Mediocrity at its best

November 8, 2005

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Media Watch program is an eagerly awaited TV segment each week - if only for the reason that it takes the wind out of many a pompous journalist's sails and helps the public justify its scepticism of those who put finger to computer keyboard each day in the belief that they are harbingers of the truth.

But there has to be a low point for everything and this year I've watched it touch its nadir. At least, I hope this is the lowest it gets, for if it goes any lower, then there is no reason to keep it going.

The four presenters I've seen in the past - Stuart Littlemore, Paul Barry, Richard Ackland and David Marr - are all serious professionals. Apart from Littlemore, all were journalists and what they exposed on Media Watch was a great deal of posing and rackets. Ackland exposed radio broadcaster John Laws who had taken cash from the telco Telstra in exchange for promoting the company and Marr shone a light on the unholy nexus between the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, David Flint, and broadcaster Alan Jones.

And though I can't recall Barry and Littlemore doing anything as big, there was one thing they never did - descend to banal triviality. This year's host, Liz Jackson, has done little to merit the passing of the baton to her.

The Australian media gets up to foibles aplenty, most of them trivial. If a program has nothing else to do than to keep chronicling such trivialities, then it tends to resemble the very programs or articles which get up to these same trivialities. For example, plagiarism - you see hundreds of such cases every year. But unless there is something serious, what's the point of relating such incidents with apparent glee writ large on one's face?

Jackson, for starters, is unwilling to admit her own mistakes. When mistakes are pointed out on the Media Watch website, the watchdogs there promptly remove any posts that make such a point. I know, one of my own posts met such a fate. Apparently, the good Jackson can do no wrong.

For some strange reason, Jackson has a reputation for being a good investigative reporter. I needed to watch just one of her so-called investigations - into match-fixing by cricketers from the Indian subcontinent - to realise that there is little substance in her "investigations." Sensationalism plays a part in portraying a report as something greater than what it is and the naivety of those who watch adds the remainder. As the great H.G. Wells said, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

What has Jackson come up with in one season of Media Watch that one can remember her for? Nothing. Barring petty charges against various journalists, there was nothing of substance. And even her television presence is poor - she sits there, nervously twisting her hands each and every week. Has nobody from the ABC got the commonsense to film her above the nervous twitch?

Then there is the patronising smile. The self-righteous look. The sideways glance with the mouth slightly open. None of its makes for good television but if the subject matter had been up to scratch then all these and a multitude of other sins would have been overlooked.

There have been no lack of serious issues which merited some decent treatment on Media Watch. The vilification of Muslims. The anti-terror laws. The bid by Health Minister Tony Abbott to use a child he thought he had fathered outside marriage in a cynical bid to push his own abortion agenda. These are just a few things which saw the media react in a manner that could have provided plenty of fodder. Alas, they were mostly lost on Jackson.

Even in her last program for the season (and here's hoping she doesn't return), Jackson couldn't take a trick. A couple of days back, Prime Minister John Howard came up with a statement that had people laughing in supermarket aisles - that a terrorist threat was imminent and he needed to recall the Senate to pass a change in legislation. The change was laughable - the definite article in an existing law was changed to an indefinite article. Oh how Osama trembled when he heard of it!

The next day, The Australian, had a front page opinion piece by its foreign editor Dennis Shanahan arguing that this could definitely not be called a stunt. If Media Watch can miss such a gem, which cries out to be ridiculed, then someone somewhere needs to get a swift kick in the pants. Methinks that person's surname is Jackson.

PS: Here's a classic Jackson blooper for which she refused to apologise. On March 8, 2005, she quoted this from the Herald Sun: "Royal bride to be Camilla Parker Bowles will officially become British queen after fiance Charles takes the throne... Parker Bowles is to marry Prince Charles, who will take the throne once his mother Queen Elizabeth dies, on April 8th..."
With the punctuation in place, nothing is wrong with this paragraph. It is a trifle clumsy, sure.
But Jackson had this to say: "Has anyone broken the news to Her Majesty? She has 11 days to live. That wire story came from AFP - Agence France Presse - and the Herald Sun and its rival The Age both ran their grim prediction as online news."