Posted by & filed under City Hub.

Loyal viewers of the ABC’s Media Watch could be forgiven for thinking the usually independent-minded guardian of Australian news coverage was hijacked by right-wing property developers. On Monday September 8, less than one week before NSW local government elections, broadcaster Jonathan Holmes accused an independent community newspaper in Ryde of only covering an anti-development point of view to the detriment of an unpopular, sitting Mayor. God forbid.

For more than 90 years The Weekly Times (TWT) has served residents and small business owners in the North Western Districts of Sydney — making it one of Australia’s oldest surviving independent community newspapers. For the last 33 years, TWT has been owned by John Booth, an old fashioned newspaper publisher, who has been in a David and Goliath battle with the pro-development Liberal Mayor, Artin Etmekdjian. This year Ryde’s Mayor used his casting vote to break a six-six tie, approving a controversial plan to award a large chunk of publicly owned land to Lend Lease for redevelopment. Under the plan, Council would have given the transnational corporation 60 per cent of the publicly owned Ryde Civic Centre along with a $5.8 million cash down payment to Lend Lease, and a $35 million loan to build high rises at the site. Council also agreed to spend $15 million relocating its offices during the reconstruction. Many local residents were outraged by the terms of the deal.

The controversial proposal was put on exhibition in August of last year. When the matter appeared before Council, the anti-developer block of councillors stalled the sale of publicly owned real estate by seeking to have the General Manager removed by complaining to ICAC about the backroom deal and by staging walk outs when Council votes were called, thus facing Supreme Court action. Through it all, TWT published angry letters from local readers opposed to the deal and took a pro-community, anti-development stand, which no doubt irked the pro-big business Mayor.

At the end of last year the Mayor retaliated against TWT’s coverage by using his casting vote to break another six-six Council deadlock. As a result of his vote, Council advertising for Ryde Council moved away from TWT, a locally owned and operated newspaper to the Cumberland newspaper chain, owned by News Limited, the Australian subsidiary of an international media conglomerate, registered in the US state of Delaware. It should not come as a surprise that the same block of councillors who voted to give Lend Lease public land for redevelopment at the expense of small locally owned retail tenants would also vote to shift Council advertising away from a small local community newspaper publisher.

But that did not concern Media Watch’s Jonathan Holmes. No doubt tipped off by Liberal Party sources in the lead up to a heated local election, Holmes thought he smelled a rat, implying the owner of TWT was acting out of financial self-interest by refusing to support politicians who put large corporate interests above the local interests of Ryde residents. God Forbid.

In the end, local voters in Ryde had the last say. Opposed to ugly high rises in their suburban area and no doubt deterred by the experience of neighbouring Willoughby Council, who is projecting a $110 million deficit after a similar redevelopment in Chatswood, the voters threw out the sitting Mayor, instead giving an anti-development Council an outright majority. If TWT had anything to do with the election outcome, all the more power to the local press! With any luck the new Council will return local advertising revenues to the locally-owned newspaper generating local news coverage and jobs, while supporting the local economy. In the meantime, Jonathan Holmes should go back to picking on the big boys.

  • Mandrake

    It might be a bit much to expect the publisher of City Hub to know anything at all about the politics of areas not shining so brightly beneath Clover’s Moore’s rainbow. Fortunately, other newspapers do, and the Herald recently published a far more accurate account of what is going on at Ryde.

    Mr Gibbons doesn’t know (or care) who Mr Booth is, the nature of his publication, or his associations. Nor that his “anti-development” allies include Alan Jones and the Crown Group, developers of a 17 story complex just across the road from the Civic Centre. All that matters is that Mr Booth is NOT News Ltd and has (bizarrely Mr Gibbons falls for this) taken a fatuous “anti-development” stance.

    That’s enough to make Mr Gibbons go weak at the knees, bend down in awe and kiss the ground this man has just walked on. But what exactly what did “JB” (as Mr Booth calls himself) just stepped in?

  • Mike

    How about bringing your great publication more heavily into to the Leichhardt area.
    I’m all for non “big boy” truly independent media.
    I also agree with you about the strange antics of the normally anti big bully Jonathon Holmes.

  • Mandrake

    I’m surprised my comment was posted. But since it was, (and no, I don’t expect anyone to read the link and the long Herald article, much less understand all the connections) please allow me to add this:

    1. Mr Booth was not opposed to the redevelopment at all, not until the tender was awarded to Lend lease. Prior to that, while Crown and other developers were still in contention, he was quite happy about it. Earlier he himself had proposed towers as high as 50 storeys for the site.

    2. Clearly TWT is not distributed in the inner city. But it is where I live, and anyone who reads it will know that Mr Booth has some dubious “friends” and allies (Alan Jones, John Howard). And they will also be aware of Mr Booth’s very odd version of “community news”. On front page after front page, he rails against the “myth” of climate change. He’s an extremist denier, he regularly labels the PM as “Juliar” in huge 90 pt headlines. He runs most political coverage as highly emotive rants. His shrill “editorials” (indistinguishable from the news) are all right wing screamers. Press freedom and all that, sure, and I’m all for it. Hey, all power to City Hub for supporting it. But an odd horse to back… Believe me, most people who live in TWT’s distribution area ignore this joke of a paper. We laugh about it. We actually wish we didn’t have to bother recyling it (unread) every week. And we’re onto Mr Booth and his codswallop. What a pity City Hub didn’t bother to look.

    3. Yes, it “lost the plot” and long time ago. But here something Jonathon Holmes missed, but it is also very pertinent. How “independent” can any media outlet be if it is going to “war” over a council advertising contract? Would you trust that paper’s coverage of council politics if it got the contract? Any more than you trust “big boys” like News Ltd? That question is for you, Mike.

  • Ian

    Media Watch was merely pointing out that a newspaper was giving preference to it’s supporters, whilst being derogatory to it’s detractors. The editor of the paper supported this view. How has media watch lost the plot?

  • Ryde resident

    “More power to the local press!” Pleeese, don’t joke! TWT, a rabid right wing rag, was annoyed it lost a lucrative advertising contract with Ryde Council. Put this another way: Ryde ratepayers were paying for a Liberal Party propaganda sheet, owned and edited by a climate change-denying supporter of Allan Jones. And the publisher of City Hub wants us shed crocodile tears for TWT!

    I have news for City Hub: TWT has been acting entirely out of self-interest. It wants MY rate money to continue publish its right wing, climate change denying BS. It is NOT “opposed to ugly high rises,” in fact it ran rapturous praise and fluffy promotions constantly for months and months while Crown was developing its high rise retail and residential monster complex just across the road from the Civic Centre. It did that for the overdevelopment of the hospital site at Putney too. The paper has the backing of developers, the Liberal Party and Alan Jones. I wonder… Has City Hub ever even bothered to go to Ryde? In no way is the Civic Centre dispute a Liberal vs Labor/Greens battle, or even a developers vs residents conflict. What TWT and the Council are embroiled in is a bitter dispute between developers over who gets a very, very lucrative contract – while the paper itself is spitting chips about not getting the advertising loot.

    Media Watch got it right. Now it is City Hub that has “lost the plot.”

  • Mandrake – you clearly have no idea about what’s really going on here. Check the article you’ve cited and you’ll see on the bottom Kelly Burke and you’ll see a clarification was run (on the low down of course) and in fact, if you look over her recent articles, you’ll find there has been a regular need for clarifications, because Ms Burke has relied on a flow of info from people that have a barrow to push on the pro-Civic Centre side of the argument. The “advertising contract” or more accurately, the “fortnightly supplement contract” (does anyone bother reading it?) was won by TWT’s Murdoch-owned competitor on the basis of dodgy figures. Both Mandrake and Ryde Resident should put some time into investigating this like I have. Let me tell you, there’s more to come. Thank god our democratic system has helped start the process of clearing out the dead wood and parasites. And let me enlighten you on something else: The GM’s ICAC referral, relating to three-month-old events and made two days after he became aware of an extraordinary meeting to sack him, was made on the basis of an email sent to him. By whom you ask? By the guy considered the frontrunner for the contract to sell the 630 units to be built under the Civic Centre proposal. You do the math my dears!