The winner is … John B Fairfax as the Walkley donor’s Nine quip leads to nervous laughs

·7 min read

When you’re handing out $1 million you can say what you like, was the riposte of Nine’s 60 Minutes reporter Sarah Abo to comments made by former media proprietor John B Fairfax when announcing the winner of the Young Australian Journalist of the Year.

“Thank you John, it’s a bit cheeky, but I suppose when you’re giving away a million dollar cheque you could probably get away with sledges like that right?,” Abo, who was hosting the mid-year Walkleys said. “I won’t tell you I’m a Nine journalist.”

So what did John B say about Abo’s employer Nine Entertainment, which in 2018 merged with Fairfax Media, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.

“I was happy and delighted for many years to operate quietly under the umbrella of Rural Press,” the direct descendant of John Fairfax said while reminiscing about his famous name and the years he spent running the regional journalism empire which didn’t carry his name.

“The Fairfax name was retained for almost 180 years as publishers of quality journalism. That changed with the Nine takeover.”

After some nervous laughter in the room, Fairfax paused for comic effect and added: “That’s all I said” with a mischievous smile.

John and Libby Fairfax created the Jibb Foundation (which carries some of the letters of their names) through which they donated $1m over 10 years to fund the Young Journalist of the Year Walkley award, including an overseas trip for the winner and other professional development. The winner of the top gong this year was Mridula Amin from Background Briefing on ABC Radio National.

Also securing a win at the mid-year Walkleys was Guardian Australia journalist Kelly Burke who received the arts journalism award for revealing alleged racism on the set of the long-running Australian soap Neighbours.

Standard behaviour

The advertising industry couldn’t ban Clive Palmer’s dangerously misleading anti-vaccination radio ads last week but they have ruled TV commercials that show public urination are a breach of their code of ethics.

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A TV campaign by Crazy Domains which showed a man relieving himself in public was deemed “illegal, unhygienic behaviour” which breached the Australian Association of National Advertisers code of ethics.

Follow the money

The Morrison government handed out more than $50m in public interest newsgathering grants (Ping) last year to more than 100 regional newspapers and broadcasters hit by declines in advertising revenue because of Covid-19.

In a stunning visual on his media consultancy blog former editor-in-chief and publisher at ninemsn, Hal Crawford, revealed the funding distribution is stark: the overwhelming majority of the money (87%) went to the 10 biggest recipients, starting with Rural Press at $10.4m, now trading as Antony Catalano’s Australian Community Media.

Meanwhile, we reported this week that the federal government refuses to say whether one of the biggest grants of $4.5m will have to be paid back in part after the Win Network shed up to 20 staff and axed local TV news bulletins months after receiving the handout.

Connaughton out

Three years after she joined Schwartz Media as editor of The Saturday Paper, Maddison Connaughton is leaving the job and won’t be replaced.

Connaughton gives no clue as to what she is planning to do, saying only that “it’s the right time to move on”.

Schwartz Media’s editor-in-chief, Erik Jensen, who launched the paper in 2014, will now edit the paper alone.

“Maddison is a skilled editor and it has been a pleasure working with her on The Saturday Paper,” Jensen said. “I look forward to seeing what she does next.”

ABC’s new top lawyer

The ABC has finally found a replacement for ABC general counsel Connie Carnabuci, the top lawyer who has steered the broadcaster through some of its toughest legal battles for the past four years.

Weekly Beast can reveal a London-based lawyer, Ingrid Silver, has been recruited from top 25 global law firm Reed Smith’s Film and TV Group, where she is co-head, and will join Aunty in September.

Carnabuci will leave the ABC on Friday, seven months after she gave notice of her resignation. She stayed on to manage the Christian Porter defamation suit, which is now over as far as the ABC is concerned after the former attorney general dropped his action last month.

“This is a key role for the ABC and in many ways a unique role in the Australian media landscape,” ABC managing director David Anderson said. “Ingrid will bring great depth to the work we do here and is perfectly placed to continue the work done by Connie.”

A good cause

In April we told you about Crikey’s unprecedented two front-page apologies to Lachlan Murdoch and Christine Holgate for an article by Stephen Mayne which “made certain claims about Mr Lachlan Murdoch’s tenure as a board member of Ten Network Holdings”.

Crikey’s editor-in-chief, Peter Fray, told Weekly Beast the publication made a series of mistakes in the article and he had agreed to “keep the current apology on the homepage for 14 days” and compensate Murdoch and Holgate for their legal costs to the tune of $14,000.

Weekly Beast can reveal that Lachlan donated the $10,000 in costs he got from Crikey to Women’s Community Shelters in Sydney under he and his wife Sarah’s names.

“A huge thank you to Sarah and Lachlan Murdoch who have donated $10,000 to WCS,” the shelter’s newsletter said. “Such an amount will provide immediate crisis assistance to 100 women in their first 24 hours in a WCS shelter and we are incredibly grateful for their support.”

Journalism or advertising?

Sometimes the line between editorial and advertising is a fine one: a story on news.com.au about a new supermarket in Sydney was so gushing it could have been written by the company itself.

“A new Coles store in Sydney’s inner west has left shoppers marvelling over its array of ‘amazing’ features,” lifestyle editor Rebekah Scanlan wrote.

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“The supermarket giant opened doors in Marrickville Metro on Thursday as part of a $142 million expansion to the 40-year-old shopping centre.

“Alongside staple groceries, shoppers have access to a range of new Coles features, including a squeeze-your-own orange juice station, a pet food Scoop & Weigh bar, complete with doggie ice cream, and a self-service coffee station.

“There’s also a mochi, mini gelato and macaron bar as well as a fresh sushi bar that serves hand rolls and sashimi.”

News.com.au editor Lisa Muxworthy tells us the piece was not sponsored content.

While news.com.au has attracted attention in the past for its positive coverage of chain stores like Kmart and Coles, the News Corp website has also delivered some excellent journalism.

The Our Watch award was picked up at the mid-year Walkleys this week by news.com.au’s political editor Samantha Maiden. Maiden won for her game-changing coverage of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation. The win by Maiden was particularly satisfying given the extraordinary “hit piece” published by the Australian Financial Review which delved into the reporter’s character, childhood and family circumstances and accused her of “angry coverage that often strayed into unapologetic activism”.

Partnership pays dividends

On the same theme, a new program on Sky News Australia, The People Who Built Australia, is a whole new level of ad.

Each thirty-minute episode explores a different industry including mining, banking and building. The first episode features Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest talking about how he became one of the “most successful businessmen”.

The series also showcases Meriton’s founder and managing director Harry Triguboff and the Commonwealth Bank’s chief executive officer Matt Comyn.

“Modern Australia has been built by some inspirational individuals and companies whose stories of risk-taking and perseverance have rarely been told with such candour,” host Ross Greenwood said. “Hopefully, their stories will inspire the next generation of Australian entrepreneurs and wealth-creators.”

No guesses who paid for this series. It’s a “partnership” with Fortescue Metals Group, CBA and Meriton.

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