As sketchy details emerge of an unprecedented spray that Age editor-in-chief Andrew Jaspan gave last week calling for the abolition of Melbourne City Council at a function organised by Melbourne City Council (more on that later), aggrieved Age staff will meet in Melbourne tomorrow to pore over the fallout from Monday night’s Media Watch account of the sponsorship-led sycophancy that lay behind the paper’s recent Earth Hour blitz.

A host of questions remain over the reams of free publicity accorded by Fairfax papers to the self-consciously symbolic hour of darkness stunt. For those that missed it, World Wildlife Fund spruiker Fiona Poletti got busy on the emails to Jaspan, pushing various duly-published story ideas and heaping praise on the paper’s all-round “great coverage”. However, Jaspan’s response to Media Watch, highlighted by host Jonathan Holmes, that he only adopted Polletti’s suggestions a la carte — and not, as it appears, carte blanche — would seem to warrant an extended discussion.

Crikey also understands the looming Age stopwork — a meeting that will disconcertingly be addressed by Jaspan himself — will deal with a series of other controversies that have mocked the paper’s “independent” masthead. Rumours are circulating that soccer writer Michael Lynch is under increasing pressure to relinquish his role after his Melbourne Victory coverage was deemed insufficiently laudatory. The Age, of course, is a major Victory sponsor.

The Victory complaints dovetail nicely with another agenda item, the paper’s fraught relationship to the adjacent Telstra Dome sporting precinct. Way back in 2006, Crikey highlighted the circulation-boosting freebies foisted on Docklands car park patrons. Now exclusive Fairfax marketing rights have been extended over the entire harbourside area of the Melbourne Docklands.

The meeting’s sidelines are likely to be awash with the scuttlebutt that has amused the Spencer Street offices this week after Jaspan’s MCC leadership forum address. Skittish and late in arriving, Jaspan was meant to be facilitating a discussion of counsellors. Instead he raised a series of spurious proposals, including the sacking of most of the audience members.

Unsurprisingly, the 45-minute dissertation on the future of Melbourne was met with acres of stunned silence.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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