When we moved to Coffs in 2005 we were pleased to find that our local paper would appear twice weekly on the front lawn.
By Julian May
In those days, it was often quite a beefy publication, with local content featuring, and including a healthy number of readers’ letters. Jenni and I enjoyed the read with a cup of coffee and I began to contribute to the “Your say” column.
Fast forward a decade and the rot had well and truly set in. In 2019, the publication has degenerated to the point of self-destruction.
It’s not just the fact that the publishers want us to sit at a keyboard and stare at a screen in order to access our local news, the “punch” has gone out of the paper. I’m not interested in looking at page after page of ads, and I no longer trust what content there is, to be accurate and most importantly, unbiased.
I have sent a number of letters to the Advocate since the eruption of the “Emerald City” volcano. I have done so because I believe that it is an extremely important issue, with a high probability of long-term negative effects.
Initially the “Civic Centre” plan was about enabling our mayor to construct a memorial to her greatness, whilst providing a new library, museum and art gallery for the hoi polloi. Now it’s about that same mayor flexing her political muscles at public expense.
Be certain that Denise will win, regardless of the outcome of the current conflict. If, god forbid, she wins, she’ll be a legend in her own lunchtime, a huge fish in a very small bowl. If she loses (please), she’ll be a martyr to her cause.
Several weeks ago I’d had enough, and I decided to send the Advocate’s editor a “rocket”, which would undoubtedly be my last, again unprinted, contribution.
(If you wish to be informed of my views in greater detail, you’ll find my most recent letters copied below).
Here’s a run-down of my recent experience:
15 September – My letter is submitted and not printed.
30 October – My letter is submitted and not printed.
6 November – My letter is submitted and, at the time of this writing, has not been printed.
During the following week, (13& 16 November) the letter sent on October 30, and which had not been printed, appears in the column.
23 November – My letter is submitted and, at the time of this writing, has not been printed.
Is it my paranoia kicking in, or has there been a quick shuffle back through the files to find and print my letter about Ben Quilty, in the expectation that I will no longer be pissed off by the editor’s refusal to support debate?
During the last half-century, Australians have been subjected increasingly to a very-American style of politics, highlighted by self-serving and deceptive bullshit, spiced with a huge element of fear. Malcolm Fraser, John Howard, Tony Abbott, Scomo and others have all used this tactic (communist influences, invasion by boat people, risk of terrorism) to good effect.
More than ever, we now need an unfettered press with the guts to call our alleged leaders on their lies and obfuscations.
I vehemently oppose the Government’s attempts to shackle journalists and whistle-blowers, and despise the playing of the “national security” card, as a means to keep their dirty tricks secret.
I strongly support the current press campaign to retain free speech, but I’m starting to think it’s a pointless exercise, when that same press selectively edits the news and views of their readers.
In our house, we’ll still look forward to the arrival of the “Advocate”, twice each week.
There’s nothing better for wrapping the vegetable scraps in.
Copies of letters to the editor referred to above:
Although perhaps not immediately obvious, contributions by Phyllis Taylor, Peter Higgins and Chris Johns (Your Say 14 September), share a common thread – dissatisfaction with Coffs Council. They speak for a huge number of fellow residents.
This disaffection arises from the fact that some of our local pollies are more interested in exercising the power given to them by the electorate, than they are in following the wishes of that same electorate.
Politicians at all levels tend to fall into two broad groups – those who have a wish to serve their community, and those who wish to express their own self-importance.
Phyllis asks for a regional gallery, museum and performance centre at City Hill, a cost-effective way to enhance the lifestyle of locals and attract tourists. Peter reflects upon the pollies’ refusal to tell us how they will spend our rates and Chris speaks about their attempts to prevent public discourse on vital issues.
The drive by some of our councillors to enhance their own working conditions, at public expense and at the expense of a performance centre, smacks of self-interest. The refusal to reveal all costs associated with the development of their luxury accommodation, speaks of megalomania. The desire to prevent the expression of individual opinion, even that which is in the public interest, reflects paranoia.
Remuneration for elected councillors comes from our purse, as do the wages and salaries of council employees. While we pay the bills, we have the right to expect complete transparency from those who spend our money. Instead, we are expected to wade chest deep through bovine excrement to get at the truth.
I can’t wait for our next council elections.
I applaud the support offered by Ben Quilty for a “state of the art” gallery in Coffs, in which to display artworks properly. The present venue has been inadequate for many years and there is no doubt that our community needs and deserves a better space.
However, I am concerned that readers of the article (Advocate, October 30, page 3) may misconstrue the visiting artist’s support for a new gallery, as support also for the Mayor’s proposed combined cultural and administrative centre in Gordon Street.
Mr Quilty stated “Mayor I am behind you. I will back you all the way for a proper gallery”.
I’m certain that most of the more than 15 000 people who added their signature to the petition against the Mayor’s plan, would support the building of a new gallery and library.
I believe it likely that the principal objections to the Mayor’s scheme lie in her determination to include new council offices rather than a performance space, thereby negating the opportunity to obtain funding grants for cultural development, and to erect the building in an unsuitable location.
Yet, in the face of massive opposition, the Mayor still believes that she has “ticked all of the boxes” with respect to her plan.
I’m sure that Mr Quilty, as a visitor to our town, would not wish to have his words interpreted in such a way as to imply his unconditional support for a contentious scheme about which he may know little or nothing.
Community members are invited to join in mourning the passing of the “Coffs Coast Advocate” as the printed voice of Coffs Harbour. Following a long illness and decline, the newspaper has, in effect, been replaced by a news-screen.
This once vibrant and informative paper, renowned for its willingness to tackle local issues without fear or favour, has regrettably degenerated into a political voice for the elitist and commercial interests which now influence community news.
Symptoms of the sickness have been surfacing for some time. Chief amongst these is the decay in the effectiveness of the “Your say” page as a means to facilitate debate.
At a time when our community needs to be able to argue the pros and cons of the controversial proposed administrative centre, art gallery and library, voices have been silenced by what may well be seen as editorial censorship.
Remarkably, it has been several weeks since anything of significance, other than articles and mayoral advertisements in favour of a scheme considered dubious by at least 15 000 Coffs residents, has been published in the printed version, thereby denying those who cannot or do not wish to access the paper electronically, a chance to be informed.
The decision to allow the paper to die a lingering death is undoubtedly driven by legitimate commercial interest. After all, a newspaper’s first responsibility is to provide profit for its investors. The news must always come second, and if bias enhances profit, so be it.
Farewell “Advocate”, it was nice reading you.
We receive our Council Rates Notice by email. I suspect that many residents do. Would it be feasible for Council to email residents seeking an answer to a single, simple question?
It could be something like: “Do you wish Council to go ahead with the proposed administrative centre, library and art gallery in Gordon St?”
We could reply with a simple “yes” or “no”. There would be no provision for discussion or expansion on the question. At the residents’ end, the physical process would take seconds.
Following a scrupulous, independent audit, Council might use the data gained from this survey, to inform decisions regarding the current proposal.
If 50% or more of the responses were in the negative, a further, similar, more detailed, but still simple survey could be conducted, again by email. It would also require strictly “yes” or “no” answers. It might contain questions such as:
“Do you want a new building for council offices?”
“Do you want a new art gallery?”
“Do you want a new library?”
“Do you want a space for performances?”
“Do you want new facilities built in Gordon St?”
“Do you want new facilities built at City Hill?”
Again, data gathered from such a survey could be used in modifying the current proposal into a form which most residents would support.
Julian May’s first column for Outlook last week can be found here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/has-the-queen-become-a-high-profile-proponent-of-an-australian-republic/
Coffs Coast Outlook welcomes reader contributions. Details about how to do this can be found at this link; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/about-us-faq/
Opinion/Comment columns and comments by contributors do not necessarily always represent the editorial opinions of the Coffs Coast Outlook.