ABC television Media Watch presenter Paul Barry declared last Monday that “there’s long been talk of the Foxification of Sky News”. He did not say who has been engaged in such talk.
However, viewing Media Watch, there is a case for the “Foxification” of the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster when it comes to media analysis. Since its creation in April 1988, Media Watch has had a series of presenters who deliver a sermon each week about journalists and journalism. There is seldom praise but much criticism, invariably from a left-of-centre or left-liberal perspective.
This is hardly surprising since Media Watch has not had a conservative presenter in close to three decades. Stuart Littlemore was the inaugural ABC media lecturer-in-chief, followed by Richard Ackland, Paul Barry, David Marr, Liz Jackson, Monica Attard, Jonathan Holmes and Barry (again). Before taking up their presenter role, all had a background in the ABC or Fairfax Media.
Today, Media Watch is the embodiment of the ABC as a conservative-free zone without one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent TV, radio or online outlets.
The problem with Media Watch is not so much that it has never had a conservative presenter. Rather, its weakness turns on its hectoring tone as sermons are delivered without the toleration of any on-air dissent.
Compare and contrast Fox News’ MediaBuzz (carried on Foxtel in Australia). Presenter Howard Kurtz (who joined Fox News from CNN) does not deliver weekly homilies although, at times, he does state a position. Rather, Kurtz presides over a genuine debate about the US media during which conservatives and liberals (in the American sense of the term) argue their case. Unlike Barry’s Media Watch, Kurtz’s MediaBuzz does not run a line.
Media Watch was at its best, or worst, on Monday when Barry led the program with a denunciation of Sky News and its proprietor News Corp Australia (also publisher of The Weekend Australian). In his wisdom, Barry did not discuss the big media issue of the previous week; namely, the decision by Victoria Police to charge Cardinal George Pell with historical sexual abuse. This despite the fact Media Watch is pre-recorded and the ABC has drawn up legal advice as to what “can” and “should not” be said about the case. The ABC document was brandished about by Marr on the ABC’s Insiders program last Sunday, where the matter was discussed.
Perhaps Media Watch could have discussed the extraordinary prejudicial decision last Thursday of the ABC’s 7.30 and Sky News’ Speers Tonight in interviewing Ingrid Irwin, a lawyer for some of the complainants in this case.
But it was not to be. After his piece on Sky News, Barry focused on an error made by The Australian concerning the Ten Network — for which there already had been a retraction along with an apology. Then there was some real trivia criticising the media’s trivial obsession with reporting the life and times of publicist Roxy Jacenko, along with a report on the near-death state of a community TV station in Melbourne and a brief reference to President Donald Trump’s rowel with CNN.
And that was it. All this was mere filling, following Barry’s sermon from the ABC’s inner-city Ultimo mount in Sydney about Sky News. Media Watch’s essential thesis was that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp should not be able to acquire any additional media assets in Australia on account of a man — or men — allegedly behaving badly on Sky News.
First up, there was a soft target. Barry bagged Sky News presenter Paul Murray’s rant against Turnbull government minister Christopher Pyne on June 26. Murray’s on-air editorial was not analysis but mere abuse loaded with offensive terminology.
However, after this sensible critique, Barry went on to criticise Sky News’ “conservative commentators” in general. He named, in addition to Murray, Andrew Bolt plus Peta Credlin and Campbell Newman. And he criticised Sky News presenter, and lifelong Labor Party member, Graham Richardson for not condemning Murray’s attack on Pyne.
Barry went on to claim that Sky News’ “conservative commentators are often in furious agreement with one another”, apparently without realising that this is a valid criticism of so many ABC programs where everyone agrees with everyone else in a left-of-centre way. Moreover, Sky News does have left-of-centre commentators for some of its prominent programs: Kristina Keneally, Peter Beattie, Nicholas Reece and Richardson. There are no conservatives on similar ABC programs. Barry overlooked both facts.
To advance his anti-News Corp point, Barry cited a soft interview that Murdoch critic John Menadue did with ABC radio’s Jon Faine some time ago. Menadue claimed that News Corp “already controls 60 to 70 per cent of metropolitan media in Australia” and should not be able to extend its media business. This is a figure for newspapers only. Menadue overlooked the ABC and SBS along with commercial TV and radio plus online publications such as Guardian Australia and social media. Barry should have been aware of Menadue’s howler. Such an error would not have gone unchallenged on Fox News’ since Kurtz does not proselytise and a plurality of views is heard on the program.
What was missing from Media Watch on Monday was any analysis of why the ABC did not report the fact a former ABC TV producer, Jon Stephens, pleaded guilty in Gosford Local Court last week to sexually assaulting a teenage ABC casual employee in 1981 while on ABC assignment.
Stephens’s case was covered by the local newspaper and by The Daily Telegraph in Sydney. But ABC news and current affairs has ignored the matter. Such a double standard in the media would be picked up by MediaBuzz. But last Monday Barry and his producers were more focused on conspiracy and trivia relating to ABC’s opponents and in denial about more serious matters closer to home.