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Panpa Bulletin : February 2007
PANPA Bulletin February 2007 NEWS 6 BY JACK BEVERLEY AQueensland rural shire council that is unhappy with the content and story emphasis in its lively paid-for local bi-weekly, APN News & Media’s South Burnett Times, is funding the employment of two part-time journalists to provide an alternative “parish pump” news service. Under the deal – thought to be an Australian frst – the coverage provided by the two journalists appears in the Kingaroy Mail, a fortnightly freebie also owned by APN and run from the same offce as the South Burnett Times. While the implications of the deal raise some ethical questions, Kingaroy’s mayor, Roger Nunn, argues that providing the resources to provide a range of community news will help balance what his council considers to be sensationalist reporting and also correct a negative image of the shire it believes it is being created by the Times. The frst issue of the quarter-fold Mail that was published including the funded editorial input carried a statement by the Mayor explaining the council’s position. The Times, with a cover charge of $1, sells nearly 7000 copies in the 200km long agriculturally-diverse region of South Burnett. Its Tuesday edition focuses on industry and event reporting and includes an extensive trades and services directory. The Friday edition showcases local events, arts and entertainment, and also includes a property guide and motoring supplement. The presentation of the Times was greatly improved by editor Don Farmer after APN closed its local production facility more than a year ago and switched production over to its new full-colour press on the Sun- shine Coast. Circulation has been increas- ing steadily. The 13,000 residents of Kingaroy, best-known for its peanuts and its links with the former premier, Joh Bjelke Petersen, were frst alerted to the council’s “bet- ter news” policy in a letter circulated in December. The letter, however, did not make it clear that the council would be provid- ing the funding for the journalists who will produce the news copy that will appear in the Mail. The mayor insists that his agreement with APN’s local management ensures that his council has no control over the editorial and he would have no problem if the council-funded journalists criticised him. He is also claiming widespread support for ensuring that the town will know “what is going on” as against the emphasis on local crime, health and other issues played up by the South Burnett Times. Questioned about the provision of the journalists on the ABC's PM program, Nunn said that an opportunity had arisen to discuss the problem of local news emphasis with the APN. “We had very fruitful discussions, and basically what we put before them was that they would still own and publish the paper but that we would provide the journalists and provide all the editorial,” he told reporter Nicole Bond. Bond said that APN regional general manager Bruce Partridge thought the arrangement was a frst for the company and would be keen to see more like it if it was successful. She quoted APN as saying there would be no regular declaration printed in the Kingaroy Mail that the journalists are paid by the local government – a stance which, if maintained, would trouble Australian Press Council chairman Professor Ken McKinnon. “The public needs to know the provenance; whether it is in fact news, independently gathered, or whether it is biased in some way … all that sort of thing,” he told PM’s listeners. “It’s best if that (the content) is identifed in the newspaper without any ambivalence and then the readers can make up their own mind.” McKinnon’s view has, however, been supported by APN’s management which has made it clear that every issue of the Kingaroy Mail will state clearly the cost of producing the editorial content is sup- plemented by the council. The funding arrangement will be constantly reviewed. But on the issue itself, APN said that the company and the shire council “shared the view that readers were entitled to a comprehensive coverage of grassroots, neighbourhood news.” "The Kingaroy Mail is a free community- style newspaper with a total emphasis on hyper-local news,” APN editor-in-chief Terry Quinn told the PANPA Bulletin. “Our local management has entered into an agreement with Kingaroy Shire Council to provide a better, more comprehensive coverage of that type of news in the Kingaroy Mail.” Quinn said the South Burnett Times was a responsible regional newspaper with a long and proud history of reporting the news of the South Burnett region. Its role was to report the news fairly, accurately and impartially. “We acknowledge that the news of the day might not always fnd favour with some sections of the community,” Quinn said. “But we fully support the South Burnett Times, its editor and staff in fearlessly and independently reporting all the news of the region. “We are delighted that the circulation of the Times is showing that readers support its policy. In the year ended September 30, 2006, the circulation increased 7.57 percent.” Council funds Kingaroy journos Supplied by Gary Clark from Swamp Productions. Email email@example.com or visit www.swamp.com.au
November December 2006