City of Melbourne hypocrisy

Editorial comment by Shane Scanlan

As reported on page 1, the City of Melbourne doesn’t mind paying big money when asked by big media players.

In December, behind closed doors, it ignored its officers’ advice to refuse a charity request from a private company run out of the Herald-Sun for $230,000 in sponsorship.

This paper is certainly not a charity, nor does it seek special treatment.

But the story got me thinking (AGAIN!) about the council’s treatment of my publications – so stop reading now if you are allergic to sour grapes.

My frustration goes back nearly 10 years and stems from the council’s refusal to publish its “corporate ad” in my newspapers.

I have three publications now and, between them, they serve nearly half of the City of Melbourne’s 128,963 residents.  The ABS estimates that there are 60,496 people living in the CBD, Southbank and Docklands (33,433 in the CBD; 18,192 in Southbank and 8871 in Docklands).

The council spends $145,000 annually on its “corporate ad” in the Weekly Review City, the Weekly Review Moonee Valley, the Weekly Review Melbourne Times and the Melbourne Leader.  It is designed to communicate “upcoming relevant council information to residents and businesses.”

Some CBD News readers may have seen the council’s corporate ad in Fairfax’s Weekly Review City, which has some circulation in the CBD.  But none of the council’s four chosen publications are evident in Southbank or Docklands.

So it is galling when officers tell councillors that one of their reasons is duplication of readership. And, in their most recent justification for excluding my papers, they further cited our monthly publication schedule as a reason for refusal.

I hadn’t heard this excuse before but, then again, it would have been difficult to sustain in the past when the Deputy Lord Mayor Susan Riley had monthly publications which carried the “corporate ad” (pictured below).

Perhaps as a means of putting distance between itself and Cr Riley’s now defunct publications, some years ago the council (at least theoretically) outsourced decisions around media buying.

It says Zenith Optimedia compiled the current “corporate ad” buying schedule last August and refuses to (or couldn’t?) supply evidence that Mediacomms’ publications were even in the mix for consideration.

As mentioned at the start, the council is happy to override officers’ recommendations when it suits them.

On other occasions, it can piously find reasons why it is inappropriate to even talk about things that they believe are the remit of the officers.

At the February 16 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, a residential councillor wanted to talk about the value of including CBD News, Southbank Local News and Docklands News in the council’s campaign to publicise this year’s elections.

The Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, closed him down saying: “I think we’ve got to be very, very careful here. Councillors have never involved themselves with decisions around how that information is to be disseminated through the media.  And, the moment we do, I think that is fraught with governance danger – that we would involve ourselves in decisions about where the media spend should be,” Cr Doyle said.

What more can I say?

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