Wednesday, November 24, 2010

All The News That's Fit To Print... But Isn't

Now here's a curious thing.

It is generally known about town that one of our most respected and influential businessmen, Richard Ferry, has been laid up in a South African hospital for some time now, after losing a bout with a extremely poisonous spider. Richard and his wife were on holidays when the (nearly fatal, The Magpie is told) bite happened.

It's been a battle requiring some true grit, but at last report, we are happy to relay that Richard is on the mend, and should be returning to Townsville soon. The Magpie wishes him well, as I'm sure many in our community do too.

Now that they know, that is...

The aspect of this that makes The Magpie curious is that - while most people know about the matter, there has not been a single mention of Richard's misfortune and subsequent plight in the mainstream media.

This has apparently been at the request of Ferry Real Estate management, who, for some unfathomable reason, seem to think that letting people know may affect their business. That's a bit hard to understand, but  what The Magpie understands is that calls were made to The Bulletin, and radio and television stations, asking that the story go unreported.

Now that is simply another word for suppressed.

Certainly, while it might be understandable from the Ferry company's point of view this would be the least bothersome outcome for them (The Magpie still doesn't understand the reasoning behind this), it surely is not a journalist's job to self-censor in this manner.

Richard Ferry is a respected, admired and much liked leading member of this community. He has been a major player in the booming expansion and galloping economy of Townsville and the region, and has been a part of a decision-making process that benefits and influences the ordinary people of this city.

He is also a well recognised social figure, and The Magpie is told he is quietly involved in good works and causes in the community.

His company has directly and indirectly opened the way for hundreds if not thousands of people to have jobs.

So let's put this in context.

One of Townsville's leading citizens has a tragic accident and is laid up seriously ill for weeks in a South African hospital. Normally, this matter would have the editor of the Townsville Daily Astonisher, Peter `Typo' Gleeson, doing a Toyota leap of joy, at being presented with a front page that doesn't need a sensationalising helping hand to inform readers of what The Magpie believes they have a right to know.

Is there a deeper problem here?

If, as they fancy themselves, The Astonisher's editorial and - more alarmingly, management - are the main information gatekeepers for this community, and, for whatever reason, acquiesce to the request by one of the paper's mega-spending advertisers to suppress a legitimate story, there is a question of elephantine size in the room.

If they will do this, this time (and there is no doubt they have), how many times in the past have they known something that the community is entitled to know but have suppressed it? Is this policy, and may happen again in the future?

And was the decision made by management, and not, as it should be, by the editor? The Magpie can only guess the answer would be yes, yes and yes. BUT only if the person making the request had enough financial or political clout to possibly affect the paper's bottom line if they became pissed off with the paper.

No one's ever expected much in the way of ethics from radio and television in this neck of the woods, they get away with blue murder in their news bulletins and no one gives a toss. But The Townsville Bulletin has long held itself up to be a noble leader in this area. And so it has been in the past, but rapid management changes recently have shown that their leadership in the area is an affectation that would not bear too close an examination.

So, perhaps The Townsville Bulletin should come under somewhat closer scrutiny.

And since The Magpie no longer graces its pages, he is free to do so - a freedom that influenced his difficult decision to leave the paper, even though he was one of the highest paid reporters.

The Magpie makes no claim to perfection, either as a court reporter or a columnist, and had plenty of bloopers to his name in his eight years at the Astonisher. But 45 years as a journo has given him a reasonable idea of how a free press should operate in a free society.

Alas, is it  case that the paper's editorial and corporate management people have suddenly made true the old joke about the lisping Ita Buttrose  who was said to have believed that `ethics is just a county in England' .


  1. Having lived in other parts of the world where competition among print media is fierce, I'm convinced that this town is poorly served because of the monopoly that exists. If one claim I heard about the ill-starred NQ Times - remember them? - is true, the established player had its employees sign on as paper boys over at the fledgling newcomer and fling the papers down a storm drain, thus crippling distrubution and ensuring they never took hold. That, and the unconscionable way in which the real estate companies were supposedly pressured to stay loyal or else. No way to prove anything, of course... Makes you wonder, though, what're they so worried about?)
    Still, they're not the only game in town. I know what you mean about the other commercial meeja being somewhat beholden, especially in a town as small as this, to the ones who pay the bills, and the (perceived, at least) influence these people wield over their friends who also pay the bills. I've often marvelled at how there hasn't been a single instance of some luminary being led into court with a trenchcoat over his head, with the single exception of that nice Mr Cassimatis. Maybe the lesson to be learned here is that his mistake was not fleecing his clients, but not greasing the right palms along the way and so be assured of sympathetic media treatment when the Storm broke.
    It seems to me that the last, best hope we have around here for robust reporting rests with the local ABC affiliate...and your good self, of course!

  2. In answer to the question as to whether The Magpie posts anonymous comments, no, why would he? He has his own blog to have his say - well, duh - and only posts comments in reply to comments like this one. As to why the bird worked for the Astonisher for eight years before flying the coop, the editorial wheels only started to come off about a year ago, with the introduction of a policy of trashy tabloid reporting - a disastrous business decision which further estranged the paper from the community and contributed to the 4.2% drop in circulation over the last certified audit just ended. More on that in future posts, but the The Magpie's Nest will not become some sort of obsessed Bully bashing blog. However, the paper is a powerful public forum, and so is worthy of comment when merited like any other person or institution which can influence our lives and can filter the information we have a right to know.

  3. I wos awear of the spoken news on Mr Fairy in the land of the Phantom. I oneded why I had not ceen/herd any medear reports. Just thought I had missed annie. But it is incredAbull in this day and age in the yda Townsville camunity for it not to be mansioned. It just begs the question ---SenseAship. But Y? I oneda what else has bean held back. Wee dezerve betta especially from Typo.

  4. At first this comment above appeared to be either a misdirected text-the-editor message meant for the paper, or, for obvious reasons, a planted message from the editor of the Daily Astonisher - bit of a giveaway there, Typo, or maybe you again dictated an anonymous comment to your Chief Of Staff (who apparently misheard the word `hack' as `hag' in a weak email comment that wasn't worth being published. ... oh, the power. But in the end, The Magpie decided the above was a witty commentary on this crucial issue.