Crikey’s Peter Fray heckled the Gold Walkley winners during their acceptance speech at Thursday night’s gala journalism awards ceremony, but it was the abrupt exit of Murdoch’s top editor Christopher Dore from the Australian this week that dominated the night.
In between proceedings, guests in the grand ballroom of Sydney’s ICC gossiped about why “Dorey” had been afforded such a cold valediction after 31 years at News Corp.
The ABC’s Anne Connolly, Ali Russell and Stephanie Zillman won the Gold Walkley for their investigation State Control on Four Corners in March. The program also picked up the award for public service journalism earlier in the night.
Fray, who is currently defending Lachlan Murdoch’s defamation suit, raised eyebrows in the room when he audibly interjected during the Gold Walkley acceptance speech, suggesting the ABC somehow profited from a Crikey investigation on the same topic: the public guardian.
The judges said the year-long investigation was “enlightening and determined reporting, giving power to voiceless people and allowing them to tell a story of complete powerlessness”.
While Connolly and Zillman were giving their speech, Fray shouted out “what about Crikey?” several times until the ABC table in front of him asked him to pipe down.
It is understood the managing editor of Private Media believed his reporter Amber Schultz had been robbed. Crikey was not a finalist.
Fray later tweeted that Crikey had won the award for the ABC and that the ABC was a fraud. On Friday morning he deleted his tweets.
Fray later tweeted an apology.
The ABC, which picked up 11 awards, declined to comment on Fray’s interjections.
But Connolly said in her acceptance speech she became aware of issues relating to the public trustee in 2018 during her reporting on aged care, for which she and her colleagues also won a Walkley in 2019. The ABC went to two supreme courts, in Western Australia and Queensland, for permission to identify people and tell their stories.
Dore’s quiet exit
The Australian’s top table was led by the Australian’s editor, Michelle Gunn, who has taken over stewardship of the broadsheet after the sudden disappearance of the editor-in-chief after four years, apparently due to a longstanding health issue.
Dore succeeded Paul Whittaker, who went on to run Sky News Australia, and Whittaker took over from Chris Mitchell. When Mitchell retired, he was afforded weeks of fawning farewell coverage, even though he wasn’t going far – he was handed a weekly column in the media section.
Rupert Murdoch, his chief lieutenant, Michael Miller, and then chief executive, Peter Tonagh, all lined up to lionise Mitchell: “Chris, I congratulate you on your numerous fine achievements during your 42 years as a journalist,” Murdoch said.
“In particular, I am grateful for your contribution to the Australian. As editor-in-chief, you have led a paper that is dedicated to pursuing stories of great significance and which shapes the national debate on the issues that matter to Australia and its future.”
Dore’s departure could not have been more stark, indicating there was a breakdown in the relationship that neither party will disclose. Dore’s exit, which came after a trip to News Corp headquarters in the US, was announced on page two of the paper with a mere 250 words, and none of them praised the journalist who had served 31 years at News and edited four of its newspapers.
Staff described the email from Miller announcing Dore’s exit as “brutal”; and one quipped that the paper’s investigative supremo Hedley Thomas should be assigned to find out the truth.
News usually looks after its own. But Dore, who was Rupert’s most powerful editor in Australia, was gone without a word of praise.
Neighbour’s return serve
When Sally Neighbour – who along with Louise Milligan was targeted by Dore in a vicious editorial in the Australian last year – picked up her gong for outstanding contribution to journalism, she didn’t miss firing back. The veteran executive producer of Four Corners said you needed to be tough and resilient to produce hard-hitting journalism.
“You might find yourself being publicly attacked,” Neighbour said. “You might have the prime minister’s press secretary ringing your editor trying to kill the story. You might find yourself pilloried in the national broadsheet day after day after day.” Turning to the News Corp table, she added: “And by the way, thank you to News Corp for sponsoring this award.” It brought the house down.
When hacks left the Darling Harbour ballroom to walk to the promised Walkleys “after party”, they were shocked to discover there was a long line to get in to what was not exactly an exclusive or glamorous venue. Bouncers demanded guests wearing evening gowns and tuxes follow commands to sign in using their digital driver’s licences and then be photographed before entering. Neighbour was among the stars who had trouble getting in and Michael Brissenden, the chair of the Walkley awards judging board, was denied entry entirely. Anyone who argued about the process was denied entry. It was a debacle.
Hand that writes the paper
Liberal MP David Elliott, who has served in the New South Wales parliament as police, counter-terrorism and emergency services minister, had a few words for the media in his valedictory speech this week.
“My messaging was always assisted by our freelance media team, Ben English, Jason Morrison and Linda Silmalis,” Elliott said in reference to his close relationship with some of the Sydney press, namely the editor of the Daily Telegraph, the director of Seven News and the Tele’s chief reporter.
“Linda is an apology tonight, but I will be writing her column later.”
While tongue in cheek, it was a surprisingly candid admission about the symbiotic relationship between parts of the media and the Coalition.
Surprisingly, Dan Andrews agreed to appear on Sky News for a debate ahead of the Victorian election next week.
We say “surprisingly” because Andrews has been attacked daily by News Corp across its mastheads and on Sky’s After Dark.
Then there was Peta Credlin’s “documentary”, The Cult of Daniel Andrews, which argued that the Labor premier’s “eight-year reign has been the worst in Victoria’s history”. It was watched by 102,000 viewers, which is not too shabby for the channel, but tiny when compared with overall viewing.
Sky reporter Simon Love asked Andrews every day from 30 October at a press conference whether he would appear on Sky News. By 4 November he had agreed. Asked on Wednesday what he thought of Credlin’s doco, Andrews said he hadn’t seen it.
Ramsay Street returns
The industry was shocked on Thursday night by the global announcement that Neighbours was back, saved by funding from Amazon Freevee and Prime Video, which will fund new episodes and now have the international rights to the back catalogue.
It is unclear why Amazon didn’t step up when producers Fremantle and Ten were begging for partners so the soap didn’t have to end.
The key cast – Stefan Dennis as Paul Robinson, Alan Fletcher as Karl Kennedy, Ryan Moloney as Toadie Rebecchi and Jackie Woodburne as Susan Kennedy – was secured and sworn to secrecy while the rest of the cast was as surprised as fans when the news was dropped.