Watching Media Watch’s iPad coverage


opinion In its criticism of the media coverage of the launch of Apple’s new iPad in Australia this week, the ABC’s normally stellar Media Watch program went too far, alleging journalistic impropriety where there was none, and unfairly targeting media outlets for legitimately covering an important news story which the public was interested in.

I have for a long time (dating back to the days of then-host Stuart Littlemore in the 1990’s) been a stalwart fan of Media Watch. The show’s role as a watchdog on the nation’s media is an important one that has a great deal of benefit to the public, and I enjoy seeing some of the most arrogant individuals in the nation’s fourth estate snarkily taken down a peg on occasion.

In addition, viewing Media Watch every week has obvious benefits for my own career. Viewed with an open mind, the show can act as a significant educational force for journalists like myself — showing us the boundaries of our often free-flowing ethics and highlighting others’ mistakes as signposts which should guide all of us in the media in our daily lives.

In short, I love nothing more than to settle into the couch with a hot chocolate on a Monday night each week and watch the show’s unsettlingly insightful host Jonathan Holmes tear shreds off the media industry in satisfying style. Its chilling tagline — ‘everyone loves it until they’re on it’ — and sardonic witticisms ring all of my bells, and I usually applaud its efforts. I await the day Media Watch chooses to attempt to tear Delimiter to shreds with keen anticipation.

However, this week I couldn’t help but feel that Mr Holmes and his team of researchers had gone too far when analysing coverage of one particular segment of the media sphere which, as a technology journalist, I am rather an expert in — over-hyped product launches by iconic gadget giant Apple.

Media Watch’s three minute segment on the Australian launch of the new iPad several weeks ago started off in standard territory — accusing the media of being too “compliant” in “eagerly dishing out free publicity” for every new launch of an Apple product. This, of course, has long been fair game for media analysts, and every technology journalist worth their salt is aware of the criticism that the media treats Apple differently than it does other companies.

But from that point on, as Media Watch showed clip after clip of the Australian media outlining the new iPad’s features outside various Apple stores teeming with avid wannabe new iPad owners, the program’s criticism of the issue descended into baseless accusations.

“Geeks,” Holmes pronounced, were “queuing up for no reason” to buy the new iPad. This factor, “combined with an all-too-eager media”, generated a “completely artificial story” about the new iPad’s launch in Australia.

In February, he pointed out, Samsung had launched a rival product which supported 4G speeds, “a genuine technical advance on what’s currently available”, whereas the nation’s current affairs programs had failed to inform Australian viewers that the new iPad wasn’t capable of the same. And when they did, they didn’t do it well enough. Holmes told his viewers: “Unlike Seven and Ten, the guest geeks on Nine and the ABC did eventually get around to the 4G issue – though it was no big deal, said [ reporter] Luke Hopewell.”

“So that’s all right. Go buy a new iPad.”

The ABC came in for particular criticism, due to a well-known clause in its editorial guidelines which stops the broadcaster’s journalists from mentioning product brands on air too much. “Why on earth,” Holmes wondered, “did ABC News Breakfast spend nine minutes in all on a bunch of tech-heads queuing outside a shop with a piece of fruit on it, to buy a marginally updated product that they could have got anywhere?” Written between the lines was Media Watch’s obviously self-aware attempt to adhere to those same guidelines itself.

The only problem with this is that from the perspective of someone who’s been covering Apple and technology products in general for a decade now, the overwhelming majority of the coverage which the Australian media generated around the launch of the new iPad locally — and certainly every clip Media Watch showed this week — was spot on the money; a fact which Media Watch did not appear to understand.

Almost all of Australia’s tech press correctly reported that the major new feature on the new iPad was the significantly enhanced resolution of its display, which genuinely represents something of a step change in touchscreen technology. This level of technology is simply not available from any other manufacturer and really enhances users’ experience of tablets in a way which has not been seen before.

In addition, while there is some interest in 4G mobile broadband speeds from early adopters, most of Australia’s more than a million iPad owners appear to be more than happy with their 3G speeds on their iPads so far. The new iPad does offer significantly enhanced network speeds in Australia over the previous iPad 2 due to, as Hopewell plainly noted, its dual-band HSDPA support, and I can’t see many people not buying a new iPad because of the lack of 4G support.

Recent research from IDC has even suggested that most Australians who are buying tablets are buying Wi-Fi only models — indicating that mobile broadband support is often not an issue at all. There will no doubt be some, but I cannot see a significant proportion of the market buying a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G instead of an iPad (you see, I can happily mention product names, as Delimiter is part of what Holmes referred to as the “commercial” press) on the basis of its support for 4G speeds.

In fact, as analyst firm Telsyte has recently revealed, not many people are buying tablets that aren’t iPads at all.

In 2011, the company reported, Apple sold about one million iPads in Australia, representing around 76 percent of the total local market for the tablet category (and that’s a conservative estimate: I personally estimate Apple’s share as being much higher in Australia, and IDC agrees, estimating 84 percent). Other companies — Samsung, ASUS, Acer, Toshiba, Research in Motion, HP and others — took virtually no market share.

Why? Well, to put it bluntly, and I can, because Delimiter has reviewed almost every tablet available in Australia, the rival products are usually not that good. With the potential exception of one or two promising models, Delimiter’s reviews of tablets over the past year have shown that the iPad is the clear winner in the tablet category, by virtue of its feature set, software support, build quality and more. This makes sense, when you consider that the tablet category is one which Apple singlehandedly created several years ago. Everyone else is still playing catch-up.

In short, Media Watch’s complaint that technology journalists are focusing too much on Apple’s iPad really makes no sense, when you consider the fact that for Australia’s consumers, the word “tablet” basically equals “iPad”, in any practical sense. The ABC would be hard-pressed to avoid mentioning the iPad in its coverage of the tablet market. Why? Because the iPad basically is the tablet market. And the device is currently revolutionising everything from cabinet meetings to restaurant menus. It is more than a product; it represents a wave of techno-sociological change.

Media Watch’s other major criticism of the coverage — that it was silly to film queues outside Apple stores — also rings hollow.

As sociologists globally have made clear over the past few years, and as I have witnessed when I have personally interviewed consumers at half a dozen Apple queues over the past few years in Sydney, customers do not queue up outside Apple stores solely to be the first to buy the company’s new products when they launch. They do it because Apple has become something more than a gadget company, and its customers have signed on to something which is more akin to a social movement than a simple product buy. Apple is truly a company which has truly made a ‘dent in the universe’, and people line up to buy its products to support the realisation of that incredibly ambitious ideal, which has changed the world forever.

“The Apple lines have become a cultural phenomenon,” social psychologist Matt Wallaert told the Daily Mail in the UK several weeks ago. And the Guardian even reported a poll which said that a significant proportion of consumers reported they were queueing up because they were “die-hard Apple fans”, or “there to soak up the atmosphere”. That’s right — they care about Apple, the company and its products, and want to be part of a social movement.

It’s a completely legitimate idea to want to be part of such a movement, and in fact such movements are very common in the technology industry, which has a habit of changing people’s lives in revolutionary ways. Over the years sub-cultures have grown up around companies and platforms such as Apple, Windows, Linux, Android, broadband, video games and many others. Each is legitimate and useful for its time in its own way; in fact, important technological innovation is often directly spurred by such communities.

For Mr Holmes and his team to mock this as “geeks queuing up for no reason” belittles this sub-culture and is an example of exactly the kind of media stigmatism and stereotyping which Media Watch is normally so good at highlighting at other media outlets.

As the ABC’s head of continuous news Gavin Morris told Media Watch, in a response (PDF) which Media Watch chose not to broadcast on its program: “I do not disagree with the program team’s decision to cover the story. Any event which prompts people to camp in the street for days in anticipation has relevance to the audience and merits some coverage.”

I don’t disagree with Media Watch’s decision to examine and criticise the media’s coverage of the Australian launch of the new iPad. I hate hype around Apple products as much as the next man. But this segment didn’t deliver what I have come to expect from Mr Holmes and his team — insight and understanding of the issue which they’re reporting on. Perhaps next time Media Watch can actually dig under the surface rather than grasping at well-worn straws.

PS: One more thing, Media Watch: Now that I’ve got your attention, could you take a look at News Ltd’s coverage of the National Broadband Network debate? Here’s a good place to start. Or here. Or, you know, here. Or here. Australia’s frustrated technology sector would really appreciate that. Cheers!

Image credit: Still from the ABC’s Media Watch program, believed to be covered under fair use


  1. Mr LeMay really is too precious. Apparently buying an Apple tablet is not a simple purchase but part of a a “social movement”. This is a typical comment from an Apple proponent, and gives an insight to what motivates many Apple purchasers. It’s a status thing, an expression that I’m hip and up with the latest and most desirable “toy”. As it turns out, since its release, there have been a few significant problems with the untouchable iPad – overheating, battery charging problems, lack of Apps for the high-definition Retina screen. Not to mention the ACCC charges of false advertising relating to 4G coverage. But, of course, to people like Mr LeMay, these things are not important as long as you are seen around with the latest Apple product.

    • Bob, thats so unfair to Renai its terrible.

      Now I’m probably the furthest from any sort of Apple Supporter ever; (honestly, I’d rather stab myself with a rusty fork than use an Apple product) – but Renai certainly isnt what Id call a fanboy or even a proponent of Apple. Hes a tech journo and is incredibly good at calling a spade a spade. This does sometimes give the impression in his writings that hes selling one thing over another, I’ve just found that to be his writing style, not a necessary reflection on some part of visionary grandeur that may eminate from some Apple cult bullshit.

      What Renai says is totally true, the rest of the Tablet market sucks. It just does. Until Microsoft arrives with Windows 8 and (excuse the pun) upsets the Apple Cart, its going to stay that way. Im also in agreeance with him that Samsung is likely the only manufacturer that will come even remotely close in the next year to the iPad, for both Android 4.0 AND Windows 8.

      As for the comments about things not being important with regards to iPad failings in the recent model, hes partially covered that within the iPad review he did last week and another part in his previous article today on the ACCC and Apple.

      Renai’s probably one of the exceptionally knowledgable writers around, I’d take his opinion over those fuckwits at News Limited – as should any reasonable person. They’re the ones you should be firing at, not this man here.

      • Apollo – a well reasoned and expressed response. However, I stand by my comments.
        Purchasers want to be “part of a social movement”; the iPad “a wave of techno-sociological change”?
        Come on, its only a blinking tablet

  2. Seriously “Apple stores teeming”? WTF???

    They removed the barriers around 9.30am because hardly anybody turned up!

    Wasn’t the the first one iPad3’s sold at a Telstra Shop?

    I recall earlier puff stories about Malcolm Turnbull before he became untenable to blindly support

  3. I watched the piece on media watch and had similar thoughts. Despite that media watch thinks that the upgrade was inconsequential, the fact that this was the strongest launch of an iPad yet and of any tablet indicates that it was a big deal and that it was newsworthy.

  4. Well said Renai.

    Apple is the most valuable company in the world and I would expect it to be well covered in the media both in it’s failings and success. Clearly it’s currently experiencing great success in the market place and that is being reported.

    There has also been harsh criticism, such as from Mike Daisey, which was widely reported. I had though Media Watch was going to weigh in to “the retraction” from TAM – surely an interesting event in the media analysis landscape where most “we were wrongs” are delayed, small and buried.


  5. Take a step back and don’t take Media Watch’s critisism personally and you’ll see that many journo’s did not do a great job of being objective and reporting the facts. They got caught up in Apple’s and their own hype and instead of being journalist they became sales people for Apple. The biggest question that I’ve not heard any of the media ask is where is the new iOS. iOS 5 is looking tired compared with Windows Phone and Android ICS. It’s to be expected – not a revolution. Apples invention of the tablet in its current form and price was a revolution; but the new iPad is not. Higher res screen, more RAM, increased graphics processor cores – these are step upgrades just like have been occuring the PC industry for the past 20 years. It’s back to business as usual in the tech industry – minor incremental improvement. Even Apple knows this and it’s reflected in the name.

    As for the queues outside the Apple store – this is the media’s self fulfilling prophecy. Everyone I know who really wanted the new iPad ordered online and had it delivered somewhere between 9am and 10am on launch day. There was no need to queue outside the store except to be on TV or if you don’t have a credit card.

  6. Do I detect a slight twinge of fanboyism here, Renai? ;)

    Look, I agree that the release of a new iPad constitutes some sort of news story, as does the phenomenon of the queues of rabid Apple consumers that accompany any release of a new iDevice. But I can also see the value in Media Watch taking journos to task over the extent of the coverage, and the professionalism – or lack thereof.

    The average journo, especially on TV, is not a techie. They need to cover the launch of the new iPad, but what do they say? Well, get some cameras on those infamous midnight queues! And then I guess you need to explain why people are so excited that they would queue overnight… Better find out what the new features are! And then it basically becomes a free press release, because there isn’t really any room for proper analysis (favorable or otherwise).

    The best point here is that Media Watch’s time would be better spent taking NewsCorp to task for its NBN coverage. I couldn’t agree more.

  7. I love media Watch too but this episode appeared to be written by a jaded Android fanboi upset that no one gives a stuff about any tablet bar the iPad!

    Frankly, if media watch want to play in the tech sector, they should turn their focus to the NBN, the shoddy reporting coming from the major news papers and TV stations is breathtakingly biased and dishonest!

  8. Oh good grief. It’s a tablet. A reasonably well built one, with good app coverage.

    That’s why it sells. It. Just. Works. Which is also why it sells. Claims of fanboyism are typical when there’s simply nothing else to claim.

    Finally, people have learned that Apple purposefully delays and withholds stock; thus many had pre-ordered. That and people just buy stuff online a lot more now, than they did even just a year or so ago.

    The days of huge queues at Apple stores are all but over. So the press, whom assumed there would be a massive physical demand discovered there really wasn’t anything to report. Surprise.

  9. Not so much a ‘social movement’ more a ‘social phenomenon’ that has been with us for a long time.

    I remember my father taking me to queue for the latest Matchbox toys in the 60’s and I also queued for that latest Dylan and Led Zep albums in the 70’s, my father also told me of queuing just to look at the latest Hornby Trains in the 1920’s

    I have to admit too seeing little value and even find it cringworthy in queuing for the latest Apple product.

    To me coverage of Apple product rates right up there with the other hi-brow interest’s of the media such as the Kardashians!

  10. Impeccably said, Mr LeMay. I’m sure your Steve Jobs award for (Apple) Journalistic Excellence will soon be winging its way to you.

    Some of your readers, however, may be sceptical about your wilder claims. “A step change in touchscreen technology”? One that most users wouldn’t notice unless they look hard. “A cultural phenomenon”? Here, let me help you to spell “hyperbole”.

    No other tablets visible in the Australian market? Well surprisingly enough, I know of several non-geeks in my workplace who are both aware of and want non-Apple tablets.

    You might even consider comparing Apples with Apples, so to speak, rather than with Androids. They deliver to different markets. The Apple tablet and phone are “Here’s the device, we made it so it works the way you will want it. No, you can’t change anything or it won’t work the way you want it”. Android, on the other hand, allows you to tinker. Different markets, and so they end up with different users. I’m an ex-iPhone user, my wife is very happy with my ex-phone. My manager is an ex-iPad user – her nerd husband bought it because he figured she’d want something “simple”. She loves her Samsung phone, and intends to get a Samsung tablet.

    Don’t just claim there isn’t a market out there for anything but your beloved Apple, or indeed claim that “nobody does it better”. And definitely don’t claim that media outlets are doing their job by advertising a company’s products for free.

    While I didn’t watch the Media Watch story, you have surely gone above and beyond in rescuing Apple from the ABC’s ravages.

      • Good to see you read my comments – because they weren’t about Media Watch, they were about your blathering sycophancy in this article, towards the mighty Apple.

        • Have you even any of Renai’s Tablet reviews? They are anything but sycophancy towards apple!

        • To be honest, I consider Steve Jobs to be my ultimate master and overlord — he is the one true truth and I will always worship his holiness in light.

          You may doubt, but Steve will return one day to save this planet and deliver us all to our eternal salvation. iPad, iPhone and iEverything be praised, life iTernal. Praise be to the master.

          • I think you mean:

            Our Steve Jobs whom art in heaven
            Apple’s be thy name
            Thy tablet come, thy phone be rung
            on Earth, as it is in heaven
            Give us this day our daily apps,
            and deliver us from Android
            For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
            for ever and ever,

    • Frankly if you haven’t watched the episode mentioned your posts should be deleted, the report was so far over the top it wasn’t funny!

      FWIW, my phone is a HTC Sensation w/ the ARHD 6.5.4 ICS rom on it, I also own an iPad2 & an AppleTV2 and my wife has an iPhone4s + we have a Netbook, a WHS2011 Server and a PC in the house (no Macs anywhere).

  11. I realise this is hyperbole, but as someone who studies physics at uni, reading that ‘Steve Jobs made a dent in the universe’, a universe that the Earth is only a fraction of a part of, made me want to throw up..

  12. Brilliant post! When Moses handed down the tablets, one of them must have been an iPad.

  13. I really do not agree with this article at all. It sounds like something written by the Steve Jobs fan-club.

    • @paradox, did you watch the episode described? because if you didn’t you really have no grounds to comment. I too think the media’s coverage was shoddy but the vitriolic tone of media watch was in this case at crusade levels!

      PS, FWIW I’m a Media Watch fan.

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