Editorial: Rooster’s roasting

A FIRESTORM has swirled around the Chook in the past two weeks.

The cause: some hard-hitting advertising targeting the anti-Roe freeway campaign which will bring some relief to embattled premier Colin Barnett.

Under the guise of an informative Q&A, the political advertising wrapped around all 83,000 Herald newspapers over the past two weeks has not carried any Liberal Party insignia.

Instead they have pointed inquisitive readers firstly to a Main Roads website and in the second week, to MPs and Labor’s Bicton candidate Lisa O’Malley, who have opposed the Roe Highway extension – part of the Perth Freight Link to Fremantle port – through Beeliar wetlands.

The only visible link to the Liberal Party was a small authorisation by new federal MP for Tangney Ben Morton — as required under electoral laws. He is a former state director of the party for many years and has managed numerous state election campaigns.

His cunning pro-Roe ad campaign so far has been an unabashed and forceful pitch to all Liberal supporters, or would-be’s — especially in the new seat of Bicton and the adjoining redrawn seats of Willagee and Bateman — to cast their votes in the forthcoming state election the Liberal way if they want heavy port traffic off local roads and onto Roe. One ad even lifted the colours of the anti-Roe campaign.

Within hours of the first four-page ad hitting the streets the Chook was in the firing line as social media lit up.

A number of folk thought the ads had been written by the Chook. A former Herald journo whose generous stipend over the years was paid for in part by such political ads, accused the paper of “seething hypocrisy” for accepting the ads but within hours it was taken down.

Vented

In scores of letters to the editor, phone calls and posts to Facebook, other faithful readers vented at the Herald for “betraying” them and “selling out”, used as they were to reading the Herald’s independent news coverage over 27 years on every major issue including the future of the port, the Fremantle Eastern Bypass – now deleted – and of course the Roe battle.

Others, up to 45 at last count, demanded the Chook no longer be delivered to their letterboxes. One dropped a wrap back to the Herald stating it was “not even worthy of the compost heap”.

There were even protests at the Chookhouse: One, a small group of banner-wavers from Rethink the Link including Carnaby the Black Cockatoo, and the other, a contract driver ’sacking’ himself on the spot, claiming he could no longer deliver our papers to waiting distributors.

While we are really very sorry the advertisements have upset so many of our readers – many of whom are passionate protestors against Roe 8 – we do make the point bona fide advertising has always been at the core of our capacity to deliver a free newspaper – plus a comprehensive website – to over 110,000 homes and businesses over many, many years.

We only refuse defamatory advertisements – thankfully very rare – and we work with advertisers who sometimes stray into the racist, sexist or other ‘ist’ arenas, to improve their copy.

Finally, and this is a very important point given our role in our liberal – not Liberal – democracy, we are not in any position to refuse bona fide advertising – or news opinion – especially during an election campaign.

More to the point, all political opinion in our ads and in our independent news coverage is valid at any time, in support of the principle of free speech, even if we don’t like what is being said.

If there’s a silver lining for distressed readers, it’s that Mr Morton’s campaign has galvanised the other side, and within hours of its appearance, crowd funding for Save Beeliar Wetlands’ own adverts sprung up and have since raised tens of thousands of dollars. That will go a long way to helping spread their message.

by ANDREW SMITH

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