|Directed by||David Rector|
|Presented by||Paul Barry|
|Theme music composer||Roi Huberman|
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of seasons||26|
|Running time||15 minutes|
|Picture format||576i (SDTV)|
|Original release||8 May 1989 - 6 November 2000 |
8 April 2002 -
It played a key role in revealing the unethical behaviour of radio talkback hosts, which became known as the "cash for comment affair" and was the subject of an investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Authority.
Media Watch is a 15-minute program which identifies, investigates and examines instances of what the program determines to be failings in news coverage by Australian media outlets. The series features a single host speaking directly to camera, detailing a mix of amusing or embarrassing editing gaffes (such as miscaptioned photographs or spelling errors) as well as more serious criticism including media bias and breaches of journalistic ethics and standards. Over the years, the emphasis has shifted towards the latter.
Although most episodes of Media Watch focus on any recent incidents of media misconduct, episodes sometimes focus on a single issue of particular importance (for instance, media coverage of a recent election).
Stuart Littlemore was the inaugural host of Media Watch and remains the longest-running host to date. Following his nine-year tenure, various other journalists have hosted the program. Paul Barry, who previously hosted the program in 2000 and for a brief period in 2010, resumed hosting duties in 2013.
In 1999, the program revealed that influential talkback radio hosts Alan Jones and John Laws had been paid to provide favourable on-air comment about companies such as Qantas, Optus, Foxtel and Mirvac, without disclosing these arrangements to listeners. It also persistently criticised the then Australian Broadcasting Authority (superseded by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in 2005) as impotent or unwilling to regulate broadcast media, and to properly scrutinise figures such as Jones and Laws. The revelations won Media Watch staffers Richard Ackland, Deborah Richards and Anne Connolly two Walkley Awards: the Gold Walkley, and the Walkley for TV Current Affairs Reporting (Less Than 10 Minutes). In 2004, Media Watch played a major part in forcing the resignation of ABA head David Flint, after it was discovered that Flint had sent Jones admiring and effusive letters at a time when the ABA was investigating Jones concerning further cash for comment allegations. The reports won Media Watch another Walkley, TV Current Affairs Reporting (Less Than 20 Minutes) to staffers David Marr, Peter McEvoy and Sally Virgoe.
Australian 60 Minutes reporter Richard Carleton sued Media Watch over allegations of plagiarism. The judge found that the allegations were untrue and declined to award any damages. The ABC World Today reported on 18 December 2002: "The veteran reporter was horrified to see Media Watch accuse him of plagiarising a BBC documentary on the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica for his Channel Nine program. But today a judge ruled that even though the program did defame Mr Richard Carleton and two colleagues, it was fair comment and no damages were awarded."
This ability to generate controversy led to the temporary cancellation of the show. In 2000, host Paul Barry was controversially sacked and, in 2001, the program itself was axed by Jonathan Shier, the head of the ABC. However, in early 2002, after Shier was himself sacked in similarly controversial circumstances, the show returned with David Marr as the new host. While Media Watch was off air, former host, Stuart Littlemore, presented a replacement program, Littlemore, that also examined issues about the media, running for 13 episodes between March and May 2001.
Starting in 2017 in conjunction with the Media Watch series' return, a weekly online spin-off series, Media Bites, was created. A new episode is uploaded every Thursday to their website, social media outlet, iView and ABC's official YouTube channel, each episode running for about two minutes. Unlike the main show, Media Bites is more casual in presentation, Paul Barry sits in the production office (not a studio) talking to the camera in a position similar to many online vloggers. Barry is often in more casual clothing using the light source of the office instead of professional lighting. Each episode has the same format, two mini-stories and the week's alternative fact. The mini-stories are in essence a shorter version of the main series in-depth format, introducing the story and explaining the problem. For example, a story where Woman's Day ran an article about Paul Hogan's ex-wife (Noelene Hogan) in which, using a photo of Noelene with her son, the article incorrectly portrays the son as her deceased partner Reg, stating the couple were a "cute pair", only to be corrected by a tweet from a family member. The Alternative Fact of the Week points out an incorrect or baffling tidbit, often involving US President Donald Trump. Episodes conclude with a "teaser" for the following episode of the main show. The episodes contain the same sarcasm and quips from Barry as does the main show.
Episodes are edited in a similar fashion to the main show, with relevant corresponding images, text and effects relating to his narration. The stand-out difference in editing is that subtitles are permanently part of the video along the bottom of the screen, instead of being an optional closed caption. Episodes are produced only in Standard Definition.
The show's presenters have taken some pride in the vehemence of the criticism it attracts; at one point, the opening credits were made up of a montage of such criticisms, prominently featuring a description of original presenter Stuart Littlemore as a 'pompous git'. In 2002, the then-editor of The Daily Telegraph, Campbell Reid, sent host David Marr a dead fish; a replica of it is now awarded as the Campbell Reid Perpetual Trophy for the Brazen Recycling of Other People's Work. Known as "The Barra" and bearing the motto Carpe Verbatim, it is awarded annually for bad journalism and particularly plagiarism (a practice for which Reid was frequently criticised).
Media Watch scrutinises all media outlets, and has criticised its own network, the ABC. When David Marr was host from 2002 to 2004, the show often criticised Marr's employer John Fairfax Holdings.
Media Watch was once, unashamedly, a program of the left... was sometimes unbalanced and unfair, usually intelligent and witty, always fearless and tough. No program more effectively tracked the steady drift of the political culture to the right. No program more effectively scrutinised the politics and practices of the contemporary commercial mainstream media -- the rise of commentariat Islamophobia, the scandal of "cash for comment". The fact that it was not "impartial" was the key to its unpopularity in certain quarters, but also to its importance and success.
The Australian, which is regularly criticised by Media Watch, has been a long term counter-critic of the show. In August 2007 it editorialised that Media Watch "lacks journalistic integrity and conducts its affairs along the lines of an insiders' club that pushes its ideological prejudice at taxpayers' expense".
In June 2007, an episode of Media Watch entitled "Have Your Spray" strongly criticised The Daily Telegraph, among others, for failing to censor racist comments on their website forums posted over an extended period, but then allowed strongly anti-Semitic comments to remain on its own web forum for a "few minutes" until removed. The ABC later launched an internal inquiry into Media Watch's reliance on IslamicSydney, "an Islamic website that peddle[s] anti-Semitic and jihadi messages", for this story.