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Jun 19, 2014

Richard’s choice: SMH editor on Ackland sacking

The Sydney Morning Herald's editor-in-chief says he had no choice but end Richard Ackland's column, after the long-standing legal writer wrote a diary-style piece for The Saturday Paper.

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

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 …

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.”

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12 thoughts on “Richard’s choice: SMH editor on Ackland sacking

  1. Suzanne Blake

    Whats the big deal, they are both sinking left wing papers?

  2. Andybob

    If those contractual provisions have the effect of substantially limiting competition in the market for acquisition of freelance journalism in Australia and amount to a condition that a supplier of such services to SMH would not supply similar services to particular competitors of SMH then there could be some shenanigans.

  3. Robert Smith

    There were only three columnists worth reading in the SMH – Ackland and Gittins for independent opinion and Carlton for humour. The reasons for buying this “newspaper” are decreasing.

  4. Suzanne Blake

    I cancelled my Fairfax delivery some years ago, when David Marr was Editor. It went downhill and has continued every since. In fact the newspaper deliveries in our street have dropped around 90% in the past few years.

  5. The Pav

    OMG….Susan Blake has crawled out from where ever she has been hiding.

    I guess being sacked with a small “s” is dofferent from being sacked witha big “S’….al la Ms Bishops twisted logic

  6. AR

    Perhaps Goodsir could use a refresher course in grammar if this is typical -“The Saturday Paper deal was done prior to me getting a chance to properly consider ..”.
    Try parsing and ‘my’ would seem to be the pronoun.
    Pav – ORAC re-emerged a couple of weeks ago but I had hoped that it was only death throes or grave subsidence and that nobody would feed the undead troll.

  7. lloydois

    David Marr has never been editor of the SMH.

  8. Suzanne Blake

    Marr announced his resignation from the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 July 2012

  9. AR

    Bach – please don’t feed the troll – she appears not to understand simple words.

  10. The Pav

    Right Wing Nuts ( such as the spectacularly dishonest Suzanne Blake) like to redefine balance , reason and genuine enquiry as ” LEFT WING BIAS”