A Queensland APN paper earlier this month announced a change in how it would deal with questions to politicians.

An email from the Fraser Coast Chronicle sent to a political staffer (and seen by Crikey) said:

“In future with political stories in the Chronicle, we will be highlighting questions that were asked but were not answered.

“I appreciate with replies to media enquiries sometimes multiple questions can be answered with one answer, so in that case it the question would not be printed.
But when questions are blatantly skipped over and not answered with no reason given, we will be printing that the question was either ignored or unable to be answered.”

It’s not an APN-wide policy, but came about because the Chronicle’s journos were sick of journalists skipping the most crucial of their questions, says acting editor Jordan Philp. It’s good for transparency, he said, and good for the paper’s readers to know what questions politicians are being asked.

Since the “little reminder” was sent, Philp adds, the pollies covered by the paper have answered all the questions put to them, so there hasn’t been a need to detail which questions they skipped over.

Politicians giving generic, unhelpful answers to specific questions has frustrated every journalist from time to time. Full disclosure of one’s dealings with politicians can discourage this, but it can cut both ways. Last week we read a letter Four Corners journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna had sent NT corrections minister John Elferink, seeking his permission to film in the Don Dale facility. The rather effusive letter — written two months before the episode went to air and before Four Corners got its hands on video footage of the brutal treatment meted out to inmates — made it look like Four Corners had misled the minister about the nature of their journalistic investigation. Perhaps journalism and sausage-making have something in common.

Peter Fray

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