Media Watch got it wrong, says journo

Sally Jackson | August 24, 2009

Article from: The Australian

ABC radio journalist Steve Holland has quit in protest over last week's edition of ABC-TV watchdog program Media Watch, which he said unfairly criticised a major corruption story he helped break.

Holland, a casual employee at international broadcasting arm Radio Australia since 2006, accused Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes of a conflict of interest and said management should not have let the "error-filled" segment to go to air.

"I was disappointed by the way Media Watch handled the story, I was concerned by the number of factual errors broadcast and I was disappointed that a stronger defence was not provided by the ABC for its journalists and the story," he said.

"This story should never have been carried on Media Watch. Our story is true and it stands up. They got it all wrong."

Since last month, ABC radio has run a series of stories alleging East Timorese prime minister Xanana Gusmao had approved a multi-million dollar government contract for a company part-owned by his daughter, Zenilda.

Mr Gusmao has denied the accusations and has not responded to the ABC's requests for comment.

Media Watch reported that at one point he appeared to concede the basic story might be right.

Last Monday's edition of Media Watch criticised the ABC radio journalists for lacking "solid proof" and for not reporting on new documents it said might disprove their allegation.

A key source for the Media Watch report was Jill Jolliffe, a freelance journalist based in East Timor and the author of Cover-Up, a book about the 1975 murder of six journalists in the country.

In 1998 Holmes and Jolliffe shared a Logie Award for their report on the murders for the ABC's Foreign Correspondent.

Jolliffe wasn't named in Monday night's show, Holmes referring to her as "an Australian journalist who's close to the current government". Holland complained that her identity should have been disclosed.

"(Jolliffe) has been trying to discredit the (Gusmao) story for a while," he said.

"Should Holmes not declare he has been put on to the story by someone he has close ties with and someone who has close ties with the East Timorese government?"

Holmes said yesterday that the program did not usually mention any of its sources. He had worked with many other journalists and did not see a need to declare the fact that he had once worked with Jolliffe because he did not believe it presented a conflict of interest.

"I had a professional working relationship with Jill Jolliffe for four months, 11 years ago," he said.

MediaWatch and Holmes defended the program, saying it was accurate and balanced, and executive producer Jo Puccini said she did not believe there were errors.

Jolliffe said she was unaware Holmes was presenting Media Watch when she contacted the program and rejected the description of herself as being close to the East Timorese government.

"That is completely false," she said. "I have no brief for the government. I have no axe to grind. It's well possible there is corruption in the government, or related to it ... but the issue with which (ABC radio) came out was completely undocumented and in fact I found documents which showed it to be false."

Puccini said the program stood by its report, although she said Holmes had agreed that describing Jolliffe as being close to the East Timorese government was "an unfortunate choice of words".

"(Jolliffe) did not deal with Jonathan during the preparation of the program, but with one of our researchers," she said.

ABC News national programs head Alan Sunderland said as Holland was working as a casual in the Radio Australia newsroom "he has not resigned".

"ABC News stands by its reporting of (the) story, and is continuing to chase new angles and new developments," he said.

"ABC News is not in dispute with Media Watch. Although we stand by our journalism, we also recognise and respect Media Watch's brief to criticise, analyse and comment on whatever it sees fit."


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