The Peter FitzSimons interview with Jacinta Price that sparked a week-long culture war

·7 min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

An interview with Coalition senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price in the Nine newspapers on Sunday has provided a week’s worth of “exclusive” culture war stories for the Australian newspaper, which has “woke columnist Peter FitzSimons” in its sights.

The description of FitzSimons as “woke” appeared in the lead of a news story, in what appears to be the abandonment in the broadsheet of the separation between news and comment.

Price and FitzSimons are on opposite sides of the debate over a voice to parliament and the latter didn’t so much interview the Indigenous senator as debate her. Price stood her ground, defending Pauline Hanson as someone who “cares deeply for Indigenous Australians” and deriding the voice as “just another bureaucracy”.

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FitzSimons: “Honestly, in the silent watch of the night, staring at the cracks in the ceiling, as we all do, do you ever have doubts? Do you never think that, in the seriously prominent and powerful position you have, you are misusing the platform you have and are actually hurting Indigenous causes? Are you absolutely sure that you’re saying and doing the right thing?”

After the Q&A was published Price took to Facebook and complained that FitzSimons was aggressive during the phone interview and had accused her of “giving racists a voice”.

The Australian reported FitzSimons had allegedly raised the possibility of legal action after Price accused him on Facebook of bullying and yelling at her during a phone interview. Price has since deleted the Facebook post but has called for the audio to be released publicly.

On Wednesday, the Sydney Morning Herald editor, Bevan Shields, defended his star columnist and urged the Oz to move on. Which of course it did not. The Australian’s media editor, James Madden, has written five stories about it in four days, and by Friday there was a total of 11 pieces including cartoons and letters.

On Friday, the Nationals leader, David Littleproud, joined in, on Twitter calling on FitzSimons to publish the interview, which has made for a good Friday piece to keep the story going.

FitzSimons did not respond to a request for comment.

Tears of a nation

The importance of Olivia Newton-John to Australians was reflected in the blanket coverage her death received this week, including three hours of tributes on all the breakfast shows, a 20-minute story on Nine’s prime time 6pm news bulletin and remaking the TV schedule to screen Grease on Nine and a miniseries about the star on Seven. Many journalists and public figures shared their memories of ONJ and entertainment veteran Richard Wilkins broke down while talking about her and had to be consoled by Karl Stefanovic.

But replaying the hits of the late 70s and early 80s may have left some younger audiences feeling a little lost.

The SMH/Age quiz on Wednesday had what purported to be the lyrics of Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 hit Physical, but was in fact a 2020 song by English singer Dua Lipa.

Buttrose strikes back

As ABC chair Ita Buttrose was the host of a glamorous 90th birthday celebration for the broadcaster in Studio 22 on Friday night, attended by the prime minister Anthony Albanese and dozens of ABC personalities past and present including Kerry O’Brien, Maxine McKew, Virginia Trioli, Tony Jones, Sarah Ferguson, Patricia Karvelas, Mark Willacy, Juanita Phillips, Pip Courtney, Jonathan Holmes and Jeremy Fernandez. Albo gave a lively speech about the ABC he loves but it was Ita who took aim at unnamed “commercial enterprises” who “assault” the ABC.

“Some of our critics, however, reckon the ABC doesn’t represent the mainstream. But can you be any more mainstream than reaching an audience of 20 million Australians every week,” she said.

“We will stand firm against such criticisms and will continue to observe the highest standards of editorial quality, delivering distinctive stories that reflect Australians and our way of life, and news free from political and commercial pressure.”

Meanwhile, the shadow communications minister Sarah Henderson, a former ABC journalist, bookended her attendance at the dinner with appearances on Sky After Dark where she told ABC critic-in-chief Chris Kenny that the speeches were “one-sided”, the PM had not acknowledged how much the Coalition had done for the ABC and she had not been invited to speak. Henderson earlier appeared on Kenny’s “Your ABC Exposed” documentary as one of Auntie’s chief critics.

Small win for archives

On Monday, the Australian Library and Information Association and the Australian Society of Archivists wrote an open letter to the ABC Board to express “significant concern” about the ABC’s proposal to abolish 58 positions in its archive division.

“Australians trust the ABC to provide well-researched, evidence-based journalism and high-quality programming,” the groups said. “It is reasonable to expect that the ABC archival collection will be managed according to professional standards for creating, managing and preserving records, standards common to other public institutions responsible for a collection of national significance.”

The librarians will be pleased to hear the ABC has wound back plans slightly after lengthy negotiations with staff and unions.

Weekly Beast has confirmed four jobs will no longer be abolished and plans to make daily current affairs shows 7.30 with Sarah Ferguson and Behind The News with Amelia Moseley do their own research have been scrapped.

Both shows will continue to have access to the research team rather than having to rely on the new “content navigators” to troubleshoot when they can’t access the material themselves.

According to an email from the acting chief digital information officer, Rebecca Matthews, after “consultation and feedback”, four proposed redundant staff will be saved: two researchers; one sound library officer and one reference library officer. However the plans to make 54 roles redundant remain.

“News librarians are being rebranded ‘Content Navigators’, with staff numbers drastically reduced and journalists being told they must do their own research, archiving and cataloguing,” one staffer told Weekly Beast.

“Journalists have neither the time nor skillset to do this. It won’t be done, resulting in the archive being decimated with vital historical material either being deleted or being inaccessible due to the lack of adequate cataloguing by trained and dedicated metadata professionals.”

A one-way bet

Age sport reporter Sam McClure, who had his 2020 Quill Award reinstated after the Melbourne Press Club board overturned an earlier decision, has resigned from the newspaper because he can’t read commercials on his other gig as a host of Wide World of Sports on Melbourne radio 3AW.

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Although both 3AW and the Age are owned by Nine Entertainment, the two media outlets have very different editorial policies.

Age editor Gay Alcorn said the policy which saw McClure resign was not new.

“News reporters at the Age are not permitted to advertise or promote a business because we must be independent and be seen to be so,” she told Weekly Beast. “It is central to editorial standards that any perceived conflict of interest is avoided. Sam is a talented sports journalist and we wish him the best in his new hosting role.”

In June Media Watch accused McClure of compromising himself by doing ads for gambling firm Sportsbet for which deputy editor Michael Bachelard later apologised.

“For a journalist to spruik the business of a company he has also written about is a clear conflict of interest, and unacceptable,” Bachelard told Age subscribers.