Author Richard Flanagan has lambasted the Tasmanian media for being supine toadies to the state Government, which in turn licks the boots of the state’s two major players, Gunns Ltd, with its wood-chipping monopoly and Federal Hotels, with its gaming monopoly.

Why has the local media “become so captive to power and money?” he asks – in particular The Mercury, The Examiner and ABC Radio.

The award-winning novelist, who has written about the rotten state of the apple isle in The Guardian and The New York Times, has never fired such a sustained volley at the local media as he did at last week’s official launch in Hobart of Tasmanian Times – which has just been posted on the Tassie Times website.

Flanagan says the Tasmanian media “happily plays the part of a Greek chorus: repeating lies, deriding truth, denouncing critics of power” and “not only celebrate the powerbrokers but crave intimacy with them and their opinions; they laud rather than question their projects; they join with them in mocking any voice raised in questioning. Their record is beyond pitiful.”

He accuses The Mercury of “Pravda-like grovelling” to the Lennon Government in recent weeks with glowing profiles on its cabinet ministers. “If The Mercury is to be believed, not since Churchill assembled his war cabinet has such brilliance graced a Westminster parliament.” And he blasts the paper for naming Robin Gray as one of the state’s top ten premiers, saying “only a newspaper as stupid and craven to power” would do so because it was a matter of record that Gray brought Tasmania close to bankruptcy.

Flanagan accuses The Examiner of toadying to Gunns, citing a recent front page story reporting on Erica Gay’s claims that her husband, Gunns chairman John Gay, had suffered persecution by Green extremists in a campaign against him: “As truth.”

And he says that when the staunchly pro-Gunns, pro-Bacon Examiner editor Rod Scott quit his job to become a senior minder for Paul Lennon, this was treated by the media, not as a scandal, but as “the glowing culmination of a successful career.”

He accuses ABC Local Radio of the same sin of toadying, singling out Morning presenter Tim Cox for particular criticism because he was MC at Jim Bacon’s funeral. Flanagan says “it beggars belief” that as the ABC’s leading commentator in Tasmania, he was allowed to deliver “rapturous elegies … then continue to pronounce on Tasmanian politics as though he was an impartial observer.”

But there are also a few good journalists working in “occupied territory,” according to Flanagan. He singles out 7.30 Report‘s Jocelyn Nettlefold, Simon Bevilacqua of The Sunday Tasmanian (The Mercury‘s Sunday edition) and Tassie Times editor (and Mercury sub) Lindsay Tuffin.

Peter Fray

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