Another year, another disappointing display from the media when it comes to covering the annual 1 February deluge of political donations data.

The ABC professes to offer quality coverage of serious issues but we got nothing on the 7pm television bulletin or The 7.30 Report last night, although it was the second story on PM.

The Age produced one story on the bottom of page four but missed the big local angle – American cinema chain Reading giving $75,000 to Victorian Labor after a favourable planning decision at a former brickworks.

However, The Age did produce this strong opinion piece from Melbourne University’s Joo-Cheong Tham condemning the appalling disclosure system. There should be plenty more like it over the days ahead.

The Herald Sun managed just one story at the bottom of page 19 although at least News Corp maintained its policy of not donating in Australia, unlike the Packers who gave $15,000 to WA Labor from its Burswood Casino – a contribution missed by most of the media.

The Australian led its coverage quite bizarrely by noting the big drop in donations to Family First – something you would expect given there wasn’t a Federal election campaign in 2005-06.

There were plenty more interesting angles ignored – like the 1,000 poker machines run by Labor in Canberra delivering almost $400,000. No other major political party in the world runs gaming venues, yet the quantum of the funds raised by ACT Labor each year never even cracks a mention.

The SMH found a decent angle in heartless car parts company Tristar giving almost $100,000 to the political duopoly, something missed by almost everyone else because it was buried in the South Australian figures. Strangely, The Advertiser in Adelaide didn’t mention it.

The AFR produced the best coverage today, including an important comment piece from Angus Grigg about how unwieldy and lacking in transparency the new disclosure system is.

The figures are late, incomplete and the system is unregulated because any organisation or individual anywhere in the world can give unlimited funds and not even their use is publicly disclosed.

Now it is time for editorialists and heavies such as Laurie Oakes, Paul Kelly and Barrie Cassidy to stick their necks out and take a stand. At the moment, the PM hasn’t even been asked a question about his lamentably lax new disclosure system which is there for the world to see after yesterday’s AEC release.

Peter Fray

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