The Daily Telegraph has rejected claims its journalism is compromised by its commercial relationship with Racing New South Wales, after one of its veteran racing columnists spectacularly resigned last week over what he claimed was editorial interference.

This time last week, The Daily Telegraph published what would be the last column by its racing luminary Ken Callander. After the item, which included some criticism of Racing NSW chairman John Messara, was removed online and from later editions of the paper, Callander quit. First to the racing press then to Fairfax, Callander has been very open about what he describes as his resignation over “a matter of principle”, saying he wasn’t able to criticise Racing NSW. But in its first public response to Callander’s claims, the Tele has dismissed the allegation, saying Callander often criticised Racing NSW, and that the paper’s commercial relationship with Racing NSW in no way influenced its coverage.

Newsroom sources tell Crikey staff were shocked when Callander “spat the dummy and left”. Last Tuesday, Callander told Racenet.com.au he’d resigned as he “didn’t believe [he] had total editorial freedom when commenting on Racing NSW”.

“The decision to resign was an easy one,” he said, noting that he didn’t think it was fair that he could criticise and comment on others in racing while pulling punches when it came to Racing NSW.

In a statement, the paper’s editors rejected the claims, saying:

“There has never been editorial influence placed upon Ken Callander, or any other journalist, except for the standard fact-checking and legal processes that we follow every day, for every article published across the masthead.

“The Daily Telegraph can cite many examples over a long period of time where Ken’s columns have been critical of Racing NSW, the TAB and other racing bodies and officials. Ken left The Daily Telegraph of his own volition and the paper wishes him well.”

Callander, 70, has had an almost 30-year relationship with News Corp. After starting out as a copyboy at The Mirror, he rose through the ranks of Australian sports coverage and began writing for News Corp in the 1980s.

The Daily Tele‘s close relationship to horse-race governing body Racing New South Wales has been widely covered before. In November, for example, Crikey asked the Tele whether its comprehensive coverage of Racing NSW’s bid for wagering taxation parity (NSW has higher gambling taxes than elsewhere) was paid for by the group, after the paper carried four articles and an editorial on the issue over one weekend alone. Managing editor Rhett Watson answered our question bluntly: “The answer is no.”

While it may not explicitly pay for coverage, the body undoubtedly does contribute to News Corp. The Tele‘s form guides, for example, are openly sponsored by the group (which also sponsors the same section in The Sydney Morning Herald).

But the Tele today again denied this had any influence over coverage.

“The Daily Telegraph rejects the suggestion that any commercial agreement compromises, in any way, the ability of it’s journalists to the report the facts.

“With regards to the paper’s relationship with Racing NSW and Tabcorp, in respect of the publication of the form guide, this has been an arrangement that has been in place for 18 years.

“Fairfax Media has a similar long standing commercial arrangement, as do most metropolitan newspapers in Australia.”

Peter Fray

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