Mount
Gambier’s controversialBorder Watch newspaper is back in the news again after deciding to take local member Rory McEwen to court.

Yesterday
it was revealed that the paperhad lodged a claim in Mt Gambier’s small
claims court, suing Mr McEwen for unpaid advertising fees. Mr
McEwen refused to pay his $5,000 bill after taking umbrage at the paper’s
coverage of the election campaign, which featured a heavy Liberal slant, as
demanded by paper owner Allan Scott.

In
a statement filed with the court, Mr McEwen said that he was given an undertaking by the paper’s editor Frank
Morello that campaign coverage would be fair and balanced. But Mr McEwen claims it was not
and the paper therefore breached the advertising contract.

In a letter filed with the
court, Mr McEwen said that on 9 March – only days before the election – he spoke with
Mr Morello and told him he did not think the election reporting had been fair or
balanced. “He said he agreed and that he
would do something about it; this he attempted to do the very next day and was
promptly stood down as editor of The Border Watch for his troubles,” Mr McEwen’s
letter said. “The following Tuesday it
became clear that the Board of Directors of The Border Watch had firm views of
their own.”

Mr McEwen also states that the
paper’s general manager wrote to him saying his perception of the coverage was
unfortunate, however advertising had no link to news coverage. Staff were also allegedly told
that they were to take an “anti-McEwen” line during the campaign, focusing
instead on a pro-Liberal stance. Following Mr McEwen’s
re-election, he declared the score now stood at “McEwen three, Allan Scott
nil”.

A directions hearing has been scheduled for
16 August. Mr McEwen has indicated he
intends to call on Border Watch staff, both past and present, to support his
claims. People due to appear include general manager Tim Lewis, former editors Kieran Iles and Gary Trotter
(also dumped by the board), Sandra Morello (wife of the editor and a part-time
journalist at the paper) as well as myself (I resigned in protest at management interference at the paper).

The hearing could make for an interesting court drama, given that police
are currently investigating allegations that Mr Lewis assaulted Mr Iles in a Mt
Gambier hotel earlier this month.

Meanwhile, it seems the Border Watch is determined to stick to the philosophy that “any
publicity is good publicity”. But all this latest incident achieves is to further outline the paper’s
policy of going after Mr McEwen – which started as a directive from Mr Scott,
who has a personal dislike of the local member.

Peter Fray

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