Saturday 2nd August, 2014

Australian Conservative

Last week’s 20-year history of the ABC’s Media Watch missed the best barney of all

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Stuart Littlemore, US publisher Steve Brill and presenter Jennifer Byrne all caught up
in a web of … Stuart’s irony, on ABC1’s Lateline, 11 November 1997.

On Thursday ABC1 aired a history of its Media Watch program – Media Watch 20 Years : Stuff Ups, Beat Ups and Barneys.

A better title would have been Media Watch : 20 Years of PC Policing and Double Standards.

Like the regular Media Watch TV program, the documentary history was interesting for what it didn’t cover.

Australian Conservative hopes to bring you more on the documentary soon. Gerard Henderson commented on the program last Friday in his Media Watch Dog blog.

For a program that takes pride in exposing plagiarism wherever it finds it, you’d think they might have disclosed that the ABC lifted the program’s title straight from the cover of the magazine that Gerard Henderson had launched a year before the first edition of the Media Watch television show went to air.

So, you could say ABC’s Media Watch was born and raised on an act of plagiarism, and it repeats that original sin every week it goes to air.

The documentary revisited a couple of barneys but, regrettably, it didn’t mention one of the most entertaining of all. The one that led to comments in the Senate and, shortly after, the resignation of the show’s first presenter Stuart Littlemore. (Video above.)

This particular on-air row actually occurred on 11 November 1997 in an edition of Lateline devoted to “The Media Watchers”, with guests Stuart Littlemore, US publisher Steve Brill and Sydney Morning Herald media writer Pilita Clark.

Brill and Littlemore started out in friendly enough fashion, with the US publisher suggesting that he could use someone like Littlemore on his planned media publication.

However, things got a little testy later in the discussion when Brill turned the blowtorch on Littlemore over the issue of Media Watch’s mistakes and corrections. Brill thought arrogant Littlemore’s assertion that the program had been error-free, to his knowledge, for the previous two years.

Brill told Littlemore, “You sound like you’re part of the problem.”

The barney developed from there and led to this exchange:

Brill: Do you work for free?

Littlemore; Yeah, I do …

Brill: I guess I missed the part where she [presenter Jennifer Byrne] said you worked for free.

Littlemore: Well, yeah. Sure.

Byrne: But you don’t work for free, Stuart. You work for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It’s true.

The Northern Territory Labor Senator, the late Bob Collins, raised the issue in Parliament and shortly after Littlemore resigned the Media Watch position.

In fairness, only moments before the “work for free” exchange, Littlemore had lamented that Byrne had been unable to detect irony and humour in comments he had been making. A critic, perhaps, needs to use such devices with caution. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that Littlemore was being serious when he created the impression that he worked for free. But, live by the sword …

The Littlemore-Brill encounter and its aftermath is a significant part of the Media Watch story. It should have been covered.

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