The Bracks government has made a major media blunder by banning Crikey editor Stephen Mayne from a press conference with Victorian Treasurer John Brumby on Thursday.

After a couple of phone calls from her underlings saying I’d be refused entry on “space” grounds, this is the email exchange with Sharon that ultimately led to the ejection from the Premier’s Office block by two security guards in front a gaggle of other journalists waiting to attend.

Crikey email to Sharon McCrohan

Sharon,

as someone who won the only Walkley Award in 1999 for business reporting in Australia, I can’t see how on earth you can argue that I’m not allowed to attend today’s Brumby presser.

I’m more than happy not to ask any questions but will be there at 1pm and expect to be allowed in.

If not, I’ll be digging into our archive and republishing a few old favourites, such as the attendance list at your fundraiser.

Our 1150 subscribers will also be given your email address.

Your call

Stephen Mayne

Crikey Media

A typical NSW Right response

Sharon was unmoved by this bluster and replied as follows:

Stephen,

Re your 1999 Walkley – that was then, this is now. It underlines the point about why you are not invited to this press conference.

If you were still working for an accredited media organisation and were not in the category of “other interest groups” who are seeking to attend this press conference you would be more than welcome.

It is not a matter of whether or not you will ask a question – we don’t seek to put a lid on who asks what questions at a press conference. But the point is, press conferences are only open to news organisations. Should we build a new media room to accommodate everyone who sets up a website which contains political commentary?

Please don’t waste your time – or ours – turning up at 1pm. We are happy to send you a copy of the press release, fact sheets, transcripts, and any other relevant material.

Sharon McCrohan

Media Director to Steve Bracks

One more attempt to get sense to prevail

Dear Sharon

I’m in the (business) suit and I’ll be there carrying the Quill “highly commended” certificate which was awarded just four weeks ago. This is now.

We got quoted in the New York Times and the New York Observer TODAY.

We’ve been on the front of Drudge and interviewed by the BBC this year.

What you are attempting is an appalling act of media suppression.

We have 1150 subscribers, more than 20,000 page views a week and I’m a member of the MEAA.

See you at 1pm.

Stephen M

Crikey MEDIA

I turned up at 12.45pm and Transport Minister Peter Batchelor was finishing a door stop outside the Premier’s office about Transurban. I mentioned to a couple of the journalists what Sharon was attempting and the TVs decided to film it.

We all gathered around the security desk as the boys in uniform got on the phone upstairs. Bracks media spinners were walking in and out surveying the situation. The gallery was going to walk in as a pack and I was going to walk in with them.

A Bracks flak called Rebecca then invited all the TV cameras upstairs to check everything was working. It was after 1pm by this time and a ridiculous stand-off was apparent and she did not want the TVs to film it.

As most of the journalists then filed through unchecked I went to walk through and was intercepted by two security guards and lead to one side. I was the only one of 30 journalists asked for a press pass.

With some of the residual journalists watching I was asked to produce my press pass and dutifully showed them the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance freelance pass complete with my Crikey Media business card.

I also had my MEAA union card on me along with old business cards from The Age, the Fin Review, the Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Eye.

The security guard then asked me to leave so I produced the certificate from the Melbourne Press Club Quill Awards in February this year which reads: “Highly Commended: Stephen Mayne, crikey.com.au, Best Online Report, Lion Nathan Series”.

The security guard then got to the heart of the matter when he said: “I have been advised that you could cause trouble and now ask you to leave the building.”

But hang on, didn’t Sharon’s underlings say it was about space and then didn’t Sharon say it had nothing to do with whether I would ask questions or not. I’d actually undertaken to sit there and say nothing which is a concession I should never have made in the first place.

The great irony of all this is that the Bracks government got into government partly on the back of www.jeffed.com which attracted 115,000 page views in the two weeks leading up to the September 1999 state election.

It was more popular than the Labor Party’s own site and journalists such as Virginia Trioli and Mark Day both wrote at the time that it had an impact on the outcome.

And the only major run in I have had with the Bracks government came in December 1999 when we did what any good journalist would have done and took the guest list from the notorious 800-strong $1000 a head Labor fundraiser in December 1999.

If an apology is not quickly forthcoming from Sharon then we will be having one long run in with the government.

The Bracks government claimed it would be “open, honest and accountable” then it bans Australia’s best known business and political news website from attending a press conference, even when we undertook not to ask any questions.

Some people might say this is a publicity stunt on my behalf. I didn’t want this and I didn’t go looking for it. Crikey is genuinely interested in business tax reform and wanted to talk about it in my regular spot with Sally Loane on ABC Sydney the following morning. The gallery certainly got behind Crikey on this as all four television bulletins showed footage of the ejection on Thursday night.

Several journalists such as Brendan Donohoe from Channel Seven, John Ferguson from the Herald Sun and Ben Potter from the Fin Review raised the issue at the press conference and both Bracks and Brumby came up with lame excuses about their not being enough room and the internet not being for real journalists.

Sharon has been bombarded with about 300 angry emails from Crikey subscribers and you can follow suit as she can be reached at [email protected]

After the banning also got exposure on 3AK, ABC Radio Melbourne and Sydney, Radio National, RRR, Community Radio in Adelaide, The Age, The Age online, the Fin Review and The Australian, Premier Bracks was asked at a press conference at Government House on Friday what he thought about the incident. He replied that Sharon had been ordered to have a meeting with her counterpart in the Press Gallery, Seven’s Brendan Donohoe, to resolve it.

There certainly will be occasions in the future when I shouldn’t attend press conferences. In fact, I have a strict policy of not attending door stop press conferenes after AGMs when I’ve asked questions as a shareholder or a proxy.

When standing in the Burwood by-election it would have been inappropriate to attend a government press conference. ABC Radio’s Jon Faine has tried to argue that an announced intention to stand for the Melbourne City Council election in July gives Labor grounds to ban me from press conferences.

This is debatable even once the nomination is complete and the campaign is in full swing because the MCC doesn’t have much to do with state politics. If elected to the council it would be a slightly different issue.

I haven’t asked to be put on any Labor mailing lists or to get special briefings, but if the government calls a general press conference and I intend to talk about the subject on radio or on Crikey, they should not be able to ban me.

Some people have tried to argue that Pauline Hanson publishes news on her website but she is not and never has been a journalist.

One Nation does not have 1200 subscribers seeking daily news updates by email and Pauline Hanson does not have 5 weekly radio spots, an MEAA membership, an authorised freelance card or a company called Crikey Media.

Now, here are two of the emails send by subscribers to Sharon before the actual ejection even occurred. I hope you all line up and give her a serve at [email protected] now that this has happened. So far, about 300 people have done this and these have been sent around to our subscribers.

Dear Sharon,

Stephen Mayne is a journalist and Crikey.com is as much a source of public information, an analyser of news and a breaker of stories as any of the other more traditional, perhaps more celebrated media of our time.

As the Chairman of one of Australia’s biggest independent PR firms and an ALP member in good standing, I want to add my voice to Stephen’s in requesting he be allowed to attend the business tax lock-up this afternoon and report the proceedings to me and other readers in his own inimitable way.

There is a sense in which, in not allowing Stephen in, you’re not allowing me and a lot of other people in. This is regrettable.

Yours sincerely

Name withheld

Dear Sharon,

I was disgusted to read you intend to bar Stephen Mayne from Mr Brumby’s very important announcement this afternoon. Considering the “journalists” who will be attending, you should view Mr Mayne’s inclusion as an honor.

Mr Brumby and Mr Bracks are in need of support at all times, but especially today. How can you expect this support from the loyal supporters of Mr Mayne’s on-line publications when you pull a stunt like this.

My hope is you can see reason and logic and allow Mr Mayne’s inclusion and never ever repeat this sort of childish game.

Simon B