In the interests of fairness and accuracy The Age has sent through the Rehame transcript of editor-in-chief Michael Gawenda’s interview on 774 ABC Melbourne about the stance of The Age newspaper during the federal election. The interview ran as follows:
We also have a copy for The Age’s Reader Feedback Report for last week, which takes in all the feedback on the paper’s Friday election editorial, On balance, Coalition deserves re-election.

The 12 pages of feedback contain the biggest reader back-lash in Gawenda’s seven years at The Age – be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for the best responses.

Monday morning – 774 ABC Melbourne:

JON FAINE – PRESENTER: Michael Gawenda is the outgoing editor-in-chief at The Age newspaper. Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL GAWENDA – THE AGE: Good morning, Jon.

GAWENDA: Christian Kerr was our regular political correspondent on a
Friday from, and last Friday he recounted something that
I’d read on their web site, and which was doing the rounds at the time,
which was a story concerning the crafting of The Age editorial
which was in support of a re-election of the Howard government.
Were you involved in the writing of that editorial?

GAWENDA: I was, Jon. I want to say that just retells
rumours. How he would know what happened in that meeting I’ve got
no idea. It was a lie, Jon. The whole thing …

FAINE: Well, let’s go through …

GAWENDA: … was a lie.

FAINE: Well, let’s go through what was said. First of all, it was
recounted that there were a number of people at a meeting that
discussed what The Age’s editorial position should be for this election, and there were some who said The Age … indeed, it said that the about to arrive editor, Andrew Jaspan, on a … I presume, a phone hook-up said that The Age should sit on the fence. Is that part of the truth?

GAWENDA: No, no, he wasn’t part of the conversation, and Andrew had n…
Andrew Jaspan had no part in deciding this editorial. Let me say
this, I’ve been editor and editor-in-chief of The Age for seven
years. I’ve been editor and editor-in-chief for the whole time …
for the whole term of this government. I was going to decide,
with Simon Mann, who’s acting editor now … I was always going to decide
the editorial position of The Age, and that’s what I did with Simon.

FAINE: Well, let’s go through …

GAWENDA: There was meetings … there was a meeting of some senior
editorial staff. I can name those people if you want me to.
Michelle Grattan was there, who is the political editor; Michael
Gordon, who is the national editor; Paul Austin, who is the opinion
editor; John Watson, who is our chief leader writer; I was there, Simon
Mann was there and Mark Scott was there at my invitation.

FAINE: Mark Scott is …

GAWENDA: Is the editor-in-chief metropolitan newspapers for
Fairfax. He was there at my invitation, just as he was at the
meeting of the Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial team.

FAINE: So, he came from Sydney for the meeting?

GAWENDA: He … no, he comes regularly to Melbourne. He happened to be in Melbourne; I invited him to come to the meeting.

FAINE: The meeting discussed whether or not there should be a stance taken at all, first of all; is that true?

GAWENDA:Yeah, the meeting decided overwhelmingly that The Age
should not sit on the fence. And I was never going to sit on the
fence, Jon; that was never going to be my view. It was still
going to be my decision and my decision was going to be that we would
not sit on the fence.

FAINE: The meeting then …

GAWENDA: That’s why I was so bemused by you and Peter Blunden last week discussing, oh, we hear The Age
is going to sit on the fence. I don’t know what that was based
on. I don’t know how Blunden would know what’s happening at The Age. And I certainly didn’t discuss my position with journalists on The Age.

FAINE: No, but you know how …

GAWENDA: And nor would I.

FAINE: You know how rumours circulate in the media both about what’s
going on in your workplace, and this workplace, and the Murdoch

GAWENDA: Yes, and most of them are nonsense. And most of them are nons…

FAINE: It doesn’t matter where, the media loves gossip. So, let’s go through …

GAWENDA: Yes. And most of them are nonsense. And you would
know, Jon, that most of the stuff that’s posted on Crikey is just
unconfirmed, unsubstantiated rumour.

FAINE: Indeed, a lot of it is, and there’s a very high …

GAWENDA: Most of it.

FAINE: … error and attrition rate, which is why we like to clear things
up if they do make it onto the program as quickly as possible, which is
why you’re on the program now.

So, let’s go through … the decision was taken that you wouldn’t sit on the fence, and then the track record of The Age was discussed because it’s been outspoken in its criticism of the Howard government on many fronts …

GAWENDA: Yes, but …

FAINE: … over many years.

GAWENDA: Yes, it has. It has; of course it has. And can I tell you, that’s the history of The Age. The Age is always critical of governments. The Age is always scrutinising governments. If you looked at the history of The Age over the last forty years, overwhelmingly, The Age has supported a return of Coalition governments, federally and Liberal governments at a state level.

My track record, as far as that’s concerned, Jon, is this, that at the last election, The Age was one of two papers – I think the Daily Telegraph may … in Sydney may have supported Labor too – that supported a return of Labor.

FAINE: Sorry, the election of Labor?

GAWENDA: The election of Labor. Now, were there commercial
interests involved in that? Absolutely not. Would I think
of those? I don’t even know what those commercial interests
are. I made that decision, just as I made the decision this
time. That’s why these rumours are so damaging to me personally,
to senior editors of The Age, each one of whom were at that meeting and knew that, in the end, I would make that decision.

We had a discussion. No-one came down one way or the other.
John Watson has written to Crikey, our chief leader writer, sta…
because they named him, saying that they got it wrong. Simon Mann
wrote to them saying they got it wrong. I never write to
Crikey. I don’t answer unsubstantiated rumours which they retail.

And I’m telling you, that not one single person at that meeting would
say to you or to anyone else that a decision was made one way or the
other at that meeting.

FAINE: Were …

GAWENDA: That decision was mine and Simon Mann’s, and ours alone.

FAINE: Was Fairfax’s commercial interest, was Fairfax’s relationship …

GAWENDA: Never arose.

FAINE: … with the Howard government raised at all?

GAWENDA: Never raised, never raised and never discussed, not for a
moment and nor would I ever allow that to happen. I’ve been
editor of this paper for seven years. I’m about to leave.
Do you think I would allow that to happen? I never allowed that
to happen in the past, it was never … none of that sort of pressure was
ever put on me. We’ve run editorials, Jon, in the past when, for
instance, the management of Fairfax, the board of Fairfax supported
changes in the cross-media ownership laws. We have run editorials
down here in Melbourne saying the laws shouldn’t be changed. So I
have never, I have never had pressure on me and I would never accept
that sort of pressure and I would certainly not accept that sort of
pressure when I’m about to leave the job.

FAINE: All right, can you explain then, because many of your own
readers have written letters and you’ve had the courage to publish
them, for which I congratulate you, saying that they can’t believe that
the newspaper that’s campaigned against the Howard government on issues
of credibility, the war in Iraq …

GAWENDA: No, no, no, no, no …

FAINE: … the children overboard and all of those other issues …

GAWENDA: No, no, no, we didn’t campaign, no, no, Jon …

FAINE: … has then supported their re-election.

GAWENDA: No Jon, we supported the war in Iraq, we supported the war in
Iraq. We thought that on balance that was the right thing to
do. We didn’t campaign against the Howard government on the war
in Iraq but we certainly scrutinised the government’s behaviour post
the war and we certainly scrutinised the government’s behaviour in
terms of its honesty, in terms of the children overboard affair.
We have strongly opposed it on its refugee policy. Absolutely.

FAINE: So there’s no back-flip by The Age?

GAWENDA: Absolutely no back-flip. What we said, what I wrote, I
wrote this editorial, what I wrote in the editorial is what I
believe. That on balance Mark Latham wasn’t ready. Clearly
the majority of Australians believe that as well. The Labor Party
was a mess twelve months ago, ten months ago, a total mess,
unelectable. The elevation of Mark Latham of itself wasn’t going
to change that. And clearly the Australian people agreed with

FAINE: But you deny that there was a back-flip by The Age.

GAWENDA: There was absolutely no back-flip by The Age. There was absolutely no back-flip. Each election The Age
editor makes a decision on which way the paper is going to go. It
doesn’t urge people to vote one way or the other. It says, this
is the paper’s position and that’s what we’ve done and that’s the
history of the paper and as I told you before, Jon, in the main, in the
past overwhelmingly The Age has supported the return of Coalition governments.

FAINE: Well Michael, thank you for clarifying the position. It’s
important that you’ve had the opportunity to do so and in so far as
I’ve contributed to the circulation of an inaccurate story, I apologise
to you …

GAWENDA: Thank you Jon.

FAINE: … and I should also say that there’s been no hint or suggestion of any litigation between you and me …

GAWENDA: Absolutely not.

FAINE: … in … it was only that you rang up and said this is all
nonsense and I invited you onto the program of my own initiative
because I don’t think it’s fair that a story that you so vehemently
deny continues to have legs. And I wouldn’t want to contribute to
it having those legs.

GAWENDA: Thank you Jon.

FAINE: And that’s all accurate, you can confirm there’s been no threat of litigation …

GAWENDA: Absolutely none.

FAINE: … no letters sent from the lawyers or anything to the ABC?

GAWENDA: No, no, no, no, I would never sue, I’m a journalist,
Jon. I can’t imagine circumstances under which I would sue
somebody for anything.

FAINE: No, but I wouldn’t want the listeners to think that we were doing this simply …

GAWENDA: No, and they shouldn’t think that …

FAINE: … to avoid a writ.

GAWENDA: … and they shouldn’t think that. There’s been absolutely no such suggestion nor would there be ever.

FAINE: Thank you for your time and for the clarification.

GAWENDA: Thank you Jon.

FAINE: When do you go to New York?

GAWENDA: Washington.

FAINE: Washington. When do you go?

GAWENDA: December.

FAINE: Good luck.

GAWENDA: Thank you Jon.

FAINE: Michael Gawenda, the outgoing editor in chief at The Age newspaper.


Peter Fray

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