Media Watch rapped by media regulator

Who watches the watchdog?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority yesterday ruled that Media Watch breached the ABC code of conduct by not giving a journalist the right of reply.

Ironically, the segment – aired on September 19, 2011 – was accusing Sydney tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph of not giving fair treatment to both sides of a story.

The Media Watch segment had attacked The Daily Telegraph, saying it was running "blatantly one-sided" coverage.

It quoted Communications Minister Stephen Conroy as saying: "The campaign they have been running against the government has been ... blatant, it breaches its own journalistic ethics of News Limited, and I have them here. Some of the reporting recently in The Daily Telegraph fails one ... two ... three of the first three. But that's a personal opinion."

Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes said: "It's an opinion we share. We've said so before. And the Tele is getting more blatantly one-sided as the government's poll figures slide."

Andrew Clennell, the journalist behind a story on poker machine reforms that was cited by Holmes as evidence of the newspaper's supposed bias, initiated the complaint.

ACMA rejected his claim that he had been defamed, pointing out that it had no jurisdiction over the matter.

But it did support his claim that Media Watch had failed to offer him the right of reply.

The media regulator also rejected Media Watch's defence that, in ACMA's words, it was "not obligated to offer the opportunity to respond to the presenter's opinion and that to create such an obligation would unduly constrain journalistic enquiry or artistic expression".

According to the ABC code of practice, "where allegations are made about a person or organisation, [the ABC will] make reasonable efforts in the circumstances to provide a fair opportunity to respond".

The ABC will acknowledge the finding on a future episode of Media Watch, and will add a clarification to its online transcript of the episode.

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