A short time ago a noticeable spike in complaints and accusations on TT and in my local community occured in regards to an alleged campaign of censorship in the Examiner’s publishing of letters to the Editor on the Pulp Mill issue.
At the core of complaints – a locally produced and distributed bumper sticker (‘I No Longer Shop at Gunns’).
Many letters were sent the Ex. in response to a letter published from a Mr David Legro – an employee or Gunns Retail Division in the Examiner Letters May 9 in which Mr Legro accused the authors of the offending car sticker of threatening jobs at Gunns.
In addition to his letter Mr Legro featured in an article which also appeared in the May 9 edition entitled “Pulp Mill Opponents accused of Job Threats” in which Mr Legro again accused the authors of the offending car sticker of threatening jobs at Gunns.
I decided that I would look at all letters to the Editor published in editions of the Examiner from May 9 through to May 18 and see for myself whether the complaints from the community were justified.
The findings of my study were as follows:
Over the period of 9 – 18 May, 21 letters pertaining to the pulp mill were published. Of these:
• 5 letters opposed the pulp mill
• 15 letters supported the pulp mill
• 1 letter neutral stance
Of the 15 letters supporting the pulp mill, 3 supported Gunns’ accusations against TAP’s bumper sticker. 1 letter came from Mr. Legro of Gunns, and 1 from a member of Timber Communities Australia.
Of the 5 letters opposing the pulp mill, there were 0 letters supporting TAP bumper sticker campaign.
Anecdotal evidence from fellow Ex. Readers and TT correspondents suggests to me that there were a significant number of letters submitted to the Examiner during this period disputing Mr Legro’s accusations against TAP.
Yet none of these appeared in the Examiner over this 10-edition period.
This alleged act of omission is the site of accusations against the EX.
I am not privy to the exact numbers of people who wrote to the Examiner supporting Mr Legro’s position. Only the Examiner knows this.
The only time TAP’s position was defended was in the “Pulp Mill Opponents accused of Job Threats” article that appeared on May 9.
From the results of this short quantitative study over the period May 9-18 complaints of bias appear justified.
Editor Fiona Reynolds was away from the EX during the first two weeks of May.
One would assume that the Ex’s deputy editor took on the job during this period.
Most damning for the Examiner is that the obvious distortion in the way pulp-mill related letters were published ceased almost immediately upon Reynolds return to the paper. Within two days (though almost two weeks after the Legro article) the first letter supporting TAP’s bumper sticker campaign finally appeared. In the first four days of Reynolds return to the helm an even-handed approach was restored.
Since we know that the Examiner follows Tasmanian Times perhaps someone from the Examiner could answer these questions.
• Can the Examiner explain the results of my study?
• Does the Examiner dispute the results of my study and if so can the Ex. show why? I have retained all the letters to the ed. clippings from the aforementioned period.
• Can the Examiner show that the apparent change in Editorial policy as per this quantitative study was not due to the brief change in editor?
• Can the EX confirm who performed the job of stand-in editor during Reynolds absence?
• Does the stand-in editor believe that the ratio of letters published for and against the pulp mill accurately reflects community sentiment in the region? That is roughly 75% for the pulp mill, 25% against. – According to results of my study.
• Does the ratio of pro-mill to anti-mill letters published under the stand-in editors’ watch reflect the ratio of pro-mill to anti-mill letters which are received at the Examiner?
• Does the stand-in editor believe letters published under his/her watch accurately reflect community opinion or did the ratio of pro-mill to anti-mill letters published under the stand-in editor reflect an ideological position held by him/her which favors a particular corporate and advertising interest and opposes the widely held community view of opposition to the pulp mill?
It would appear that the current editor is attempting to steer the Examiner out of its bad old days of winning Media Watch Barra awards. However the Ex. still has itself a PR problem.
A TT correspondent recently argued: “Ms Reynolds has done a good job as far as it goes but she must address the systemic bias that has been allowed to flourish”.
This accusation appears to be born out in this study and more recently in the experience of TAP in its dealing with the Ex. following the Examiners controversial decision to give John Gay a column to push his company’s pulp mill project. I would hope we hear more about TAP’s experience in the near future.
An academic content analysis of the Examiners reporting of the pulp mill issue would be an interesting exercise. Based on the results of this study I would suggest that at this point the Examiner should hope that such a study is not undertaken.
Rick Pilkington lives in Gravelly Beach in the Tamar Valley, with his wife Anna. Rick believes that people have a right to expect fairness from their local paper. They should not have to grovel and fight for it.
He has not been asked to speak on TAP’s behalf and does not presume to do so. Rick is not an active campaigner for TAP though he and his wife are enthusiastic supporters of TAP and have many friends in the organisation. They join TAP in its hope that one day they will have a local newspaper they can be proud of. Rick chose not to forward a copy of this piece to the Examiner’s editor, as he is aware that the Examiner’s editorial staff have been reading the Tasmanian Times. If the Ex. read this article they can respond on this website as opposed to responding to his private email address.