After a storm of protest over the weekend, Midsumma finally released a statement 5.30pm yesterday to Gay News Network. Unfortunately the statement raises more questions than it answers.
But first, let’s step back in time for a moment.
Ten Days Ago
On November 19th Tass and Macca interviewed Midsumma CEO Karen Bryant on JOY 94.9 Saturday magazine, and they were not happy with the News Corp and KIIS 101.1 sponsorships.
Bryant seemed alarmingly unaware of the details of the deal with News Corp, or indeed, the nature of News Corp itself. She was asked how our festival could be sponsored by an organization that regularly prints homophobic cartoons (Macca didn’t mention all the other vilifying and demeaning content regularly pumped out by News Corp outlets such as the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun):
“I don’t understand how a GLBTI organization can accept sponsorship from a company that regularly and methodically publishes homophobic cartoons. These people are marginalizing us and insulting us, contributing to our level of mental illness.”
She made excuses: she hadn’t been in the job long, wasn’t from Melbourne, hadn’t had a chance to study this particular deal. And then, under pressure, she bailed:
“All of those things are really really valid concerns and I’m not going to try in any way to argue against that, but it isn’t a case of saying we can’t engage with those companies… Maybe we could have this conversation a little bit more down the track when we’ve had a chance to look at this in a little more detail.Most of these partnerships were locked in before I started.”
She seems to have been hoping the whole thing would be quickly forgotten, because here we are ten days later, and nothing much has happened. Bryant responded to the weekend blow-up over the issue by continuing to evade personal responsibility, playing the victim card, and throwing her predecessors under the bus. In a statement issued late yesterday afternoon to Gay News Network she said.
“This is a preexisting sponsorship. It was actually negotiated by a board member and my predecessor and I believe that was early in 2015 so they were on board for the previous festival. By all reports there were no negative issues raised then.”
“I took on this existing partnership with the view to how do we make this work well for everybody now, but given the reactions we have had we are taking a step back and are seeking to have some very robust conversations with News Corp and with some key community leaders from a broad range of areas.”
The previous sponsorship was only with the Herald Sun, and not at “Gold” level. Clearly, this is a much bigger deal, though she refused to disclose the value, citing commercial confidentiality. The rest of her response complained about “hate mail” and stalled for time.
Having apparently done nothing for ten days, and unable to make a decision, Midsumma is now scrambling to regain the initiative, flannelling on about community consultation, stakeholders, and the rest of the usual corporate woo, while at the same time crying foul, characterising the community response as “hate mail”, “bullying”, “nasty” (which, incidentally, it may well be: it may also be, in the circumstances, somewhat excusable).
“…how do we make this work well for everybody… seeking to have some very robust conversations with News Corp and with some key community leaders… hope we would be able to engage constructively with the community moving forward…I and every person at Midsumma does share the concerns that the community have, but rather than say ‘well, that’s it we are just going to walk away from this’, which may be one outcome, let’s look at what the long-term outcomes are and see how and if these discussions could maximise the best outcomes for Midsumma and the community.”
Midsumma Chair John Caldwell – and, coincidentally, National Entertainment Reporter for one of the other new Gold Level sponsors KIIS 101.1 FM – also played the “consulting with the community” and “shoot the messenger” cards.
He also shut down his twitter account:
According to his website, and his LinkedIn profile:
Caldwell is Chairman of RWR Group, a global group of recruitment agencies consisting of four brands with seventeen offices across three countries. As acting CEO and now Chairman, John has helped this business grow to be the largest global boutique recruitment firm.
He is also the National entertainment reporter for KIIS FM in Australia. In 2014 John was The Victorian Australian of the year for his philanthropic work including his public quest for equality. John is an active board member for Brodies Law foundation and Ambassador for Alannah & Madeleine Foundation and White Ribbon.
John Caldwell is an Australian who was raised in caravan parks by parents whose lives were a cycle of violence, alcohol and promiscuous sex. John was bullied at school, abused by foster parents, and was present when his father killed himself with a shotgun in the family caravan.
Not at all strange, therefore, that he would be sensitive to personal attacks. It seems all the more strange, therefore, that he would align Midsumma with arch homophobic bully of Australian media, and indeed, the world, News Corp.
By playing the victim card he dismisses the very real fury at this marriage made in hell. At a time when people were already reeling from the shock of Tyrone Unsworth’s death, we are deeply disturbed and shocked by the complicity of Midsumma with organisations like News Corp. They play a lead role in creating the toxic climate that makes bullying LGBTI respectable in some quarters. Which in turn damages and sometimes kills the vulnerable in our community. There can be no partnering with such people. What the hell were they thinking?
I am also rather disturbed by this talk of consultation with community leaders. Who, exactly? The “A’ list of wealthy white right-wing gay men who seem increasingly to be buying up our “community” organisations and deciding what’s best for us, or ordinary LGBTI people from outside the elite bubble?
Let Midsumma do as Shelley Argent and PFLAG did over the plebiscite, and actually ask people what they want. Maybe they can get The Australian to pay for it.