Is editorial integrity in better shape at News Limited than at Fairfax? Despite the continuing idiosyncrasies of The Australian, it seems that it might be so.
Yesterday Crikey asked Oz editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell what he thought of the dust-up over the Sydney Morning Herald’s Singapore Airlines wrap-around. If News Limited, rather than Fairfax, had won the Singapore Airlines advertising contract, would he have consented to such a wrap around?
Mitchell replied it was “outrageous” that the death of an SAS soldier was carried in a commercial wraparound presented as though it was real news. The problem, he says, was the lack of a declaration that the supplement was advertising – and the placement of the SAS story within it, thus blurring the lines.
I have accepted wraps from Toyota, but they have been clearly flagged “advertisement” and they would never carry a breaking news story and the page would never be presented as a real page one.
Meanwhile at a staff meeting yesterday, Sydney Morning Herald editor Alan Oakley declared that the decision to run the wrap was his, and his alone. Advertising came to him with a proposition, and he accepted it.
Staff are far from satisfied. House Committee co-chair Ruth Pollard told Crikey this morning that discussions continue about what further action may be needed.
There are still unanswered questions. Did Oakley fight, or didn’t he see the need? And what exactly did he agree to – just the fact of the wrap, or the precise mixing of news and advertising within the wrap? And who okayed the content of the advertorial copy? Oakley or marketing?
Oakley did not return Crikey’s calls before deadline today, so I couldn’t ask him these questions, but they very fact that they can be asked highlights the problem. The line between advertising and editorial has been blurred and once you mix the two in this way it is hard to disentangle them, or for readers ever again to trust that the front page reflects only editorial judgement.
I don’t seriously suggest that News Limited is holier than Fairfax, but in this case the blokey old journos who run Rupert’s local empire – selected, of course, because they fit in with the corporate culture – do seem to have a better understanding of the value of a masthead and its credibility.