March 12, 2012 | Graham

Media watching her watching them

There is a rule that journalists can’t reveal their sources, but there is no rule that says that journalists making enquiries can’t be named and shamed. So when Jennifer Marohasy asked my advice as to what she should do when she appeared to be targeted by the ABC’s Media Watch I suggested she put her response to their questions up on her blog before their program went to air. You can see the result here.

This approach has at least two effects. It makes the exchange between the media organisation and the respondent transparent right from the beginning, making it harder for the media organisation to ambush and misrepresent. It also takes the potential sting out of the segment by exposing elements of it early.

This reverses the power in the narrative, which normally lies with the media organisation because they are the initiator. But in this case initiation leads to premature exposure.

The program was to run tonight, but has been either deferred, or canned.

Marohasy has been campaigning to have the barrages – a form of dam – removed from what most of us would think of as the mouth of the River Murray. While much has been made of the fact that the Murray often doesn’t run into the sea, hardly anyone is aware that it is stopped from doing that by a series of dams.

During the Federation plus 100 drought that we have just experienced, water was being siphoned off from higher up the Murray and Darling to keep the lakes at the mouth of the Murray full. If they had been in their natural state the tide would have done that for free, and saved a considerable amount of water for upstream communities.

On Line Opinion first published Jennifer’s controversial views on the lower lakes in August 2008. We did that because they made sense. The current arrangements with the lakes are obviously artificial, and their listing as a RAMSAR wetland is just as obviously mistaken.

Media Watch contacted Marohasy on Friday seeking answers to a list of questions with the intention of going to air tonight. If another program behaved like this they would run the risk of making a star appearance on Media Watch. Marohasy formed the opinion that the story had already been written. That seems a reasonable point of view.

Certainly the questions that Media Watch put to Marohasy indicated that they either had done no independent research about the lakes, or were incapable of understanding simple physical concepts. The questions about her sources of income were bizarre and mostly irrelevant, but obviously intended to frame her as a stooge for some group or another.

While the target of the program will presumably, assuming it does eventually air, be The Land where Marohasy writes a column, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Media Watch’s interest in this story is to do with an environmental, rather than media, agenda.

Columnists are paid to express their own opinions and by necessity generally have full-time jobs. So I’m not sure what the fact that Marohasy has opinions and is sometimes paid by others, has to do with anything that Media Watch could be interested in.

But what interests me most is the change in the media environment where, courtesy of the Internet, the prey can actually get some purchase and come back at the predator.

Will we see journalists in the future contacting politicians and other public figures and first demanding that their identity be kept secret and discussion be “off the record”, a position which is now normally that of the informant? I guess we will. But will Media Watch deem that proper?

Posted by Graham at 10:12 pm | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. It strikes me when watching Media Watch that there is another unspoken agenda at work. Holmes just doesn’t seem to casting a critical eye over the big picture of mainstream media bias, curtesy of the Murdochs/Packers and now Reinhart. He has been critical, both of the Finkelstein inquiry and it’s report. He seems to be arguing for a continuation of the status quo, which would imply he thinks there is no problem and self regulation is the way to go. He was even a defender of Andrew Bolt when he was convicted of racial vilification. He just didn’t seem to get the point of the judgement and was more concerned with protecting media ‘free speech’ which wasn’t even relevant to the case. He seems to focus on small fry in order to avoid catching the bigger fish. Not impressed with him at all.

    Comment by SueP — March 13, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  2. […] Read more here: // […]

    Pingback by ‘your’ ABC…fact checked, drubbed and put-down | pindanpost — March 13, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

  3. Graham: Imo the Media Watch fuss could be based on a valid point since we don’t know who pays Jenifer for her sometimes controversial Murray Darling Basin studies. But we do know dear Jenifer is not an engineer in the strict use of the term. I say too that normal quality control is also missing.

    Only yesterday we were alerted to the discussion via ABC Radio National (Counterpoint) on major medical research as it’t often done in the US and elsewhere in relation to the promotion of new drugs. The writer interviewed eventually pushed her case in one direction; all that missing evidence that should help to keep some perspective and balance when the outcome is actually owned by one or more stake holders.

    On this thread we see argument about salinity before and after barriers were erected. Not all salt comes in from the sea. I suggest for starters; any stagnant water process in the lower lakes must be compared to other large salt pan evaporation at the end of other long inland river systems we have at hand.

    Graham: Pulling millions of gallons out for huge irrigation areas on the way through regardless of flow must be seen as the prime aberration in our MDB. Upstream storage however large hardly changes that fact. Robbing Peter to pay Paul by some preferential manner was never going to be scientific in river ecology terms.

    We only get these big natural floods when all man made storage is absolutely full and such widespread rainfall as we had recently is quite unpredictable despite a couple of good years.

    So; my final conclusion is, we don’t know who is crying for SA’s lake water.

    Comment by gavin — March 13, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

  4. For the story behind that Counterpoint interview and the skewed science bit see –

    Comment by gavin — March 13, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

  5. Gavin posted the above comment at my blog and I deleted it because it is defamatory. And indeed Gavin has read my response to Media Watch and knows what he writes to be untrue. I request the comment be deleted.

    Comment by Jennifer Marohasy — March 14, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

  6. I have no wish to support Media Watch or the ABC and I admire Jennifer Marohasy for refusing to be browbeaten by them. But your interpretation of the management of the Lower Lakes is faulty.
    Water was not siphoned off from upstream to keep the lakes full and so deprive irrigators upstream. The water was a normal legal entitlement under current agreements. Nor was it to keep the lakes full. It was barely enough to prevent exposed lakebed from irreversible damage.
    It is highly debatable what the “natural” state of the lakes was 100 years ago. The barrages do not prevent river water flowing out the mouth, they retard ocean water from mixing into the lake water. This provides SA with a fresh water storage which it puts to good use for farmers, irrigators and domestic supply.
    It is demanded that the barrages be removed to restore the “natural” state. Why? Could you name me any part of the Murray-Darling system which is “natural” today? This would mean SA lose its large fresh water storage. Why is storing fresh water OK in Vic and NSW but not allowable in SA. Why are the Menindee Lakes a good thing because they store water but not the Lower Lakes. The Menindee Lakes are less “natural” than the Lower Lakes. Fifty years ago they were side lakes that stored only flood water. A huge weir was built to convert these lakes into large lakes to store mainstrean Darling water. (Much of which evaporates in the outback sun.) How is this any different from SA storing fresh water in the Lower Lakes? Do you think SA does not make just as good use of this water as your precious upstream users?

    Comment by Pedro of Adelaide — March 14, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

  7. 1st a confession: I posted at Jens before listening to the podcast of her speech in Sydney based on previous long winded blog discussion re the MDB saga. Then I realized it was probably in the wrong place as I was hoping to get feedback on the idea she should come out re sponsors and be done with it on MW.

    A CEO of a global mainframe software Corp said when interviewed on our ABC about internet directions, if you are worried about operating as a private person in the next gen of internet tricks and trade, “you shouldn’t be on there”

    Gavin “knows what he writes to be untrue”

    Although not a scientist or writer, dare I say my interest in rivers, estuaries and coastlines precedes many in blogsphere. Also; after analysing that speech, Jen’s MDB – Yarra comparison was crude. Sure; the muddy Yarra flows west of the Great Divide, but for most of it’s length, imo it behaves like many of those flowing east.

    Btw I spent some time implementing water security upgrades for the MMBW as it was. In retirement I expect the next gen to their bit differently but properly too. Three close family here are full time “science writers” working for different departments on environment matters. Although we can’t discuss details, I can occasionally drop hints about earlier practice in ground truthing policies and data.

    Besides all that, I have a soft spot for shallow lakes and ponds in any system.

    Sorry Jen.

    Comment by gavin — March 15, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

  8. […] Media watching her watching them  from Ambit Gambit […]

    Pingback by Jennifer Marohasy v Media Watch | Cranky Old Crow — March 16, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

  9. […] many of us for too long have been ridiculed for advocating the restoration of the Murray River’s estuary, but now it’s almost a recommendation from the NSW Parliament’s Standing Committee on […]

    Pingback by Government committee puts estuary restoration on table | Myth & The Murray — August 21, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

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