The mining magnate Clive Palmer has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on newspaper ads attacking his opponents and making false claims about Australia’s Covid-19 vaccination program.

The Australian Press Council, which monitors newspaper standards, has so far been silent about this potentially dangerous spreading of misinformation.

But now the Independent Media Council, a press-council equivalent for Kerry Stokes’ stable of newspapers, has stepped up and criticised the West Australian, upholding a complaint against it for publishing a full-page advertisement by Palmer criticising the safety and legality of the Covid vaccination program, which contained factual inaccuracies it deemed unfair and “serious errors”, because they were “likely to undermine public confidence” in the program.

The West decided to set up its own regulator back in 2012 when it objected to new APC rules. Since then any complaints about the West, the Weekend West, the Sunday Times, the community titles and websites in the Stokes empire now go to the IMC. In this case the council took a strong stand – despite advertisements not normally coming under its jurisdiction.

“Readers who accepted the veracity of Mr Palmer’s claims would at best have been confused, and at worst alarmed, about the program,” the IMC said. “It is reasonable to conclude that as a result of the inaccuracies some of these people will have decided not to be vaccinated. It is critical to the success of the response to the covid pandemic that there be a high rate of vaccination within the community, and the inaccuracies in the advertisement will have diminished those numbers.”

The council said it did not believe that the West had “made a deliberate decision to publish inaccurate and unfair material” and said “the most likely explanation is that there was an error of omission in failing to fact check the advertisement”. It also found that publication had only occurred because of payment for that advertisement and accordingly found that the paper was “influenced by commercial considerations”.

We asked Palmer for comment on this item and he said “rubbish”.

Chris Kenny who?

We mocked Chris Kenny’s “documentary” on Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd last week but, to give credit where credit is due, the After Dark host did manage to pull a reasonable audience for a Sky News program.

Men in the Mirror: Rudd & Turnbull drew 115,000 viewers, making it the most popular non-sport program on pay TV on Sunday night. For comparison, Sky After Dark’s talking heads Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin and Alan Jones get about half that on a weeknight, with Jones falling to just 47,000 viewers on Tuesday.

But before Kenny gets ahead of himself, a British tabloid wrote a story about one of his rants about political correctness and called him … Alan Jones.

“Sky News Australia host Alan Jones mocked feminist warriors for their objection to the Disney classic Snow White and its kiss scene,” the Daily Express reported above a video and two photographs of Kenny. “Jones insisted it was lunacy as ‘feminist warriors’ were enraged at the kiss and insisted it was non-consensual. Mr Jones admitted he was bemused at this outrage and insisted that the Disney story was not real life.”

Even days later, no one seems to have noticed.

JNI opens its new digs

The high flyers of Australian journalism gathered in the inner-city suburb of Sydney’s Chippendale on Wednesday to toast the opening of the Judith Neilson Institute’s headquarters, hailed by the philanthropic outfit as a “lively hub for all things journalism and storytelling”.

The stunning architect-designed surroundings were somewhat unfamiliar to most journalists, who are used to working in more modest surroundings. Guests vied for the attention of the dignitaries: the communications minister, Paul Fletcher; Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull; and Bob Carr – not to mention Neilson herself, whose fortune funded the building (on top of the $100m she gave to start the institute). Journalists present included Chris Masters, Geraldine Doogue, Peter Hartcher, Hugh Riminton, Sally Neighbour, Monica Attard, Russell Skelton, Simon Crerar and Nic Hopkins.

The institute’s executive director, Mark Ryan, insisted that the JNI did not favour media on the right or left, was strictly “nonpartisan” and had “no ideological position”. It was an important message, as the room was teeming with all shades of the spectrum, from the News Corp editor-at-large Paul Kelly (who is on the JNI board) to the ABC executives David Anderson and Gaven Morris; the Sydney Morning Herald editor, Lisa Davies; Guardian Australia’s editor, Lenore Taylor; and Claire Lehmann, the editor of rightwing online magazine Quillette.

The Australian Financial Review’s editor-in-chief, Michael Stutchbury, appeared to enjoy Ryan’s pledge that there would be “no cancelling” at the institute, as well as his sharp criticism of social media.

“The public square was never a perfect place for rational debate but the speed and scale at which ideas are now contested has trashed any old rules of engagement that once existed,” Ryan said.

“Rational argument, facts and truth, must now compete with personal invective, disinformation and loud grandstanding, all amplified through technology.”

As often happens at media events, the technology failed at a crucial moment. In this case the video buffered just as Ryan threw to a reel. “I don’t know who’s driving this bus but they won’t be for long,” he said through gritted teeth.

Murdoch seen near Seven …

The hot gossip of the JNI evening centred around whether News Corp would make an offer for Seven West Media’s TV assets, a perennial rumour sparked this time by the sighting of Lachlan Murdoch near Seven’s Sydney studios. With Nine’s takeover of Fairfax in 2018 giving the company a national advertising platform across newspapers, online and TV, wouldn’t it make sense for News to buy the Seven network to add free-to-air to its stable of newspapers and pay TV properties Foxtel, Kayo and Binge? Both parties deny there is interest in the idea but that won’t stop the chatter.

Stokes on the offensive

The billionaire Kerry Stokes may be bankrolling Ben Robert-Smith’s legal action against Nine Entertainment but he turned his attention to defending his own reputation last week.

Stokes’ once loyal employee, the legendary West Australian editor-in-chief Bob Cronin, gave an interview to Steve Mills on Nine Radio’s 6PR in Perth which was not flattering about the media magnate.

Since the two men were once close – it was Stokes who presented Cronin with a Walkley award for journalism leadership in 2014 – this was more than a little surprising.

Stokes hired Cronin as editor-in-chief of West Australian Newspapers after he bought the paper in 2008.

After the interview aired – and Weekly Beast heard it in full – we noticed it had been deleted from the 6PR website.

A few days later Cronin returned to the airways to clarify, correct and apologise to Stokes. The original interview was reposted with the offending material edited out.

We can’t repeat the potentially defamatory part of Cronin’s interview but we can tell you he said he was worried about concentration of media ownership, pointing to Stokes owning the West Australian, the Sunday Times, PerthNow and the Seven network, on top of his regional and suburban assets.

“I never really had a problem with [interference from] Kerry,” Cronin said. “Since I left and I think since [former editor] Brett McCarthy left, the place is not as independent of the proprietor as it used to be – that’s my perception anyway.”

A spokesperson for Stokes declined to comment.

“I would have conversations with Kerry during which he would tell me his opinion on things,” Cronin said. “He was very supportive of the SAS and still is, apparently.”

Cronin also revealed his views on how proprietorial interference might work, saying it’s rarely a direct phone call from the boss.

“I mean, if you look at the Murdoch empire, [Rupert Murdoch is] always asked, ‘Do you instruct your editors?’ And he always says no. And I agree. What Rupert does is he comes out to Australia and he has a big dinner with all of his editors and he shoots the breeze and he says climate change is rubbish and Donald Trump is good and, if you’re smart enough to be a News Ltd editor, you don’t need to be told what to write. You’ll work it out for yourself.”

Lauded as a champion of press freedom, Cronin was a staunch ally of the journalist Steve Pennells when the billionaire Gina Rinehart tried to force him to reveal his sources.

Sky veteran surprised by axing

Just a few years back the Sky News veteran Terry Gallaway was being lauded by the company for his 20 years of service. But now the man who put Sky’s first outside broadcast to air and who mentored hundreds of young journalists has been suddenly let go.

“I have had the privilege of working with many young, talented people and have watched as they honed and developed their skills,” Gallaway said in an email to colleagues.

“Many have gone on to outstanding careers within the media. I have also made many friends and I truly believe few, if any enemies.

“The sudden decision to axe my position has taken me by surprise and therefore I have no immediate plans for my future.”

Sky News said: “Terry Gallaway was a valued member of the team for more than two decades, involved in producing coverage of some of Australia and the world’s biggest news events and mentoring many of our journalists and producers along the way. We thank him for his service and wish him all the very best.”





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