Gardening guru turned
political observer Peter Cundall says there’s a “climate of fear”
pervading Tasmania, which he blames for a decision by the ABC to pull
his interview with local ABC Radio about a planned pulp mill on the
Tamar River.

The Gardening Australia host told Crikey this morning
that what began as an “innocuous interview” has now blown up into a
national issue, thanks to the attention of Media Watch.

Cundall
says his comments against the planned pulp mill on the Tamar River were
the words of a concerned local citizen and didn’t conflict with his
role at the ABC. “I happen to live in a valley in which they’re about
to build the largest pulp mill in the southern hemisphere which I think
is a mistake – and if anyone asks me I’ll explain why,” he said.

According
to Cundall, there’s nothing in his contract that’s prevented him from
speaking out in the past. In fact, it seems the problem lies squarely
with ABC Radio in Tassie, considering that no-one at ABC Television had
a problem with Cundall’s similar comments on Enough Rope.

ABC radio manager Cath Hurley didn’t return Crikey’s call, but in a statement to Media Watch
she said: “Here in Tasmania Peter is regarded as a gardening expert
employed by the ABC… his closeness to the ABC made it inappropriate
for him to express a personal view on the network on such a contentious
issue.”

Editor of the Tasmanian Times and Mercury contributor
Lindsay Tuffin says that Cundall is “not too far off the mark in
referring to a climate of fear underlying the public sphere in
Tasmania.” Tuffin told Crikey that he’s not surprised by Cundall’s
comments, given that Tassie’s public sphere sometimes resembles “an
Eastern European state – step out of line and you are stomped on.”

Cundall
wants an apology and an explanation from ABC management, and maintains
that he had every right to speak up. It’d be a different matter if he
worked in news or current affairs, he says, but in his words, he’s
“simply a bloke who does a radio gardening program.”

Peter Fray

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