Under pressure from the community, Midsumma are now broadening their consultation efforts.
Among the organisations that have been attacked by News Corp, the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health & Society (ARCSHS), which supervises Safe Schools, And Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation which fights for LGBTI human rights across the Asia Pacific region, stand out.
I asked Midsumma CEO Karen Bryant why, as of yesterday, these organisations had not been contacted. She wrote:
To fill you in we had to start with our members (both current financial and life members) as we are an incorporated membership organisation and it was appropriate that we speak to our direct stakeholders first. At the same time we have been collating and actioning a list of people to speak to directly which enables a more in depth dialogue. From this, phone calls have commenced and will continue.
I in fact reached out to someone from Kaleidoscope earlier today for example, prior to receiving your email. I can also confirm that attempts to contact Roz Ward have been made yesterday by one of our board members and we are waiting to hear back from her / Safe schools.
We are now broadening consultation further to additional stakeholders and this process will continue into early next week.
I spoke with Professor Gary Dowsett, Deputy Director of ARCSHS (the home of Safe Schools), who told me “I personally would be very unhappy about [News Corp sponsorship]”. Roz Ward of Safe Schools will be speaking to Bryant today: love to be a fly on the wall at that one!
Meanwhile questions continue to be raised about the survey Midsumma sent to their membership. A professional survey designer called it “poorly designed”, adding “to complete it would provide worthless and misleading information”, as it appears designed to elicit answers favourable to the News Corp sponsorship.
It has only been circulated to Members and Life Members. I have heard of no plans to circulate it to the community at large.
I asked a few community leaders with close ties to Midsumma what they thought the organisation should do next. What follows is synthesised from their responses.
Get a sponsorship policy
There isn’t one on the website, and Midsumma will only say “our policy is to consider each sponsorship on its merits.” They need to develop one as soon as possible, in consultation with the community, and review all existing sponsorships to make sure they align with Midsumma’s core aims and values.
Are there any other policies in place that guide best practice and good governance, and if so, what are they? They should be publicly available. It’s the only way to ensure inclusion and transparency
Distance yourself from News Corp
It’s no good saying that the sponsorship is really just about local media support from the Herald Sun and the Leader Group. The branding says News Corp. To say “the campaigns you refer to are from individual mastheads who are not sponsors” doesn’t cut it. That’s just PR spin.
News Corp is not an appropriate sponsor. You can’t have a festival dedicated to the growth and development of a strong and vibrant LGBTI community beholden to an organisation committed to fanning discrimination against us.
Do something useful with the sponsorship
Midsumma have said the support is ‘in kind’, which in media terms usually takes the form of an agreed amount of free ad space, plus a certain number of supportive editorial articles (most of these, presumably, in the Leader papers, which run little else but advertorial). It is unclear if there is also a financial element.
When Midsumma supply their prepared ads, they should ensure that, in addition to Midsumma, they also promote Safe Schools, Equal Marriage and other community issues News Corp have trashed this last year. When they supply advertorial copy, include statements in support of those issues.
If News Corp will not agree, either send nothing, or send copy that says “News Corp provided this space for the Midsumma Festival, but wishes to censor it. Accordingly, this space is left blank.”
Or simply decline to take advantage of the sponsorship.
Playing for time
Midsumma now say they hope to make a statement early next week, following the current round of consultations.
Whilst these belated consultations are most welcome, it would be better if Midsumma first admitted they have made a mistake, that News Corp is not an appropriate sponsor, and (if the agreement cannot be broken now) it will not be renewed going forward. There is still time for them to do that.
Otherwise the extended consultations start to look less like a genuine attempt to address the problem, and more like window dressing and playing for time, hoping the fury dies down. That, in my opinion, would be another mistake.