Ever since Sharri Markson took over The Australian‘s media section, it’s shown an obsession with Media Watch. So much so that a week hasn’t gone by without some piece criticising the show and host Paul Barry.

Today’s edition of the newspaper continues the trend, with a piece by Markson quoting several News Corp editors saying Barry wasn’t fit to host the program. According to editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell:

“While the Oz had some disputes with [former host] Jonathon Holmes, mainly over his climate change obsessions, he was at least a fair journalist, and presented the program with humour and good grace. Paul Barry’s work is not fair.”

According to Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker:

“Barry, like his predecessor, appears to have an obsession with The Daily Telegraph… No perceived error in The Tele was too trivial for Media Watch while similar or worse examples in other publications, particularly Fairfax, were regularly ignored. Barry arrives at The Daily Telegraph’s coverage with a proven record of irrational hostility towards the paper and its parent company.”

And according to Queensland’s Sunday Mail editor Peter Gleeson:

“It does seem a bit odd that the person who wrote a boom that essentially assassinates the character of News Corp is hosting a program that often looks at media bias.” [Last year saw the release of Barry’s book, Breaking News: Sex, Lies and the Murdoch Succession, which it appears News Corp believes makes him too conflicted to comment fairly on the company.]

There’s rigour, of a sort, to the Oz‘s latest attack on Barry. The newspaper went through each of the Media Watch episodes since Barry took over to catalogue how many were about News Corp. It even commissioned iSentia to analyse Barry’s Twitter feed for “any perceived bias against News Corp”. (Barry tweeted 54 times in the past month — 30 of his tweets were about News Corp, mostly about the UK hacking trial). And the whole thing is even illustrated by a paparazzi shot of Barry, featuring him in a T-shirt with coffee outside the ABC on Friday …

“I’m very happy to be pictured in a T-shirt,” the Media Watch host told Crikey this morning. “I was very happy to pose for them if that was what they wanted.”

He was, however, less happy about errors in The Oz’s story.

Firstly, the piece says Media Watch “has been forced to make three corrections in just seven 10-minute episodes”. Barry says he’s corrected the record only once. On Twitter, he also disputed the 500,000 figure given in the story as Media Watch’s audience, and the claim that it’s a 10-minute program (he says Media Watch is a 15-minute program).

There’s another weird thing about the story. In the iPad version of the story, Whittaker is quoted as saying Barry was ordered by ACMA to apologise in 2012 when he was filling in for Holmes as Media Watch host. The paper version has something different, quoting Whittaker saying it was Holmes who fought against having to apologise for not seeking comment from The Daily Telegraph (as the Oz’s own report on the matter reveals, that’s what happened). Barry, who must have read the iPad version, told us the Oz had got it wrong. We thought so too until checking the paper version when Markson disputed this on Twitter. We’re not sure why the two quotes don’t match up.

Barry told Crikey errors in stories are perhaps one reason News Corp’s papers get on Media Watch so often. “We’re obsessed with upholding high standards in the media,” he said. “If The Australian and Daily Telegraph want to stay off Media Watch, they should clean up their act.”

This morning, Barry and Markson were back at it on Twitter. This war is just getting started.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey