Oh what a close and cosy world is the Brisbane media scene. Madonna writes a book and she gets an extract of it run in David’s paper. David’s paper changes size and he gets a long interview on Madonna’s radio show.

The really meaningful discussion and debate about the media in Queensland has been reduced to dinner table conversation at the home of husband and wife David Fagan and Madonna King, following the extraordinary decision by ABC Local Radio to make King its morning show presenter.

Many of the unmanageable ethical dilemmas thrown up by that appointment were on display as Mrs David interviewed Mr David yesterday about The Courier-Mail’s move from broadsheet to tabloid format. It’s a worthy topic for discussion, but 20 minutes (give or take) is a fat slab on any radio program for an on-air discussion was a back-slapping festival in which no naysaying was heard.

Listeners to the segment were in a position to learn one thing, though – that King and Fagan are very much an item. Of course insiders already knew, but what about the casual media consumer? Certainly they won’t find out by going to King’s profile on the ABC website: which merely reports that King has a husband and two children.

That presumably is a reflection of King’s belief that it shouldn’t matter who she has chosen to marry, and that she has every right to pursue her own career. Fair enough, but because King doesn’t mind enjoying the benefits that come from being the wife of the editor of Brisbane’s only newspaper it’s a bit rich to expect no downsides. It’s a fair bet that she did not complain when the Courier ran a long extract from her book on the Bali Nine a couple of Saturdays back.

And King’s ethical conundrums don’t stop there. She also writes a column for the Courier, something few other ABC employees are allowed to do these days. If she becomes aware of something the public has a right to know about will she write it in her column and betray her employer? King is a determinedly conscientious journalist who writes one of the paper’s better columns. But she has been placed in an impossible situation.

Both King and Fagan are creatures of News Limited – company insiders whose lives and careers have been shaped by the Murdoch empire. Thanks to the poor judgement of local ABC management, Brisbane is no longer just a one-newspaper town, it is a one media company town.

If a politician and her husband were in a similar conflict of interest position – or even where the perception of conflict of interest existed – the media would be onto them. But which media outlet in Brisbane is going to question, scrutinise and track this situation? The Courier-Mail? The ABC morning show?

Peter Fray

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