Institute of Public Affairs wunderkind Tim Wilson has lashed out at ABCTV’s Media Watch program for allegedly distorting his views on the tobacco industry, branding the program a “disgrace” for its item on the subject two weeks ago.

In a private message sent via the social networking site Facebook, and obtained by Crikey, Wilson said Media Watch was “deceptive” for quoting him out of context after he gave a series of public statements on the legal ramifications of the Rudd government’s decision to strip logos from tobacco packets. He says the program, despite highlighting the IPA’s historic ties to the tobacco industry, failed to “prove any link to me and tobacco companies.”

Wilson repeatedly claimed in at least 13 radio interviews on April 29 that the government was facing a “$3 billion” compensation bill to bail out tobacco multinationals affected by the new laws. He penned an opinion piece in The Australian the next day arguing his case and also appeared on the ABC’s 7:30 Report.

But according to Media Watch, only two interviewers asked about the IPA’s receipt of cigarette-sourced cash. And just one outlet sought a counterbalancing view.

Crikey understands that Media Watch contacted Wilson but he was reluctant to be quoted directly, preferring instead to let his on-the-record statements tell the story. But on Facebook he didn’t hold back:

“They also ignored the international legal experts who raised similar concerns as me including the International Trademarks Association and the Institute of Patent and Trademark Attorneys of Australia.

Media Watch also used interviews from different times to represent my comments on April 29. And they used an article to refute my arguments by an academic who has since declared he is advising the Cancer Council Victoria on the subject.

“The whole thing was a disgrace.”

On Facebook, Wilson said Media Watch deliberately inserted a sentence in its report claiming his arguments were “sincerely” held  in order to avoid a defamation stoush. He says that if the program had failed to include that disclosure, “I would have sued their ass off.”

“I imagine they only included those words to avoid being sued.”

The right wing think tank has repeatedly refused to release details on the money it receives from the tobacco industry, referring all inquiries to the donors themselves. Media Watch asked Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris whether they routinely write out cheques to Wilson’s employer.

Only Imperial Tobacco (after Media Watch‘s deadline) ruled out any direct link. The program cited a 2002 opinion piece in The Australian from the IPA’s Don D’Cruz that included a rare disclosure that the IPA banked regular cash injections.

(Interestingly, last week Imperial Tobacco admitted to a New Zealand parliamentary committee that it had funded a lobby group, the Association of Community Retailers, to protest tax hikes.)

Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes told Crikey the program had “no particular bone to pick with Tim”, but rejected his suggestion that the program had inserted the “sincerely held” sentence to guard against a lawsuit.

“This was as much a criticism of the journalism as it was of Tim’s views, which I have no doubt he sincerely holds.”

Crikey contacted the IPA to ask again whether the group receives funding from big tobacco. Its spokesperson, Andrew Poon, cited a 2006 letter from then federal Labor frontbencher Kelvin Thomson to major Australian companies asking whether they had contributed money to the think tank.

Poon claimed Thomson had “intimidated” firms into revealing their support for the IPA in the context of its controversial stance on global warming.

“It is because of actions like those of Kelvin Thomson MP the IPA does not disclose its membership list. However, members are welcome to disclose their membership of the IPA.”

Wilson did not respond to a direct question asking whether he has any personal links with the tobacco industry, reiterating his view that the program had ignored the Senate submissions of the International Trademarks Association and the Institute of Patent and Trademark Attorneys of Australia, who both flagged a significant legal bill for the government.

Peter Fray

72 hours only. 50% off a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

Our two-for-one offer with The Atlantic was so popular we decided to bring it back.

But only for 72 hours.

Use the promo code ATLANTIC2020 and you’ll get 50% off a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year of digital access to The Atlantic (usually $70). That’s BOTH for just $129.

Hurry. Ends midnight this Thursday.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

Claim Now