By ERWIN CHLANDA
UPDATE at bottom of report.
The president of the 1 Territory Party, Braedon Earley (at right), says some Territory news media were routinely flouting rules of the profession in grubby cash-for-comment practices during the lead-up to last year’s NT election.
In his submission to Commissioner John Mansfield (at left), who is conducting the Political Donations Inquiry in the NT, Mr Earley claims commercial radio stations as well as the Murdoch owned NT News violated the Journalist Code of Ethics which requires reporters not to allow “advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence”.
And he says a mining company, Pangea, offered him $1m, and a similar amout to his party, for dropping their anti-fracking policies. The offers were rejected.
In his submission Mr Earley says the 1 Territory Party, which fielded 12 candidates in the election, “felt it faced enormous discrimination by the NT News … [it] refused to spell our name correctly (constantly calling it One Territory, thus insinuating it was a branch of One Nation).
“The NT News did not print any media releases, policy announcements, pre-selected candidates’ names or any electorate announcements sent to them.
“When 1TP started paying for advertising in the last couple of weeks before the election, the name was corrected, for a short time, but has now reverted to being called One Territory,” says Mr Earley.
“Two of 1 Territory’s members met with a senior journalist employed by the NT News prior to the Territory election. Trying to find some middle ground, they were told to their faces ‘we determine the outcome of elections’.
“It’s a bit of a slap in the face I guess when you are told something like that, so we knew what we were up against from the start and nothing’s changed since.”
Ironically, all the efforts of the newspaper could not prevent the catastrophic deafeat of the Giles Government, but Mr Earley speculates the editorial support was a reward for massive spending of public money for advertising when the CLP was in power.
“Shall the Territory community ever forget the half page and full page ads and advertorials, being run by the CLP Government in the lead up to the 2016 NT election, every day for months on end?
“So it’s obvious, isn’t it? The party who spends the most amount of money on political advertising with the NT News will be favoured editorially, and with blatantly selective analysis and reporting and to hell with what’s really happening. To hell with objective, ethical reporting and fair and balanced coverage.
“Given its failures in government, sadly for them, it didn’t matter how much money the CLP spent with the NT News. In the end, they still lost.”
The Darwin commercial radio station 104.9 FM made no bones about its conditions for coverage, according to Mr Earley.
He says station staff “pointed out to us verbally, with witnesses, that until we paid for advertising, we wouldn’t be looked on favourably by the radio station. If we did pay for advertising, we would be afforded more free discussion slots on the 360 Show with Katie Woolf.
“To its credit, 104.9FM gave all the candidates a chance to speak on air and for that we were grateful. But not having the money to put towards advertising which would have raised the public awareness and discussion of our policies did hurt us electorally.”
Mr Earley is telling the inquiry that with the community radio station 104.1 Territory FM based in Darwin “it was obvious that 1 Territory’s position on fracking didn’t stand us in good stead.
“Our information is that 104.1FM is sponsored by a gas company, INPEX, who apparently have onshore gas exploration licenses in the Northern Territory.
“1Territory faced discrimination by its announcer, an ex CLP minister [Daryl Manzie], whose primary objective was to nullify any difference of opinion about fracking, from his own.
“This was coupled with a dumbing down of the audience on a regular basis, with affirmation given to those being interviewed that support the gas industry point of view, with others either being patronised or spoken over the top of.
“It soon became obvious that both the NT News and the radio stations weren’t interested in giving 1TP a fair go unless there was paid advertising with them and lots of it.”
Mr Earley says “the Katherine Times was another example of extraordinary journalism.
“Again, none of our policies or media releases were printed as sent. Letters to the Editor were manipulated to the point even the writer couldn’t make head or tail of them. It turns out the editor at the time was best mates with the CLP sitting Member for Katherine.”
However, Katherine radio 8KTR, was “exemplary in its conduct with regards to fairness and equity for political candidates” and “the media in Alice Springs treated 1Territory very well”.
Mr Earley is telling the inquiry that he was “railroaded into a meeting by a friend, Ray Hall, from EcOz to catch up over a coffee.
“The meeting was attended by Tim Radburn, the Executive Director from Pangea and a lady (Doctor of Environmental Science) who was the lead environmental consultant to Pangea from Ray’s office.
“During the course of the meeting I was personally offered by Tim Radburn the sum of $1,000,000 in cash to step away from the fracking argument and the party was offered a similar sum or more if the Party stopped pursuing the anti-fracking argument.
“The offer was rejected,” Mr Earley told the commission.
The Alice Springs News Online is offering right of reply and inviting comment from the media mentioned in this report, and Pangea.
UPDATE Dec 8 at 12 noon
Tim Radburn, the Executive Director of Pangaea Resources Pty Ltd, emailed the Alice Springs News Online today saying he objects to “extremely serious allegations about Pangaea and about me personally which we categorically deny” and that in June last year he told Mr Earley he should refer the matter to the police if he stood by his allegations.