We Asked The ABC How Much Paid Advertising They Pulled In Last Year. It Didn’t Go Well.



Well… that escalated quickly. Yesterday, New Matilda reported a story about paid advertising appearing on the ABC’s Apple News page. Today, we appear to have been struck off Aunty’s Christmas card list.

As it turns out, there’s quite a lot of it (advertising), but the ABC has been pretty coy about precisely how much it’s worth to them.

The Sydney Morning Herald asked a year ago, and the ABC refused to disclose the figure.

New Matilda asked again yesterday, and the reply we got from the media relations department suggests me it might be a bit of a sore point.

Enjoy the correspondence, which gets rather nasty rather quickly… (and then rather sarcastic… we’ll own that bit).

From: Chris Graham, New Matilda
To: Sally Jackson, Head of Communications, ABC
Date: Sept 25, 12:22pm

Hi Sally,
Hope you’re well. I have a query re advertising.
I was reading an ABC article on Apple News today, and the main video (at the top of the page) and video at the bottom of the page, both contained advertising for Hamilton Island. 
Attached below are the relevant screenshots.
I was wondering what the situation was? Are these advertisements pushed by Apple? If not, where do they come from? If so, how does this fit with the ABC charter which prevents advertising?
Sing out if you need any clarification. Keen to publish a story later this evening if possible.
Cheers, Chris

From: Sally Jackson
To: Chris Graham
Date: Sept 25, 12:29pm

Hi, I’m on leave until 14 October and won’t be seeing emails. Please contact Kevin McAlinden for corporate queries and Peter Munro for ABC NEWS.
Regards, Sally

Ed’s note: The media inquiry relates to ‘corporate’ but there are no publicly available contact details for Kevin McAlinden, and Ms Jackson’s email doesn’t provide them, so there’s no real way to action Ms Jackson’s instructions.

From: Chris Graham
To: Peter Munro, ABC News comms
Date: Sept 25, 8:05pm

I emailed Sally (Jackson) earlier today, and got an auto reply. So I’m trying you. Just inquiring re paid advertising on ABC’s Apple News page.
More broadly, can you provide me with a figure for how much revenue ABC received in the past financial year and also in the past month (for August 2019) via paid advertising?
Story is already up – will add your reply if it’s forthcoming.
Cheers, Chris

From: Peter Munro
To: Chris Graham
Date: Sept 25, 9:21pm

Hi Chris, Do you usually publish stories without giving someone a fair chance to respond? My email address is on the ABC Media Centre site. It’s not hard to find – as you know – nor to cut and paste into an email. Here is the ABC policy about our content on third-party platforms, including advertising:
We’ve had this policy for some time and it’s readily available to anyone who cares to look for it. I’m surprised you are trying to rehash an old story from another media organisation, without doing any basic journalism yourself. Don’t your readers deserve better?

From: Chris Graham
To: Peter Munro
Date: Sept 26, 2:21pm

Hi Peter, Thanks for your excellent reply. I have published it in full. Just a few pro tips for you, if I may.

Firstly, convention dictates that I’m the journalist, so generally speaking, I ask the questions. You work in PR, your job is to respond. Obviously we’d all prefer that to be ‘professionally’, but then I haven’t seen your job description and I can’t comment on whether or not your employer requires that. In any event, I’m happy to answer your questions, because they’re provocative and exciting, and because you sound like you’re having a bad day and that me taking you more seriously than you deserve might improve it. So here goes.

PM: Do you usually publish stories without giving someone a fair chance to respond?
CG: Never. We do, however, occasionally publish without a reply, and note in the story that we are seeking one. That’s what’s we in the journalism business call an ‘industry standard’, one which most reputable media outlets, like, say, the ABC, comply with. As to the pointy end of your question, I think we can both agree this issue revolves around the word ‘fair’. So here’s what happened from my perspective (what we in the journalism business call ‘facts’).

Early in the day, I emailed Sally Jackson, the person listed on your website as the appropriate media contact. Sally, as it turns out, is on a taxpayer-funded holiday (yes, I know that’s a cheap shot, but it is, literally, a taxpayer-funded holiday). I got an auto-reply email, which suggested I contact Kevin McAlinden for ‘corporate matters’. Sally’s email, however, did not include any contact details. That’s what’s we in the journalism business call ‘typical of a fucking bureaucracy’. So there was some delay in contacting you, because I was specifically told to contact someone else, whose contact details are not available publicly. Eventually, I thought, ‘I’ll just email the guy who is listed on the website who does ‘ABC NEWS’, because his contacts are on the website and because he might be able to send my email in the right direction’. Admittedly, I was operating on the belief that your organisation’s inability to respond to a simple media inquiry in a timely fashion was in fact your organisation’s problem, not mine. In any event, that’s how you ended up getting my email. But before that happened, I clicked on your email address on the web page, and it returned a 404 error. I included that in the story because it helpfully illustrates the incompetence of your organisation and goes some way to conveying to readers how the media relations department of the ABC actually works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be).

If I can distract you from your growing fury with an analogy here, I used to own an old Datsun 120Y. It was a lovely old car that I had some affection for, but it was also occasionally quite dangerous and didn’t work particularly well. I feel the same way about the ABC, except that my Datsun didn’t get $1 billion in taxpayer funding every year.

PM: I’m surprised you are trying to rehash an old story from another media organisation, without doing any basic journalism yourself. Don’t your readers deserve better?
CG: That’s an excellent question, Peter. I’m glad you asked it, because – in the spirit of spin and distraction, something with which I’m sure you identify – it gives me an opportunity to not actually answer your question and instead wax lyrical about the time that I broke that story about ABC Lateline inventing a whole pile of ‘facts’ and sparking a multi-billion government invasion of Aboriginal communities. Or that other time I got my hands on a secret tape recording of your head of news and current affairs Bruce Belsham directing journalist Nick Ross to write a hatchet job – any hatchet job – on the Labor Party, because an earlier piece he’d written was critical of the Libs. Or that time I broke the story about the fake ‘exclusive’ one of your journalists attached to a story about Ricky Gervais and Aboriginal art which she stole from NITV. Or that time I wrote the story (to be published soon) about the hatchet job you did on Julian Assange while your organisation twisted itself in knots over a simple police raid while trying to distract from the fact that your journalists’ actions exposed a source to decades in jail.

My point being, you’re right. This latest piece of ‘non-basic journalism’ is not my greatest expose on the ABC. I can do, and intend to do, better.

It is, however, still an important matter of public interest, highlighted by the fact that (a) I asked you a very simple, polite question about it and you have apparently shit your pants in response; and (b) your response to me pretends to be a complete response to my questions, despite the fact you pointedly ignored my specific inquiries about how much advertising revenue the ABC has generated. Call me crazy, but it’s almost as though you tried to distract me from relevant questions about a matter of public interest with unprofessional ranting and ad hominem insults.

Which leads me to a few questions of my own.

Firstly, are you sure you’re cut out for media relations, Peter? You seem like a nice guy, if not a little tightly wound, but your hyper-defensive/aggressive response suggests that maybe you cut your teeth in media relations in Eric Abetz’s office, and that he’s then planted you at Ultimo in order to piss off journalists and trick them into writing nasty things about the ABC (I think I speak on behalf of all non-ABC journalists when I say ‘obviously, we don’t need your or Eric’s help on that front’)?

Secondly, when you say, “We’ve had this policy for some time and it’s readily available to anyone who cares to look for it”, are you sure you don’t mean, “Your chances of finding this policy on our busted-arse, poorly designed monolithic website is zero to none, but if by some miracle you do, unlike every other download on the ABC site, we’ve deliberately left any explanatory introduction off this one so that it’s not at all obvious what it is about because we don’t really want you reading it but we do want to be able to point to it and pretend that its transparently available?”

Finally, in closing, Peter, can you tell me how much advertising revenue the ABC generated in 2018-19 and can you also tell me how much advertising revenue the ABC generated in the month of August 2019? Seriously though… can you… please?

Cheers, Chris

From: Chris Graham
To: Peter Munro
Date: Sept 26, 4:41pm

PS. Here’s a Youtube video (without any advertising) that features 11 hours of crickets chirping at night, just to provide a soundtrack to your ensuing silence…

BE PART OF THE SOLUTION: WE NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP NEW MATILDA ALIVE. Click here to chip in through Paypal, or you can click here to access our GoFundMe campaign.

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.