Last night’s Media Watch provoked a flurry of criticism on social media as the program aired a special episode on the coverage of Donald Trump. In particular, many expressed disappointment the program hadn’t touched on the ABC’s coverage of the South Australian blackout, which some ABC commentators, particularly political editor Chris Uhlmann, were quick to (in this instance, incorrectly) link to the state’s high reliance on renewable energy, to heavy criticism from renewable energy experts and advocates.

Asked why the program focused on Trump over anything close to home this morning, Media Watch’s executive producer Tim Latham told Crikey he’d wanted the Trump special to air between the two US presidential debates. The questions about how to cover Trump, he added, posed fundamental questions for all political reporting, including that in Australia. Latham said the show might focus on the South Australian blackout next week, but it would have been strange to tack on a quick mention at the end of last night’s show.

Was Media Watch in any way gagged or discouraged from covering the issue, a view widely shared on social media? “Of course not,” Latham said when Crikey asked. “Never have I been under pressure. The ABC gives us complete freedom. We’re clearly independent. We annoy a lot of people in the ABC.” In fact, he says, Media Watch has criticised the ABC’s reporting this year more often than it has criticised The Australian‘s.

The ABC’s reporting of the SA power blackout has been the subject of at least one complaint, by academic and New Matilda national affairs correspondent Ben Eltham, lodged with the ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs committee. An article by Uhlmann on the ABC this morning says that while the Australian Energy Market Operator denies last week’s blackout had anything to do with the state’s energy mix, the outage has “fuelled a furious debate about energy security”.

Media Watch had 838,000 national viewers last night (572,000 in the metros). — Myriam Robin

Peter Fray

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