Welcome to MEDIA WATCH WATCH, the webcolumn that watches the program that watches the media.
Last night was new host David Marr's first Media Watch. He promised last week that he would provide "very serious exposés … I'm very interested in things that don't appear … things that are quashed by courts, sat on by management or blocked by government."
So what stories did he run? Let's see:
The Northern Territory News (circulation: 1,000 people and two kelpies) incorrectly identified the Queen Mother. They called her Queen Elizabeth I! Imagine! Surely they will now close their newspaper out of shame!
A chap called Colin Stanley-Hill appeared on early morning television and in an op-ed in The Australian offering his opinion on the Queen Mother's death. Colin claimed to be a personal aide to the old biddy. Media Watch have discovered that his claim was somewhat inflated. Good Lord!
Marr became grave as he reported the death of Chris Aurora, international stringer for the Daily Telegraph. Turns out the name was a concoction, slapped on AP or Reuters copy which otherwise had no byline. Telegraph editor Campbell Reid has recently ended this practice, providing Marr with his witty death gag.
There was no question about the accuracy of the reports, incidentally. Just that there was no such person as Chris Aurora (named, as everyone at the Telegraph knows, after the Aurora Hotel, where the Telegraph staff drink.)
Big deal. We invented names all the time at the old Truth newspaper. Wire copy from Greece was given the byline "Con Crete". The sports editor refused for some reason to use his own name on stories which ran outside of the sports pages, so used the alternative title "Henry Lippman".
Much of my own copy ran under the name "Dr Malcolm Bollard", who was billed as "the world's foremost authority". On every Bollard story, an asterix pointed readers to a fuller description: "Dr Malcolm Bollard is a recognised expert."
(I wonder how Marr will react when he learns about Pops McDonald, the Telegraph's long-time fictional letter-writer, turned columnist, turned autobiographer. Or that Melbourne motoring writer Bill Tuckey wrote for decades as Romsey Quints. Big stories, Dave! Expose the lies!)
So far, so what. Next, Marr revealed that the Nine Network wasn't running negative stories about its owners. There's a shock. This angle was simply to drive a point Marr has been labouring for years: that if the Nine-owning Packer clan were to take over the Fairfax papers, Bad Things would happen.
As Marr put it, there would be a greater chance of David Hicks receiving a fair trial than of Fairfax papers running anti-Packer news under Packer ownership.
Hicks is Australia's John Walker Lindh. The Indymedia elves wish him a fair trial, too.
Which brings us to an interesting point; there is a war on in Afghanistan, and war of a kind happening in the Middle East. Coverage of those conflicts has been erratic, error-prone, and marked by bias. Marr all but ignored this, except to briefly point out an apparently faked live TV cross to Gitmo.
He could have examined the Sydney Morning Herald's casual anti-Israel bias, evident even in the newspaper's Icon web review section last weekend, which mockingly diminished Palestinian terrorism by putting those words in quotes. It also recommended www.pna.net as a great place to find "the latest news and graphics about the Palestinian struggle", and promoted the Peace Now site as providing "an alternative voice from the hard line of the ruling Government … the light blue outline of the peace dove illustrates the values of the organisation."
Or he could have asked why the SMH ran a days-old Maureen Dowd column about the US Office of Strategic Influence after the office had already been closed. Or why the SMH allows rugby writer Peter FitzSimons to opine on subjects he knows nothing about, and which he always gets wrong – the war in Afghanistan will fail, the Governor-General will resign within a week, Australian Rules football was invented in the 20th century …
Or why the SMH letters editor published claims that Chris Corrigan had physically harmed striking dock workers, and even after apologising in print left the offending letter on the SMH website for days. Or why Margo Kingston’s gigantic errors about Enron were never corrected. (For that matter, where is Margo? She promised she'd be back on April 2). Or why SMH television reviewers spend more time writing about the evils of capitalism and the US than they do about TV.
Beats me why Marr didn't examine these things.
Perhaps it's because Marr works for the SMH.
UPDATE: Crikey publisher Stephen Mayne thinks David Marr did a fantastic job. I suspect he's one of the few; within minutes of the Media Watch close, one of Australia's more significant editors called me with a crushing analysis of Marr's performance. Emails from other media types express similar views.
Here's Mayne's (slightly edited) review, from his subscriber e-mail service (go here to become a Crikey subscriber):
MEDIA WATCH HITS THE BULLS-EYE
David Marr got off to an absolute flyer in his debut game for the Media Watch team - 3 Brownlow votes first up for the gun recruit.
He opened up exposing a couple of chestnut hoaxes. The first was a royal watcher wearing a grotesque rug who had several news outlets fall hook, line and sinker for his line that he was an attendant to the Queen Mother (Gaw' bless 'er). All it took was one phone call from Media Watch to establish that this bloke's yarn about being so entrenched in the inner sanctum that he read a newspaper article to the Queen Mother was complete bollocks.
The second was the Sydney Daily Terror's hoax of "Chris Aurora", their intrepid foreign correspondent who managed to find himself in all of the world's hotspots, apparently travelling at the speed of light from one destination to the next. Chris Aurora was in fact the pseudonym used on otherwise nameless foreign wire reports. Marr presumed this was the work of sub editors in honour of their local watering hole, the Aurora hotel just around the corner from News' headquarters in Sydney's Surry Hills.
Marr's big hit was on Channel 9 and their failure to report damning news against Big Kerry and Young Jamie.
Channel 9 in Melbourne and Sydney completely failed to report damning allegations by Brad Keeling in his Federal Court testimony that Young Jamie and PBL CEO Peter Yates had concocted a yarn about the plight of One.Tel and the fact that they'd been "seriously misled". [Mayne is possibly being a little unfair; allegations were aired in Sydney, albeit incompletely, as Media Watch mentioned.] Marr also noted that Channel 9 had failed to report a loophole in legislation which would allow Big Kerry to make political donations of over $50,000, despite the legislative intention of banning casino owners from doing so.
Both of these stories had been widely reported in the non-Packer media.
Just as one was thinking "well, that might be splitting hairs - someone has to make a judgment call as to what's newsworthy", Marr pulls out a story from the Today Show the following day which was a shameless puff piece promoting PBL's participation in a film development joint venture.
Well done and welcome back Media Watch, we've really missed you and wish you the very best of luck.