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Free rein for media monitor

YEARS spent dodging bullets as a correspondent in the Middle East and southeast Asia might -- just might -- prepare Tim Palmer for life in charge of ABC television's Media Watch.

Palmer has been confirmed as the executive producer of a show that causes much angst in newsrooms around the country.

"A lot of the time the program doesn't generate all that much heat," he told The Australian , optimistically.

Instead of girding his loins for battles with editors and journalists who think they've been wronged, he plans to remind them he, too, has been on the wrong side of the program.

Palmer was taken to task by the program's inaugural host, Stuart Littlemore, for referring to a couple of injured policemen "disrespectfully" by their surnames. It led to what Palmer describes as "an enormous difference of opinion".

ABC managing director Mark Scott singled out Media Watch as a program due for an overhaul, in both format and content, in a speech last October.

But Palmer said he had no "riding instructions" from Scott and confirmed Monica Attard would continue as host.

Commentators such as The Sydney Morning Herald's Gerard Henderson and The Australian's Janet Albrechtsen (a member of the ABC board) have accused Media Watch of displaying the kind of bias it is supposed to monitor -- specifically a bias towards a left-wing anti-Western viewpoint.

They won't be reassured by news that Palmer, writing on a left-wing website, cited anti-Israel journalist Robert Fisk as a model of journalistic objectivity while accusing prominent Australian Jewish leaders of attempting to silence debate on the root causes of terrorism.

"I can't remember saying anything like that," he said yesterday. "Fisk wrote the definitive text on the war in Lebanon -- that's what I admire him for.

"But I'm also an admirer of a whole range of people right across the field. I don't come from any particular political position. We're going to look for egregious examples of malpractice ... wherever they lie."

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