Wednesday 12 March 2008

Same old, same old

A few weeks ago, I bought to attention the substantial list of donations to Kevin Byrne's Unity party in 2004.

Then I came across these press clippings (below) from the Cairns Sun in 2000. These are interesting, given the current debate about political donations and affiliations, in light of the Mayor steadfastly refusing to declare if his interest recorded, are correct.

The author of these press clippings, is now Council's chief media spin doctor. Funny how some things go. Robyn Holmes used to work tirelessly holding Kevin Byrne to account. I wonder what changed for her? Maybe if you can't beat em, you may as well join them.

Back in 2000, local journalists often stood up to ask Mayor Byrne and his Council hard questions. Even as recent as 2004, in the lead up to the last election, the Post's Kerri-Ann Stout was investigating local politicians and Council's closed door meetings, among other matters. She was a fearless local writer and was not afraid, nor was the Post, in running strong questions. This is the job of the Fourth Estate.

Today it's hard to find journalists doing this style of investigative reporting. Even the TV media seem to not have the resource or the hunger to question and probe.

I chatted to a local radio journalist in Port Douglas during yesterday's candidate's forum, and he said they simply don't have the resources or the time. I think it's more than that.

The day we take things on face value, we may as well resort to commercial news that is constructed in 30 second sound bites.

We have a print media that often rolls over. They print stories like "Babet Warned by Police". One telephone call to the Cairns Police discovered that this was totally untrue. Yet it took nearly a week for the Cairns Post to admit it was wrong and print an apology. Why do they write story based on three-party pressure from political parties that has a vested interest in their spin?

On Saturday, the Cairns Post ran a set-up story about a disgruntled former staff member who worked under Val Schier six years ago. The Post ran the same story in the week leading up to the 2004 council election.

Saturday's headline was totally misleading and indicated that she was forced out of her State sector job. This was not the case at all. In fact she stood up to the system and the real outcome of that event was one of courage and determination to hold true to her principles.

Yesterday, the Post ran a story about the Villa Romana debacle and quoted Kevin Byrne saying that it's not a Council responsibility, it's the State Government. WIN TV also concluded their report on the issue quoting the Cairns Mayor who said it's no longer a matter for the Council.

'Reporters' should question and dig deeper. The Council have so far failed to act and represent the people on this long-running matter. Our local media could have done a little bit of research and put hard questions to the Mayor and asked why his Council does not support the removal of this illegal extension. He could have instructed Dept of Natural Resources to request the property owner to remove it forthwith. So what do we get instead? A light story that misses the whole point of who is really the culprit in this scam.

Sure, question and expose issues around Cairns 1st, who are the primary alternative. But please do the same to the Mayor and incumbent local government administration. The media have an important role to play in the local debate, and with the pressure of Byrne's Unity team contributing substantial advertising revenue to the Cairns Post, they appear to feel obliged to support where their bread is buttered. Certainly a quick tally of the Post's stories would indicate this.

Some of the local print media are becoming a lightweight in researching stories and investigating the news makers. They simply grab a press release and stick it in their paper.

This is sad. Blogs like this should not have monopoly on questioning and holding public officials to account, like John Babet and his Cairns Ratepayers Action Group have done. Where is the mainstream media in championing this issue? Where was the Cairns Post in the exposure of the Mareeba Shire Council's Mayor's non-disclosure of property at the time of taking the Myola decision? Why did the Council pressure WIN TV to run a retraction to state that that important council meeting was open, when in fact it was closed? They rolled over.

In the lead up to the 2008 local Council election, The Cairns Post have not had the courage to hold to account the current administration. Now is the time to question the current Council's track record and dish out their report card. What were their achievements? Have they achieved the promises they presented four years ago? They haven't done this. Most media are reactionary, and not proactive in digging up and investigating.

Why have they consistently failed to ask about the Mayor's pecuniary interests, which remain under a cloud? I challenge The Cairns to do this. Tomorrow, Thursday, will be the last opportunity.

The Post, and other media, are quickly loosing the faith of their audience.

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