The credibility of Media Watch is on the line today, with staff including presenter Jonathan Holmes being accused of deliberately taking action in an effort to avoid the reporting of an ABC Lateline story that had glaring mistakes and involved a reporter who was a friend of Holmes.
The show which has a penchant for taking pot shots at IT writers including myself and Peter Blasina, Channel Seven’s Gadget Guy has been accused by the Australian newspaper of failing to report glaring mistakes in what was labelled by the ABC as a major story that purported to expose major cover ups by the Catholic Church.
The Australian said “the story, an expose alleging the cover-up of child abuse in the Catholic Church in the 1970s, turned out to be such a seriously shoddy piece of reporting that it raises questions about whether investigative reporting remains ABC strength”.
When the story was first bought to the attention of Media Watch Holmes who likes to present himself as a hard hitting journalists appears to have turned to blubber when having to confront one of his fellow reporters about poor reporting.
He ducked for cover claiming the reporter on the story Suzanne Smith was a “close friend” of his. The pompous presenter used the “friend” defense to isolate himself from any involvement in the story. Even more embarrassing is that senior management of the ABC appear to have gone along with what now appears to be an attempt by the ABC Media Watch team to kill off a story that had serious flaws.
Smith stood accused of not only doing poor research but failing to correct glaring mistakes.
The story alleged that Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, the man tipped to become the next archbishop of Sydney, knew or should have known about child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in NSW in the 1970s.
Smith and the ABC claimed at the time that that Wilson, as a young priest in Maitland, had turned a blind eye while 12-year-old Peter Gogarty was abused by paedophile priest James Fletcher.
The story claimed the abuse took place in a house shared by Wilson, Fletcher and other priests. Wilson, the report alleged, had seen Fletcher marching Gogarty upstairs to a bedroom on numerous occasions, but did nothing about it.
But there was one big snag which Holmes and the Media Watch team has chosen not to expose. Firstly, Gogarty turned 12 in 1972, and Wilson did not become a priest until 1975.
Secondly, Wilson did not live in the Maitland house with Fletcher until 1982, by which time Gogarty was 20.
Shortly after the story went to air Wilson’s communications director, Jenny Brinkworth contacted the ABC and Media Watch to complain about the inaccuracies.
The story which seriously questions the ethics of Media Watch, who are keen to chase down journalists in the IT industry, follows what appears to be a deliberate strategy by Holmes to avoid exposing a colleague and close personal friend.
Other allegations centre on the actions of Media Watch staff.
The Australian newspaper pointed out that Misha Ketchell, a Media Watch researcher assigned to the investigation and a person who had been critical of Smith’s work when working as an editor at Crikey was suddenly isolated from the story by Lin Buckfield the Executive Producer of Media Watch who told him he could not contact or have any discussions with Smith.
.”We decided that because of their past history it would be better for Misha not to get involved in direct conversations,” Buckfield told the Australian newspaper. “In any case, we rarely approach journalists directly about their stories.”
Really, I was approached four times both by email and by telephone when I was being accused by Media Watch.
Ketchell admitted that Smith had made a serious error, but when Buckfield approached Smith’s online unit she was advised the error had arisen in “post-production” and had been corrected on the online transcript.
When Brinkworth contacted the ABC to inquire as to why the story had not been put to air they told her “It had something to do with the personalities involved.”
The Australian reported that Holmes not only excused himself from the investigation but warned his colleagues that if a Media Watch item were to be done, he may not be able to present it.
Holmes according to the Australian said “there were not sufficient grounds to justify an item”. Buckfield said “the tip-off didn’t stack up”and claims lead investigator Ketchell wanted it dropped. But the ABC will not allow Ketchell to speak for himself, nor will it provide the briefing note he allegedly wrote recommending the investigation cease.
“Media Watch will not be releasing the private briefing note to you,” Buckfield told the Australian.