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Jun 20, 2014

The letter to the editor The Australian wouldn’t run

When public health expert Professor Mike Daube wrote to the Oz about their 'exclusive' plain packaging yarn, they refused to publish his letter in full. Here's what it said.

The Australian‘s plain packaging “exclusive” is a story that just won’t go away. Christian Kerr’s story, which used research funded by Big Tobacco to argue that the number of cigarettes sold in Australia had gone up since plain packaging was introduced, was torn apart on Media Watch on Monday night. The next day the Oz doubled down on its original allegation, devoting five new stories to the claims. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics further debunks the premise of The Australian‘s yarn.

But the story gets even stranger. Mike Daube, professor of health policy at Curtin University — who was quoted on Monday night’s Media Watch segment, and was attacked in Tuesday’s Oz — sent the following letter to The Australian‘s letters pages.

He was told by letters editor Graeme Leech that the Oz didn’t have the space to run the whole thing and he could have only 150 words — despite The Australian devoting several pages to the issue over the previous few days.

Letter to the editor

As part of The Australian’s campaign against plain packaging, [Tuesday]’s editorial refers to Friday’s front-page article as a “perfectly reasonable report”. That article was based on a secret report apparently provided by tobacco interests with comments only from the tobacco lobby. The report remains secret, so it is impossible to analyse it or to understand why the conclusions differ from official figures.

The Australian asked me for comment on Friday morning — after the article had appeared — but refused to provide the report. On Tuesday afternoon, after the ABC’s Mediawatch segment, a reporter and photographer from the Australian arrived at my office without warning, saying they wanted to ask questions about statistics. I said that I would comment if I could have a copy of the report, but they were unable to provide this. An hour later, the reporter ‘phoned to say that he could send me the report. Half an hour after this he ‘phoned back to say that he had been told he could not provide the report — only a graphic that had appeared in The Australian.

Even setting aside the rest of The Australian’s campaign (so far three front pages, two editorials and multiple articles), it is hard to see how all this can be described as “perfectly reasonable” journalism. It is also hard to understand why The Australian persists in claiming failure for plain packaging after 18 months in the face of not only encouraging official figures, but crucially the reality that, as Nicola Roxon emphasised from the outset, “Of course we’re targeting people who have not yet started, and that’s the key to this plain packaging announcement — to make sure we make it less attractive for people to experiment with tobacco in the first place”.

A related article refers to me with phrases including “political involvement” and “Gillard government adviser”. I was Deputy Chair of the National Preventative Health Taskforce and chaired the tobacco expert committee. It is ridiculous and offensive to describe that as “political involvement”, or to imply that membership of expert health committees somehow makes one politically partisan. I have enjoyed working for and with governments and Ministers from both sides of politics, have no political links, and was indeed publicly critical of the last government on various issues. My last “political involvement” was as a member of the British Young Conservatives in the 1960s.

Professor Mike Daube AO
Professor of Health Policy
Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia

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42 comments

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42 thoughts on “The letter to the editor The Australian wouldn’t run

  1. Dallas Fraser

    Graeme Leech’s minders don’t have any such rules when it comes to those on its favoured side of the political fence. I have had many letters offering an alternate view than the paper is pushing and they invariably end up in the bin.

  2. The Hood

    Is The Australian run by Bastards Incorporated? What is it with the Oz, is its task just to represent the personal scewed and warped opinions and interests of Rupert Murdoch?

  3. The Pav

    Just when you thought the Oz couldn’t get more pathetic,hypocritical and base they manage to

    It would seem that their view of free speech is only if you agree. I think we should petition to have them change their name.

    The Oz is neither a newspaper or Australian in its values.

    ANd tehy had the unmitigated gall to complain about the Chaser skit……….WTF!!!!

  4. Andrew McIntosh

    Murdoch’s minions strike again. The world’s had decades of this kind of crap.

  5. Electric Lardyland

    Yes, Pav, but what should the name be changed to?
    The Australian Animal Fanciers Digest?

  6. Electric Lardyland

    But it is truly surreal and Kafkaesque though. That is, an academic asks to see a report that he is being asked to comment on, is then told that he can’t and then is condemned for being biased.
    No wonder that the modern right wing narrative, seems to be just that little bit more unhinged every day.

  7. jackp

    Jack Philpott

    as a chest specialist who works with people and families who’s lives are destroyed by this drug I find the Oz’s position a danger to peoples health. I invite the editor of the Oz to spend a day with me and see people suffocating. The best advise i can give to people is don’t smoke and don’t buy the Oz

  8. rhwombat

    Thanks to Mike Daube (and Crikey) for fighting the good fight. Next will come the full page spread in the Ex-Australian (“Rupert’s Little Organ”) pointing out the gross hypocrisy of biting the hand that starves you.

  9. SusieQ

    Amazing how stupid an organisation can become when its market share is falling. Instead of trying to improve the quality of its journalism and the stories it prints, it heads further down the muckraking road.

  10. The Pav

    Electric L @5

    I’d say “TOILET PAPER” but I have too much respect for my ar*e!

    How about “the Lying Toe Rag’s Rag”

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