From the Australian: ‘Biased’ Land Council mag shut on advice

The Australian |
July 28, 2014

By Paul Cleary

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has closed its ambitious monthly magazine Tracker after receiving advice from a Liberal Party-linked consulting firm that urged less strident political reporting in order to secure better relations with the Coalition state government.

Launched in April 2011 with a strong funding commitment from the NSWALC, Tracker had become the best read indigenous publication in the state, according to former managing editor Chris Graham. Its 23,000 subscribers received the last issue this month.

The closure comes after NSWALC’s commissioning of a “policy and political audit” by the consulting firm 1st State. The firm’s principal, Joe Tannous, has previously served on the NSW Liberal Party’s state executive, but this ended last year after Tony Abbott said lobbyists could not serve as party executives.

The 1st State report says while only a few government stakeholders were aware of the publication, there was a perception of “bias on the reporting of issues”.

“This has effectively reinforced prejudices and creates an additional obstacle to overcome,” says the report, obtained by Media.

The negative comments from NSW government sources followed a damning cover in October that said Aboriginal people had voted overwhelmingly against the Coalition in the recent federal election.

The 1st State report did not recommend closure, but it said a “separate shorter publication” that carried “a set of messages and a tone better targeted to MPs” would help establish more beneficial relations with government.

The NSWALC has taken this advice, with the recently launched e-bulletin.

NSWALC chief executive Les Turner said Tracker was “supposed to be cost neutral” but instead was pulling in at best $400,000 in revenue, with operational costs of $1.2 million.

The decision to close it followed a decision by “a fully democratic council”.

Mr Graham said the analysis of Tracker’s performance had overlooked its commercial success.

“NSWALC needs to come clean on the real reasons why it abolished Tracker. The story they’ve told members is demonstrably false,” Graham told Media.

He said that the council had been “extremely naive” in taking advice from 1st State.

“Tannous’s report is ridiculous,” he said.

“He’s interviewed a handful of predominantly political staffers, and then charged NSWALC $70,000 for their opinions.”

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