The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a weekly 10-minute media commentary programme called Media Watch. On this week’s programme host Jonathan Holmes had fun with a Channel 10 reporter who referred to the ‘crucification’ of Jesus Christ, which Holmes called ‘an excellent example of the gradual crucifixion of the English language’, and a female ABC newsreader who, referring to ‘Maoist rebels in central India’, pronounced the word ‘Maoist’ as ‘may-o-ist’. Holmes gleefully pointed out that Chairman Mao had been around for quite a long time and was pretty well known and this wasn’t how his name was pronounced. In the next story the ABC was castigated for failing to properly conceal the addresses of petitioners on behalf of a transsexual man who was fighting for the right to have the gender on his birth certificate changed. To make matters worse, the channel had also failed to properly conceal his address, leaving him terrified of sightseers or other undesirables coming to his home.
In the third story, the victims of a drive-by shooting who asked a camera crew to leave their property, then got aggressive when the camera crew refused to leave, were secretly filmed telling the reporter they would ‘fix him up’. They were subsequently vilified for their behaviour on the programme. Holmes quite properly pointed out that the family were the victims of the drive-by shooting who were naturally nervous about being attacked again and certainly did not want their home shown on television. But the programme had treated them as though they were the villains. He dismissed the reporter’s response that her crew was ‘just there to help’ as the nonsense that it was.
But it was the final item on the programme that was most telling. A young Muslim man, accused of rioting, had been released from court on bail. As he was leaving the court with his father, a Channel 7 cameraman pushed a camera into the young man’s face and started filming. The father very politely asked the cameraman to ‘please stop’. The camera was then turned on the father, while the son walked off down the road. The father continued to ask the cameraman to ‘Please stop. Please leave us alone.’ The son called out, ‘You’ve got me already. You’ve got may face. Now please go away.’ Father and son then crossed to the other side of the road. The camera crew followed and shoved the camera in the father’s face again.
He made several more pleas for them to stop and leave him and his son alone. They start to walk away. The cameraman is then heard saying, ‘Fuck off then.’ The father returns and asks, ‘What did you say? Did you tell me to fuck off? You can’t do that.’ He starts to walk away again. The cameraman is heard to say, ‘Fucking terrorist.’ The son hears this and comes back and starts to yell at the cameraman. His language his understandably fairly ripe, but the thrust of what he has to say is utterly reasonable. His father has been an Australian citizen for more than 20 years. In that time he has never seen the inside of a courtroom. How dare you call him a terrorist. And he repeats several times, ‘Is this what it’s come to?
Is this what it’s come to?’ All in all, the father asked the cameraman 25 times to ‘Please stop.’ What is really dreadful about his episode, more dreadful than what the cameraman said, is that Channel 7 did not show the events leading up to the father’s anger or the son’s outburst. A Channel 7 viewer would have been left with the impression that these were typical, bloody aggressive Muslims. The Channel was exposed because the whole scene had been filmed by Channel 9 which did not broadcast the item at all, but supplied the footage to the ABC. The cameraman, whose name is Simon Fuller, has been stood down following an investigation by Channel 7. I have no doubt that he should be sacked, as should the programme’s editor or producer. All this in 10 minutes. Wonderful television.
I recall at the hearings into a third television channel many years ago asking Hugh Rennie, then Chair of the BCNZ, this question: ‘TVNZ has a programme called I Like That One Two. Does it have a programme called, I Don’t Like That One At All?’ The answer, as I knew, was No. Television New Zealand – the state broadcaster – has been remiss in not having a programme like the ABC’s Media Watch since it abandoned Fourth Estate a lifetime ago. Television, generally considered to be the most powerful of the media, has a corresponding obligation to look critically at itself. Russell Brown’s excellent Media 7 programme is a welcome addition to the TVNZ schedules, but it takes the form of a debate rather than offering straight television or media criticism. So let’s bring back Fourth Estate or maybe something called View From The Couch. I’d be a contributor, and I can think of a dozen others who would too. How about it?