Laura Tingle hasn’t even arrived at the ABC yet and The Australian is already having a go at her. “The Australian Financial Review’s political editor has signed a $15,000 contract for two days’ work with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet,” the Oz breathlessly reported today.

Tingle, who sadly has barely appeared in the AFR‘s pages since her move to the ABC’s flagship 7.30 was revealed, told the Oz there was no conflict of interest between her reporting duties and doing some hosting and MC gigs at the ASEAN Business Summit in Sydney in just over a week. But in what we assumed was a line the Oz meant for us to read in an ominous voice, “a spokesman for Fairfax declined to detail what guidelines applied to its journalists undertaking contract work for a government department on which they reported as part of their round”.

If a journalist doing disclosed contract work for a government department raises conflict of interest issues, what about journalists working with private sector bodies engaged in public debate? It’s only a couple of days since News Corp and the Business Council jointly announced that David Speers would be hosting Strong Australia, a new national platform for discussing the pressing issues facing Australians and the potential solutions” which will feature the Business Council’s Jennifer Westacott, and representatives of BCA member companies, talking with “local business owners, employers and community leaders.”

Can Speers report fairly on the BCA despite fronting a campaign cooked up between his employer and the BCA, which will doubtless involve plenty of discussion of the need for company tax cuts? Given his long record of quality, independent journalism and multiple Walkleys, undoubtedly. So it’s odd that multiple Walkley-winning Tingle gets singled out for MCing a breakfast and some conference panels. In any event, Tingle had the last laugh: journalistic burns don’t come much better than her tweet this morning.

Peter Fray

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