Need a Council story? Just make it up
It seemed like a relatively straightforward task for Newbytes trainee journalist Abanob Saad, but it resulted in extraordinary behaviour from some of Brisbane City Council’s “media advisors”.
Saad’s job was to research and write a news story about the BCC’s recent installation of speakers and Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in Fortitude Valley and the Brisbane CBD.
Abanob Saad is one of about two dozen trainee journalists studying at Brisbane’s private journalism college, Jschool, publisher of Newsbytes.
As well as conducting other research, Saad compiled the following five simple questions for the BCC’s media unit:
Why were speakers installed?
Are they being monitored 24/7 and by how many staff?
Are there examples of the system having foiled a crime or caught someone doing something illegal?
What is the cost of the program?
The Council’s media unit sent Saad an old press release that did not address any of the questions.
He asked the questions again. There followed several days of email and phone requests to speak directly to the councillor responsible for the CCTV installations.
His requests were refused.
But in one telephone conversation with a media advisor Saad claims he asked to speak directly to Lord Mayor Graham Quirk because the old press release contained comments from him.
The advisor, Saad claims, told him to “make it up” that he actually interviewed Cr Quirk and to “use the quotes in the press release as if he said it”.
Jschool’s study program requires trainees to report accurately and fairly, without bias, and to adhere to the industry’s code of ethics.
As Newsbytes chief-of-staff, I spoke to the BCC’s media manager Nick Kennedy about the constant fob-off of trainee journalists and the unprofessional behaviour of BCC media staff.
Kennedy told me to “shut up” and hung up the phone.
Saad’s questions remain unanswered.
During the past 15 years that I have had professional contact with Cr Graham Quirk, I have found him unfailingly approachable, courteous, professional and very supportive of beginning journalists.
Although always “busy” some BCC media staff have assisted trainee journalists in a timely and courteous manner.
But this latest unsavoury exchange between Newsbytes journalists and the BCC media unit beholds Cr Quirk to ask his media manager some questions about his and his staff’s professional conduct.