Janine Perrett, from inside the Media Watch bunker.
Stepping into Media Watch for a two week stint, Janine Perrett is full of praise for how it operates.
“A friend said, ‘You’ve got the keys to the Ferrari to take it for a spin!'” says Janine Perrett.
“That’s a bit what it felt like. It was to me the dream job in media for many of us. And I got to do it not once, but twice!”
Taking up an invitation to guest host Media Watch was not something Perrett had to think hard about. Over 4 decades in journalism she’d worked at The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, Nine Network, SKY News, and been both US and UK correspondents.
No surprise she was executive producer Tim Latham’s first choice when host Paul Barry was knocked out of action in a cycling accident earlier this month.
“He said, ‘Do you want to think about it?’ I said ‘Nope!'” she tells TV Tonight.
“I wasn’t worried about upsetting anyone”
“I think a lot of people would be wary of it, but I’ve gotten to a point after 40 years in my career, I felt confident I could do it fairly. I wasn’t worried about upsetting anyone.
“But it’s very much Paul Barry’s so there were a whole lot of reasons it was daunting. It was great people were very positive. I was very pleased about that.”
Borrowing the keys to said car meant that Perrett can offer some insight into the long-running ABC show without being on staff. Indeed as a former SKY News presenter, how did she feel about the way the Media Watch unit runs?
“It was incredible how this is such an independent little state within this big institution of the ABC. It is truly an island of independence. You walked in and felt they do their own thing. You really felt it was its own show and not that the ABC presence was overlooking you,” she continues.
“We know how hard the ABC tries not to do commentary, how touchy that is at the moment. Yet here is this show, that is all about opinion. It has to have a viewpoint, it has an attitude. So I was really impressed that within the confines of what they have to do, they were quite happy for me to have my stamp on it… to give my opinion, to feel confident, while guiding me within the parameters of the show.”
“The fact checking here is like something I haven’t seen”
Perrett, who also fronted two Media Bites, acknowledges that journalists need to be open to accepting criticism. She underlines the level of fact-checking, workshopping of material up to broadcast, and breadth of stories.
“The fact checking here is like something I haven’t seen (since working in) the US… they go over everything,” she continues.
“There are all these shows appearing with clips doing a version of Media Watch, with a lot of people doing it. But this is a tight team that has to get a lot and they have to get it right. If you’re critiquing the media, the onus is on you. You cannot make mistakes. That was the emphasis I got from day one.”
The guest role also afforded her some editorial room for moment of personality and levity, including a jab at her former employer SKY News when she noted on air they hate being referred to as “After Dark.”
“That was me!” she laughs. “They didn’t give me direction on any of that. Their scripts are so tight, but I’ve come in from SKY where you do everything yourself!
“You want to you want to make your mark”
“That’s the hard thing when you’re a guest presenter, especially on a show like this. You want to make your mark, but equally, you’re very respectful of the format and what they’re doing.
“Within the confines of the script, which obviously was my final call, I did want to put a bit of a stamp on it. The SKY thing’s there as the elephant in the room, obviously. I wanted to be cheeky with that, but I didn’t want cheap shots at them either. I mean, they deserve the whacks where they get it.
“I used to say to certain people there that they suffered ABC-derangement-syndrome”
“But I was never part of the anti-ABC. In fact, I used to say to certain people there that they suffered ABC-derangement-syndrome. It was that bad. And sure, Media Watch is critical about the ABC where it’s wrong. That’s not to say everybody is perfect all the time.
“I always found it ironic that the biggest critics of Media Watch at SKY were the ones who put their hand up for the job if they thought it was available!”
Perrett even admits she was looking forward to SKY News facing a Senate Inquiry ahead of her first show -until a lockdown postponed it to a date yet to be determined.
“I was excited. That was going to be fantastic. I had no problem with covering that. I was quite looking forward to it. I was devastated when COVID hit Canberra!”
With Paul Barry back in the chair on Monday, Perrett hands back the keys to the Ferrari, full of praise for the main man.
“The man has never missed a show since he took it on in 2013”
“The man has never missed a show since he took it on in 2013. That is an extraordinary record. So it must have been incredibly frustrating. I know what it’s like. I broke my shoulder years ago when I was doing a show on SKY. I was in the hospital saying, ‘I’ll be back soon!'”
Perrett is also under no presumption about returning to the chair in the future, but remains grateful for new opportunities, and is reminded how much she loves being on TV.
“I’ve learned over the years, television is entertainment as well. It’s a very serious show with a very important role. But it also is entertainment. And let’s be honest, media gives us plenty to smile about.”
She adds, “There are people who think that they’re picking on certain organisations, but they go out of their way not to look like that. I guess I’d sum it up as saying there is no agenda. People will never believe that. But watching it first hand, it confirmed what I thought. They don’t have an agenda for anyone.
“Everybody is fair game. But fair is the word.”
Media Watch airs 9:18pm Mondays on ABC.