News Deal “Unbreakable” ?

Mark Vegas

Brace yourselves. Midsumma is going to stick with News Corp. All we as a community can do is decide how to react.

If they were going to make the break, they’d have done so by now. But my understanding is that they are trapped in an “unbreakable” contract. If they walk away, they risk News Corp turning on them in print, and worse, in court. It could end up bankrupting the festival.

Edit: some people have objected to the use of the word “unbreakable”, even though I have used it in inverted commas, and in the headline, followed it by a question mark. To be exact, I was told “they do not think they can get out of it without a very expensive legal battle”. 

We cannot blame this mess on the current leadership: allegedly the deal was inked in 2014/5 by the previous Festival Director and Chair, and somehow slipped under everyone’s radar. That was before The Australian and The Daily Telegraph went on a homophobic rampage against marriage equality and Safe Schools. Perhaps because it was only the Herald Sun back then, we decided we could just about stomach Andrew Bolt.

The stark reality of today is that we are almost certainly stuck with this highly offensive and inappropriate partner, unless we, as a community, are prepared to put our hands in our pockets and pay News Corp for a very expensive divorce settlement. Not an attractive proposition either way.

Midsumma, stuck between a rock and a hard place, are trying to turn public opinion back in their favour. They are conducting consultations with the community, with the issue of an opinion survey to all Midsumma members and life members. I have no idea if they will subsequently extend the survey to the wider LGBTI community, but it seems unlikely. Personally, I think they should.

Why only Members and Life Members? If you want to influence an organization, the argument goes, get off your butt, join it, donate to it, offer your free time to work for it. Midsumma belongs to the membership. Only those people who support Midsumma, by joining the organization should get a say in its policies.

That’s fine in principle, but in practice Midsumma belongs to the whole community. If they’re serious about bringing us together and not dividing us, you can’t do it by locking the majority of us out. I think they should extend a survey to the LGBTI community as a whole. But perhaps not this particular survey.

Problematic Survey

It seems to have been put together somewhat amateurishly, rather than being properly designed by professional pollsters. That’s understandable: it’s been rushed because of the pressure the board and management are under. But as a result, it has serious flaws. Two are particularly problematic.

In the opening preamble, it strongly argues Midsummas case without presenting any alternative points of view, which could skew the results in their favour. It isn’t impartial, and doesn’t canvass any alternatives, in line with best survey practice.



The one-sided preamble to the survey

Question 5 deliberately invites an answer positive to Midsumma. Or, to put it another way, I could answer Q5 with a ‘yes’ while completely opposing the NewsCorp deal. If a high percentage of respondents say yes – agreeing with the proposition that we should engage a wide range of media outlets – it could be spun as support for the NewsCorp sponsorship.


Question 6 also seems designed to try to skew the response, stressing that the sponsorship is “in-kind”. Unfortunately that makes it sound as if there could be another cash sponsorship which we haven’t been told about (why News Corp sits at the Gold Sponsorship level hasn’t been explained). For the record, I don’t think there is: it would be very foolish to try to hide any cash component at this point.

Taken together with the very limited audience to whom the survey is addressed, I’m not sure it can provide any meaningful answers, except for PR purposes.

What next?

In any event, the point is moot. Unless the LGBTI community as a whole is prepared to dig deep and hand a truckload of our hard earned cash over to News Corp to break the deal, I think we’re stuck with it, for this year at least. All we can do is extract maximum value.

As a community we’re not exactly renowned for putting our hands in our pockets for Midsumma, or any of our other community institutions. Plenty of us begrudge even a $2 gold coin donation to enter Carnival. We won’t pay a cover price to fund a decent LGBTI newspaper, leaving them to depend on advertisers – and then complain about the fluffy nature of the content. Most listeners to Joy 94.9 won’t stump up for a membership or make a donation.

We get what we deserve.

News Corp should at least have a moratorium on any hostile news or opinion pieces across their entire stable of outlets for the duration of Midsumma. No trashing of marriage equality, safe schools, or anything else anti-LGBTI.

But I’m not holding my breath.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)