It’s the type of media coverage most would-be mayors could only dream of: a story on the front page of the city’s best-read newspaper full of glowing praise for your love of the city.
Lucky for Basil Zempilas he doesn’t have to dream.
This is the reality for the sports presenter and TV personality, whose long affiliation with WA’s powerful Seven West Media, run by billionaire Kerry Stokes, has made broadcasting his ambition to be the mayor of Perth easy.
The former Weekend Sunrise host and columnist in Seven’s The West Australian announced he was running in October’s mayoral race in an “exclusive” story in The West on Saturday, July 11.
The paper dedicated several column inches to Zempilas’ four-point plan to “reboot” the city, describing him as someone with “legendary energy” and passion for his hometown. Zempilas shared the favourable spread on his Instagram profile.
Zempilas’ long-awaited push for mayor has provoked some conflict of interest claims in Perth, and not just because of the publicity his media connections have afforded him (he also has a breakfast show on Nine’s Perth radio station 6PR).
It’s also prompted a discussion about conflicts that might arise if he is successful as mayor.
Zempilas is said to be a favourite of Stokes’, whose sizeable influence in the city regularly on display.
Seven reportedly holds a significant parcel of land in the city linked to the former Entertainment Centre site, and the company has been trying to offload assets to reduce the huge debts it accumulated before and after the pandemic.
Zempilas himself has brushed these concerns off, saying he would play by the rules and that it would be an “unfair advantage” if he continually used his position in the media as a platform for his election.
“I think as long as I play fair and play by the rules, and the rules we set for ourselves, then in my mind it’s okay,” he told The Weekend Australian.
Stokes’ control of the media in WA is more or less unrivalled thanks to his ownership of The West, which is frequently used to push his agenda — most recently by asking Prime Minister Scott Morrison to patch things up with China (a position WA Premier Mark McGowan immediately backed).
Professor John Phillimore, executive director of the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy at Curtin University, said Zempilas’ run for mayor prompted more questions about the city’s media concentration.
“It’s the lack of media diversity that’s the problem,” he said. “There’s less onus on him to be independent or seen to be independent than in other circumstances.”
Phillimore said Zempilas clearly had an advantage over other candidates but perhaps not one that was improper. However his connection to Stokes and the Seven West empire meant that he would need to declare any conflicts that arose during his tenure.
The City of Perth election has been pushed back to October due to an inquiry into dysfunction at the council. Unusually, voting is not compulsory.
Zempilas is not the only journo to run. His opponents include former ABC journalist and Tourism Western Australia board member Di Bain, retired magistrate Tim Schwass and former Today Tonight reporter Mark Gibson.
Crikey contacted Zempilas and The West Australian for comment but neither responded.