What pompous, self-deluding buffoons they are at the Australian Press Council (APC) — so convinced of their own authority and influence that they cannot see the risks of drawing inadvertent attention to the council’s pathetic impotence.

As reported by Crikey yesterday, John Pender, the APC executive director (how they love those lofty job titles), issued a 1000-word media release complaining that they had been misrepresented by Media Watch. Here’s the essence of his beef:

 “A segment in the Media Watch program on 27 March 2017 entitled ‘Paparazzi, privacy and the Press Council’, focusing on the Press Council’s Osher Gunsberg/Daily Mail adjudication, contained a significant factual error and omitted some important background material.”

Omigosh! “Significant factual error”! “Omitted some important background material”! Surely this must have been a serious breach of journalistic practice for the APC to protest so loudly.

Hardly. When — if — you bothered to read further through the stodgy prose of the release you would have found the actual substance of the complaint to be based on trivialities too tiresome to canvass here. No doubt my old colleagues on Media Watch are capable of defending themselves against such guff, if they believe it’s even worth their trouble.

Much more revealing is the language and standpoint of Pender’s complaint. If we ever needed proof that media self-regulation in Australia is bad joke, then this Press Council release proves the case beyond doubt.

[Everyone loves it until they’re on it: Media Watch earns Press Council ire]

For starters, the APC claimed that Media Watch “omitted all reference to Mr Gunsberg’s public statements that he was very happy with the result of the Press Council’s process”.

“All reference”? Here’s the off-air transcript of that passage in the program:

“The Press Council tells us it doesn’t want the power to censor, and that Osher Gunsberg is very happy with the result.”

Whoops. Not much doubt about the meaning of “very happy” there. 

Next came an extended whinge from the executive director that Media Watch wouldn’t acknowledge what a wonderful institution we all have in the APC, and how effective its processes are:

“The way the Council publicly calls out poor practice of an individual publication has a powerful educational effect on all publishers, editors and journalists, who are placed on notice about what is expected of them.”

Ludicrous self-congratulation. Perhaps the executive director might like to put those sentiments to a group of editors and journalists having a quiet drink after the final edition has gone to bed. By the time he got to his “powerful educational effect” bit, they’d all be helpless with laughter on the saloon bar floor.

Yet the tireless John Pender was far from finished, claiming that:

“The vigorous manner in which publishers defend their actions during the Council’s process strongly suggests that they take this seriously, and do not wish to be seen by their peers or by the public as falling short of the acceptable standards of practice in the media industry.”

What a curious offering of inverted logic. By the executive director’s reasoning, the fact that a defendant who is plainly guilty, but nevertheless protests their innocence with vigour in court, must “strongly suggest” that they support the justice system and worry about what other criminals and the public might think of them. Really?

[Press Council: Daily Mail panned for ‘Bali belly’ Bachelor pics]

It clearly escapes Pender’s notice that publishers, editors and journalists see the APC as no more than a deliberately powerless industry appendage, and have treated it as such since its foundation in 1976. The task of responding to complaints is approached by journalists as a diverting sport (most of us are chronic bush lawyers anyway), and appearing before APC adjudication panels is a welcome excuse for some paid time off.

Yet it didn’t take long for The Australian, which has an ingrained hatred of Media Watch, to leap on the council’s long-winded bleat and regurgitate it as a news story on its website. Stephen Brook’s piece appeared just one hour, 17 minutes after the Press Council release was issued by email. His lead par managed to be both hackneyed and ignorant in a single sentence:

“In an unprecedented step, the Australian Press Council has lashed ABC’s Media Watch and accused it of getting its facts wrong.”

Ah, those lame cliches of lazy journalism: “lashed”, and “unprecedented step”.

Brook apparently doesn’t believe in doing much research before he hits the keyboard. In fact, the APC and Media Watch have been taking hefty air-swings at each other since I first worked on the program 25 years ago.

There must be at least a dozen precedents for such stoushes. Indeed, a previous APC chair, David Flint, seemed to spend half his time penning long, embittered attacks on Media Watch — which were, of course, usually published in The Australian.

Now what was all that about “omitting some important background material”?

Peter Fray

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