The editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald has hit back at claims that he sacked respected legal columnist Richard Ackland after Ackland wrote a piece for The Saturday Paper, saying Ackland gave him no choice.
“I did not sack him. He has made his own decision,” Darren Goodsir said in an email to staff yesterday afternoon.
It follows a tweet by Ackland from earlier today in which the columnist, who’d been writing for the SMH for two decades, said he had been sacked for writing a piece in The Saturday Paper …
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In his response, Goodsir said he had been informed by email on Friday that Ackland intended to write a regular column for The Saturday Paper, and by then, that paper had already been printed.
“I told Richard that he needed to make a decision on whether he wanted to continue contributing regularly for the SMH — or whether he wanted to work for The Saturday Paper. I could not countenance both — especially given that The Saturday Paper deal was done prior to me getting a chance to properly consider how arrangements might have worked. If I had been approached by him before the deal, I might have been able to strike such an arrangement.
“I have been negotiating with Richard for a few months on a contract which would have allowed him to undertake alternative commissions — but obviously with my prior approval and in circumstances where his role as a long-standing SMH columnist were properly credited.”
Goodsir says he would welcome pitches from Ackland in the future, and wishes him well.
The column that caused the split was the first in a regular diary-style column known as Gadfly to run in The Saturday Paper. The first column mused on damages paid to Chris Kenny by the ABC, Peta Credlin’s past as a college enforcer, and Tim Wilson’s views on bigotry.
Ackland also publishes law journals Justinian and the Gazette of Law and Journalism, and is a former host of the ABC’s Media Watch. Speaking to Guardian Australia, he said his contract with the SMH prevented him from writing for News Corp or The Guardian Australia, but The Saturday Paper was in the exempt category. However, he acknowledged the contract required him to seek permission before writing for other publications.
“Darren said make a decision: us or them, and I’d already filed my second column for the Saturday Paper so the decision was already made for me,” Ackland told Guardian Australia.
“I don’t want to bag the Herald because they really have been incredibly good to me for many years. I think events just moved so quickly. I said I am a freelancer and in the current climate a pay rise isn’t possible so I would like to write for both.
And Darren said have a lovely time at The Saturday Paper. He is very strong on exclusivity and the bottom line is they couldn’t give me a pay rise. I thought the contract they wanted me to sign was a bit prohibitive.”