The case of a Tasmanian cadet journalist who claims he was dismissed by the Launceston Examiner for critically reporting on Tasmanian logging giant Gunns Ltd has spilled
into federal Parliament, after Tasmanian Greens senator Christine Milne
launched a stinging attack on constricting press freedom in the Apple Isle.

Former cadet Wes Young told Crikey he was given a written
warning after writing a
story about opposition to the proposed Tamar River pulp mill in
Northern Tasmania, and
claims that he was fired after his relationship with acting editor
Martin Gilmour went sour over his coverage of the issue. Young told
Crikey that the Tasmanian media’s independence was being eroded by
Gunns’ advertising clout and the editorial influence it holds in Rural
Press.

“It (restricted reporting on Gunns) happens just too often for it to be an accident,” Young told
Crikey. “It’s just such an old boy’s school and I’m not sure how to
fix the problem apart from taking a broom to it (Tasmanian Rural Press
Management).”

Milne told the Senate on Wednesday night that Young’s case was not an isolated incident and that there
are numerous examples of journalists – specifically from Rural Press,
who own two out of the three main Tasmanian papers – who have had their work on
Gunns censored or scrapped.

“What is going on here is that the Examiner newspaper
has a special relationship with Gunns and the state government,”
Senator Milne told Parliament. “Lies, innuendo, smears, the threat of no
more employment: all these devices are used to great effect to bring an
oppressive silence back on this island.”

In response to Milne’s speech, the Examiner’s editor Dean
Southwell told Crikey yesterday that
“beyond being appalled I have no comment.” But in a published response in today’s Examiner, Southwell refuted Milne’s claims the paper was biased and defended his paper’s editorial independence.

And all this growing attention has obviously spooked Rural Press, with
The Examiner’s lawyers firing off letters threatening to sue anyone who
goes near the story. The Australian finally caught up with the story today, and ABC’s Triple J have been getting excited over a legal letter sent by the Examiner’s
lawyers which slipped up and admitted that Young was in fact
dismissed, instead of repeating the Rural Press line that he resigned.

It all seems very ad hoc as the Examiner scrambles to try and
save face. And with ABC’s Media Watch putting together a piece on the
case, it doesn’t look like Wes Young or the issue of Tasmanian press freedom will be going away any time soon.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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