All over the Press Down Under

By Trembath, Brendan | Washington Journalism Review, December 1992 | Go to article overview
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All over the Press Down Under


Trembath, Brendan, Washington Journalism Review


Australian journalists have come to dread Monday evenings, when they could well find their reporting scrutinized on "Media Watch: The Last Word," a much-feared 15-minute television program produced by the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Since 1989, "Media Watch" has critiqued everything from the way American and Australian correspondents dressed while covering the gulf war to the influence of the businessmen who own much of the nation's urban media. It also has brought to light some embarrassing cases of plagiarism, such as the editorial by an influential radio commentator in which passages had been lifted from a Frederick Forsyth novel.

Journalists can usually stomach coverage of issues such as ownership, but they often blanch when the criticism is aimed at their work. Relatively obscure print reporters have found their words being dissected over the airwaves by anchor Stuart Littlemore, who singles out questionable reporting that is read aloud in a tone to match the article. Items from Rupert Murdoch's tabloids, for example, are shouted.

A former journalist who now works as a lawyer, Littlemore says Australian reporters dislike "Media Watch" because he hits them with their own artillery. "I use the techniques of modern journalism to criticize modern journalism," he explains.

Television reporters seem to take the hardest hits. One of the latest was Steve Barret of the Nine Network, who was captured on videotape trying to obtain photos of a murder victim from the man's widow. Littlemore introduced the tape, shot covertly by a rival network cameraman, by explaining to viewers that "tabloids like Nine regard a picture of the deceased as essential" for their newscasts. He also noted that many reporters have no qualms about lying to get them, as Barret appeared to do.

The tape showed Barret, wearing a suit and carrying a cellular phone, just inside the woman's front door. Among other things, he told her that he needed photographs of her dead husband for "general police release.

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