Everything you need to know about Media Watch

Media Watch is an Australian media analysis television program which is broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The show is presented currently by Paul Barry. The primary focus of media watch is to critique other Australian media.

The shows main role is to reveal the unethical behaviour of media personalities and outlets. The show for example has recently had an important role in revealing the ethical failings of radio talkback hosts.

The report became known as the ‘cash for comment affair’ and resulted in a subsequent investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Authority.

Media Watch presenter
Photo: ABC Australia

What is the format of Media Watch?

Media Watch is a 15 minute program which aims to analyse, investigate and examine examples of what the show identifies as failings of the new coverage by media outlets and mediums in Australia. The show features a single host, who usually speaks directly to the camera. The show usually details a mix of amusing or embarrassing on-air gaffes (such a spelling errors, mispronunciations or miscaptioned photos).

The show also tackles more serious instances of media bias and serious breaches of journalistic ethics and standards. The show has started to emphasise more serious topics and issues recently. The episode format of Media Watch usually involves covering a number of recent incidents of media misconduct or gaffes but the show occasionally will focus on only one issue, if it is complicated or of high importance.

Notable episodes

The show has featured a number of notable revelations over the years and generated a lot of controversy. Some notable episodes include;

Cash for comment

In 1999, Media Watch revealed that the high profile talkback radio hosts Alan Jones and John Laws had been paid to say favourable things about companies on-air. They were paid by companies such as Qantas, Optus, Foxtel and Mirvac. They did not disclose that they had been sponsored by the companies to their listeners. The episode also criticised the Australian Broadcasting Authority (later replaced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in 2005). Media Watch claimed that the ABA was unable and unwilling to properly regulate broadcast media, and that they were incapable of properly penalizing Jones and Laws. The segment and the revleations that came with it resulted in Media Watch journalists Richard Ackland, Deborah Richards and Anne Connolly winning two Walkley Awards – the Gold Walkley and the Walkley for TV current affairs reporting in the under 10 minutes category.

A few years later in 2004, the show played an important role in forcing David Flint, head of the ABA to resign from his position. His resignation came after the discovery that Flint had sent Jones letters of admiration during the time when the ABA was investigating Jones over the allegations made in Cash for Comment. As a result of the report, Media Watch won an additional Walkley for Tv current affair reporting, in the less than 20 minutes category.

Media Watch promo
Photo: ABC Australia

Presenters on Media Watch

Stuart Littlemore is the longest running host on the show. He was the host on the shows debut and remained in the position for nine yers until Richard Ackland took over for one year. David Marr was the host between 2002 and 2004. Liz Jackson hosted the show for 2005 before Monica Attard took over from 2006 to 2007. Jonathon Holmes then took up the position between 2008 to 2013. Paul Barry is the current host of the show, he previously hosted the show in 2000 and then again for a brief period of time in 2010. He returned to the show in 2013 and has remained in his position ever since.

Cancellation and return of the show

The show was briefly cancelled in 2001, thanks to its knack for generating controversy. In 2000, then host Paul Barry was controversially axed from the show. The cancellation followed the next yer and was at the discretion of Jonathan Shier, the head of the ABC. Shier himself was sacked from the ABC in 2002 and the show was brought back with a new host. Whilst the show was cancelled, Stuart Littlemore hosted his own replacement program called Littlemore, which ran for thirteen episodes and also examined similar media issues.

Media Watch ABC
Photo: ABC Australia

Media Bites

A weekly online spin-off series based on Media Watch was started in 2017. A new episode of the online web serial is uploaded every Thursday to the shows website, social media channels, iView and the ABC’s official YouTube channel. Every episode runs for 2 minutes. The style of Media Bites episodes differ from the main show and are less serious in nature. Paul Barry presents from the production office rather than the studio and talks to the camera in a way that is very similar to the way that many popular online vloggers present. Every episode features two short stories and an alternative fact of the week. The short stories follow a similar format to the main series episodes. A story and the problem are explained each episode.

For example, Media Bites examined a story that Woman’s Day ran on Paul Hogan’s ex-wife where the magazine had captioned an image of Nolene and he son as a photo of Nolene and her deceased partner, Reg. The Alternative fact of the week during the episode pointed out an incorrect fact about Donald Trump that was being regularly perpetrated by the media. Every episode ends with a teaser for the next episode of the main television show. The editing of the online vlogs is similar to the editing of the main show.

Controversies surrounding Media Watch

The show was sued by Australian 60 Minutes reporter Richard Carleton, following allegations that the reporter had plagiarised his work. The judge on the case found that the allegations had no basis and did not award any damages to Carleton. The ABC made a report on the issue in 2002 stating that Carleton has been horrified about the plagiarism accusations which were centred on a report about the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica.

The Alan Jones issues was also highly controversial and more controversy was again stirred up when the show aired audio of the radio host encouraging Scott Morrison to give New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden ‘a few backhanders’. The show criticised Jones for his comments, which led to advertising withdrawing their support from his top-rated breakfast radio show. Members of Jones team claimed that the comments had been taken out of context and that the show was trying to make him look bad. Media Watch said that they simply trimmed his broadcast into bite sized snippets in order to fit it into the format of their show.

The show often draws controversy, a point of pride for the show which at one point in time featured its criticisms in the opening credits. The show criticizes every media outlet and has even criticised their own network, the ABC.

The show is often criticised by other media outlets for being obviously biases, leftist and lacking in media integrity. The fact that the show is broadcast by the ABC is also a sticking point, with a common critique on the show being that it pushes opinion pieces and ideological prejudice at the tax payers’ expense.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Executive Editor at Best in Australia. Mike has spent over a decade covering news related to business leaders and entrepreneurs around Australia and across the world. You can contact Mike here.
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