COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
Chief Minister Michael Gunner is accumulating some serious baggage.
There is the charade of the “scientific” inquiry into fracking that did not include the science of sociology, which would have disclosed how Territorians feel about the risks to their water supply, nor the science of economics, which would have disclosed how much each of us would get from the sale of our resources gained by using a controversial mining method.
Then there is the fiasco of the National Indigenous Art Gallery consultation which is closely linked to other two-faced conduct by Mr Gunner, the hand-on-his-heart assurance of supporting local enterprise.
Without calling tenders or seeking quotations, his government is spending tens of thousands of dollars advertising Mr Gunner’s preferred location, Anzac Oval, with the American-owned Centralian Advocate newspaper.
The same paper declares as a journalistic “exclusive” the publication of a handout from Mr Gunner’s media machine. A measure of professional pride in their work held by the Murdoch paper’s reporters?
On March 23 the Alice Springs News Online had a real exclusive on the subject: The chairs of the government’s steering committee speaking publicly for the first time on their advice which the government would go on to ignore.
The “EXCLUSIVE” claim branded the Advocate’s front page headline, pointing to the page two lead.
The report had no by-line, contained pretty well word for word the text from a media release by Arts Minister Lauren Moss, quoting Mr Gunner’s declaration that Anzac Oval would be the site.
That release was sent to the other media at 11:05am, well after the Advocate had appeared.
As the Advocate is printed in Darwin it had clearly been given the text days earlier, possibly in recognition of the publication’s antiquated production processes.
This seems to have become standard practice by at least sections of the government’s taxpayer-funded propaganda machine.
However, the issue of the public’s right – and indeed – need, to be informed by impartial and professional media is a cornerstone of our democracy and as such cannot wait until August 2020, the deadline for Mr Gunner to face the voters again.
Honourable media in this country comply with the Journalistic Code of Ethics. Four of its 12 points deal with monetary influence and include this requirement: that journalists “do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence”.
If a business demands “editorial support” for its paid advertising and the medium agrees, then a despicable act is being committed – by both the medium and its client.
When the same occurs using taxpayers’ money, then that is a serious corruption of our democratic culture.
The barrage of support by the Advocate for Mr Gunner’s unpopular choice includes this editorial comment in the Advocate of April 20, acknowledging the “vigorous” opposition to the Anzac Oval choice.
But “the Government has taken out ads in this newspaper exhibiting its plans for the first class facilities [for rugby] – indeed far better than the current ones – that will be built when the Gallery is built,” intoned the editor.
“And now the codes are more than happy with the proposed facilities, calling them ‘sensational’.”
No sources are named by the editor who headed his piece “Information must be given freely”. Two of the four full page government adverts in that issue (there were others in Advocate editions) are made to look like editorial matter. The casual rate for a full page in the Advocate is $4000.
We are inviting the Advocate and the NT Government to respond.
COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA