The Sydney Morning Herald has a long tradition in the annals of Australian news media. It can proudly boast being one of the first independent voices to emerge from the colonial transition from convict colony to free society. The first newspaper in Australia, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, began publication in 1803, however, this was very much a government paper. In 1824, William Wentworth’s Australian (no relation to the current newspaper of that name) started a grand trend in Australian media of challenging and questioning the government. Along with Edward Smith Hall’s Monitor, the Australian fought a courageous battle against the despot Governor Darling who was determined to silence independent inquiry and criticism of the government. Fortunately for Australian media, the courageous Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Sir Francis Forbes, refused to back Darling and the draconian laws he sought to introduce. Freedom of the press in Australia can be traced back to these exciting events.
In the warm afterglow of this magnificent victory, the Sydney Herald began publication in 1831. By 1840 it had become a daily publication and took the name the Sydney Morning Herald. For years, under the iconic font of the Herald’s letterhead read the motto, ‘in moderation placing all my glory, while Tories call me Whig – and Whigs a Tory.’ This noble sentiment, taken from Alexander Pope, was a guiding principle for the Herald. Leaning to the conservative side, the paper was a moderate voice and was respected globally, seen as the Australian equivalent of the Times of London.
It is perhaps owing to such a long and distinguished history that I am so aghast at what I have seen on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website the past few days. I am currently doing research at the Library and Archives of Canada, in Ottawa, so I turn, as I’ve always done, to the Herald’s website to keep informed of news from home. On Monday, 16 May 2011 at 8:15pm Ottawa time, I logged on to find the FEATURE article on the website about the expansion of Australia’s largest brothel in Sydney (http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/three-storeys-of-sex-as-sydney-braces-for-biggestbrothel-title-20110516-1epzn.html). Make no mistake, this was not an article about prostitution, about community reaction to brothels, about state law, this was purely an advertisement and nothing besides!
The ‘article’ included a picture of the floor plan and explained that the brothel (which it named as Stilettos in Camperdown) was getting a multimillion dollar upgrade. It boasted of the luxurious new rooms and the range of services provided. The ‘article’ even finished by claiming that the brothel was a service to the local area as it employed private security guards. Under what flimsy pretext could this be called news? Perhaps on a slow news day it could sneak into the back somewhere under the auspices of being Australia’s largest brothel, but this was the FEATURE article. this was deemed more newsworthy than any local or international politics, than any celebrity news, than any sports result! When someone logs onto the Herald website there is one large photo on the left hand side which instantly draws the eye. This space in a leading Australian newspaper was given not to news but to a straightforward advertisement.
Perhaps this could be let go as a random mistake on the part of the online editor. But then I log in again today, Wednesday 18 May 2011 at 11am Ottawa time and scroll down to the video section. The FEATURE video on the Herald website, promoted with a large picture, is once again blatantly advertising the brothel!
This time, the brothel is not only named but its exact location, opposite Sydney University, is given! A reporter and film crew from the Sydney Morning Herald tour the brothel and interview the manager and staff. The style and quality of the video is that of a travel program (the kind were hotels OFFER INDUCMENTS for their resort to be featured). The Herald attempts to give the thinnest veneer of journalistic integrity be briefly talking to one resident who objects to the expansion only to have that dismissed by the manager who has a petition in favour of it.
This is more than odd behaviour for a respectable newspaper. They have given the most prime space on their website to advertising a business. There was no journalistic or newsworthy quality to these two pieces whatsoever. The question must be demanded of the online editor; what is the relationship between the Sydney Morning Herald and Stilettos Brothel? Was the Sydney Morning Herald paid to advertise this brothel? Do any of the owners or managers of the Herald also have interest in the Brothel? The Herald must be held accountable. In the same manner that cash-for-comments under the pretext of talk back radio was deemed a total betrayal of the public, passing off a flagrant advertisement of a brothel as a leading headline is a betrayal of the principles of journalism.
It is truly sad to think the Sydney Morning Herald has stooped to this. Its behaviour is nothing short of appalling and questions must be answered!