story is to some extent a media story, and no industry is changing faster, or with more implications for broad civic health.

Surely, at the very least, ABC management could have planned a few specials over the summer. I asked this morning if it had done so. They say:

“Of course the ABC will cover the media inquiry hearings: on news, radio current affairs like AM and PM, current affairs programs like 7.30 and Lateline. It is likely that this issue will also attract analysis through The Drum online and on TV.

“It is simplistic to suggest the only way the ABC would cover this inquiry, or indeed any stories worthy of coverage 52 weeks a year, through one weekly, quarter of an hour television program. Media Watch plays an important role, but it is not the only way to cover the story.”

True, but it is the venue on the ABC for critique and analysis of the media. Surely the budget could have been given a boost, just this once.

Peter Fray

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