Outgoing Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes may have dished it out, but he’s also had to take it.
During his 5.5 years he has been the show’s first host to receive instant feedback via Twitter from both viewers and critics.
It was rarely more evident than when he was criticised over a show that went to air on the same day Fairfax sacked 1900 staff and announced a plan to introduce tabloid size newspapers, last June. Viewers demanded to know why such major news barely rated a mention.
But the script had already been put to bed and the topic was addressed in depth a week later.
Despite ongoing criticisms, Holmes has welcomed the audience input.
“I think that’s been pretty healthy,” he told TV Tonight. “I find that very interesting. Some of my team think I care far too much about what Twitter says and they rightly point out it’s a very select audience. It’s very dangerous to assume that Twitter represents anybody much apart from itself. But I do find that feedback interesting, the stories that get a big reaction and the stories that don’t. Sometimes I think we’ve done a big story and it sinks like a stone on social media. But I think all feedback’s useful.
“One thing that people always say on social media, and indeed in real life, is ‘Oh I wish it was longer! 13 minutes is just ridiculous!’ But I’d only say to those people that there is no way the format Media Watch has sustained for 20-odd years could work at half an hour, let alone an hour. It’s too concentrated, it’s too unremitting to have one person talking at you like that.
“So what would happen is if it was longer you’d start to have panels, discussions, and in the end you’d get through no more material than we get through now.”
Holmes also agrees that online commentary should carry author identification, but concedes it is a rule impossible to enforce.
“I do think that anonymity online fuels the disagreeable aspects of the online conversation. The rudeness, the unpleasantness, the untempered insults are much easier to do if you don’t have a name attached to yourself. In an ideal world I think it would be good if people stuck a name to what they say but I don’t see any way that you could really enforce that,” he says.
During his term Holmes has tackled a number of regular subjects: Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, The Australian, Kyle Sandilands, media reform and Climate Change. But if there are any single achievements he isn’t about to nominate any, preferring to underline the ongoing role of the programme.
“We can’t point to the big news story like ‘Cash for Comment.’ In fact I think that’s the only huge story that Media Watch has ever done in the sense of something that fundamentally changed the way that media operated,” he explained.
“But when you’ve got an editor saying ‘I don’t care how you get it, just get me the story!’ which editors say all the time, very often journos say ‘I really shouldn’t knock on this door or pester this person.’ One small counterweight to the very powerful voice of their editors is the thought that they could end up on Media Watch as a result. And that would not be good for them and it would not be good for their newspaper.
“Secondly I think our main function is to give people who are badly done by a much quicker, swifter and in a way more satisfying redress than they’re ever going to get from the Press Council or ACMA. Partly because they’d have to wait several months for that to happen and partly because more often than not it’s a flick with a wet towel.”
Looking at the media landscape ahead there are still issues to address, including changes recommended in 2 media inquiries. Amongst those was a recommendation to replace the government media watchdog, ACMA.
Holmes supports the introduction of a single, self-regulatory body for all news, with journalists involved in judgments and with big news organisations required to be members.
“I don’t think that a statutory organisation with the backing of the law which means that it becomes very legalistic and that it therefore takes months to come to a decision, has been a successful experiment and I think we should get rid of it,” he said.
“I think the Convergence Review had some very good arguments on this. What it said is that the function of ACMA that is to do with the administration of the Codes, especially for news and current affairs broadcasting, should be moved to a body that oversees all news media. And that should have more in common with the way that the Australian Press Council works than with ACMA.”
But he does have some sympathy for ACMA’s quiet push in asking for more flexibility in dishing out punishment, much of which is either too feeble or too powerful.
“I do think that there are occasions when they should have the power to demand that an approved correction, apology or acknowledgment be published,” he observed.
“As the Press Council has shown, you can do that in a self-regulatory environment. You can make it a condition of membership that the members accept the ruling of the body that’s regulating them.”
So what’s next for Holmes after vacating his chair? Even he doesn’t know what’s around the corner…
“I obviously don’t expect to be sitting on my butt forever. But sometimes I think it’s quite a wise strategy to go out there and see what turns up,” he said.
“I’ve been in television all my life and still enjoy television. One of the most fun things I’ve done in my career is being a reporter for Foreign Correspondent. I haven’t even talked to the guys yet but if it was possible to do one or two trips a year for Foreign Corrie I think that would be huge fun. But they’d have to find the money to pay me as a freelancer rather than on staff, and that’s always difficult these days.
“At this stage I’m just going to see what happens inside me and outside me. I don’t feel a huge (need to) rush into anything else at the moment.”
Next week Paul Barry takes the chair of Media Watch.