‘Journalistic cluelessness’: Ex-Media Watch host roasts regulator

Former ABC Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes has taken aim at Australia’s media regulator and its capacity to oversee journalistic standards, slamming its adverse ruling against the public broadcaster for an investigation into cable TV network Fox News and its coverage of the US 2020 election.

Holmes, in his role as chair of ABC Alumni, said the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) “needlessly damaged” the reputation of ABC’s flagship investigative program, Four Corners, when it ruled it had misled viewers in its two-part series, which largely focused on Fox News’ coverage of former US president Donald Trump.

ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson presented ‘Fox and the Big Lie’, the program that frustrated executives at the American cable network.
ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson presented ‘Fox and the Big Lie’, the program that frustrated executives at the American cable network.

“ABC Alumni has hitherto respected the role of the ACMA as the final arbiter of complaints,” Holmes said in a letter sent to ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin on December 28, seen by this masthead.

“However, it believes that the ACMA’s investigation… has seriously damaged any claim that it is a body whose opinion as to what is or what is not good journalism is worth anything; and furthermore, has needlessly damaged the reputation of Australia’s most important television current affairs program.”

A year-long investigation by the ACMA found the two-part program breached two standards of the ABC’s Code of Practice by omitting relevant context about the appearance of two Fox News presenters at a campaign rally for Trump and failing to include contextual material about the role of social media in inciting the Capitol riots on January 6, and by failing to disclose the nature of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro’s participation in the program.

Former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes.
Former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes.

“Current affairs programs such as Four Corners are not precluded from presenting a particular perspective … but that needs to be balanced against requirements to gather and present information with due impartiality,” O’Loughlin said at the time.

Holmes said the press release released by the ACMA about the report, and the report itself, were more materially misleading than Four Corners’ coverage.

“Regulators such as the ACMA are not precluded from making judgments that are critical of even the most reputable practitioners of investigative journalism. But that needs to be balanced against requirements to understand normal journalistic conventions and to respect legitimate editorial decisions,” Holmes said.


“ABC Alumni consider that the ACMA could have taken greater care in striking that balance in this investigation, to avoid perceptions of partiality towards a powerful complainant, or (perhaps) of journalistic cluelessness.”

It said claims the ABC breached guidelines when it approached Pirro, for example, were “ridiculous”.

“The ‘doorstepping’ of subjects who have previously refused to be interviewed in a program – that is to say, approaching them in the street or on their front doorstep to put questions to them, in the expectation that they will refuse to answer – is one of the oldest devices of television journalism,” he said.

Holmes’ letter, written on behalf of more than two hundred former employees, will further fuel tensions between the media regulator and the ABC, which have escalated since the year-long review of the two episodes was made public in December.

ABC 7:30 presenter Sarah Ferguson, who was behind the investigation, said ACMA made “nonsensical” criticisms about her reporting in an interview with this masthead in December. However, the ruling was accepted by the complainant Fox News, which argued the program and its attack on Fox News was “indefensible” and a “gross distortion of truth”.

The way the ABC handles concerns about its coverage has changed since Fox News first raised its concerns, which were initially dismissed by the national broadcaster’s internal team. An independent review of the complaints system led to the creation of an independent ombudsman, and also found examples of “a dismissed ABC attitude towards complainants, external reviews and rulings by the industry regulator.”

The ABC Alumni is separate from the national broadcaster and did not have oversight of the letter sent to O’Loughlin.

The ACMA was approached for comment.

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Source: Thanks smh.com