A Melbourne audio-visual company has been told that its advertisement won’t be run in today’s Green Guide in The Age because its content exposes Fairfax to risk, leading the company to believe that the media company is self-censoring in fear of raising the ire of Treasurer Joe Hockey.

In a blog post, the owners of Carlton Audio Visual say the ad follows a theme they’ve been using for years: “Our print ads have featured a fanatic — someone either topical or famous who has appeared in black and white with googly eyes and a witty quip.” They say it’s not the first time they’ve used a prominent figure, or Hockey himself.

“Over the years we’ve featured some questionable figures, including Saddam Hussein, Stalin, Kim Jong-il and the Queen, along with numerous politicians and minor celebrities. Over the past few years we’ve attempted to steer away from mass murderers and focus more on inspirational figures, like Nikola Tesla and Charles Darwin. So when we put this ad together featuring Joe Hockey, we didn’t expect any trouble from it. In fact 2 of our print ads during the 2014 budget cycle featured Joe Hockey.”

Hockey is currently suing Fairfax for defamation over its now-infamous “treasurer for sale” headline — a case that is yet to be settled. Carlton Audio Visual wasn’t told explicitly that the ad was pulled because of Hockey, or the defamation case, but the company reached that conclusion on its own:

“This has lead to a timidity when it comes to mentioning him in their paper, featuring in their cartoons, or yes, appearing in their advertising. I would like to be clear here — Carlton Audio Visual aren’t being critical of Joe Hockey, his government or their policies positions. We’re just having a bit of fun with with one of his faux pas. As we have done in the past.”

The company says it is concerned about the precedent it sets for the media company and the government:

“What’s really upsetting for us, is the implications that the current political climate is placing on the freedom of the press, that a newspaper such as The Age feels that to publish this ad would some how enrage the treasurer, or be perceived as bias against him. We’re sorry that The Age won’t be able to publish this ad. They’ve offered to move a modified ad to the Friday edition, which means we will miss our target audience in the Green guide. We’ll be replacing Joe Hockey in the ad with someone who won’t upset their delicate position. I wonder who it will be?”

Rab Turner of Carlton Audio Visual this morning told Crikey a replacement ad featuring Joseph Stalin was also rejected. The company was told “we can not go to print with your artwork that you have resubmitted. The comments and image expose Fairfax Media to risk and goes against the ACCC guidelines of appropriate content. As publishers it’s Fairfax who would be held responsible for offensive content and in its current state it could be view as defamatory.”

We note, however, that it is not possible to defame Stalin, as he is dead (and had little reputation to uphold, anyway).

We have asked Fairfax why the advertisement was rejected, and will publish their response when it is received.

UPDATE: Since publication, the owners of Carlton Audio Visual have been contacted by The Age and told that the original advertisement featuring Joe Hockey could be run in the paper. Rab Turner from Carlton Audio Visual told Crikey, “apparently someone at Fairfax reads your column”.

Fairfax did not deny the ad was originally rejected for publication. Editor-in-chief of The Age, Andrew Holden, said: “The ad has gone through the normal processes and has been cleared for publication. It is a bit of fun and it makes it perfectly clear who stands behind the artwork. And I can assure everyone that we are no more timid in our coverage of the Treasurer because of his legal action than we were before the story ran. You only have to look at our coverage over the past couple of weeks — of the cash for the Indonesian boat crew, or Bill Shorten’s union days — to know that we publish without fear or favour.”​

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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