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Our View (4-8-2020): Covering the politician claims scandal

WE know the recent series of articles about the claims scandal involving several state politicians, including Member for Narungga Fraser Ellis, has been divisive.

Our coverage has earned some kudos, and of course we have also received criticism. That’s to be expected, especially given Mr Ellis’s family owns this newspaper. Nonetheless, I wish to provide details about our choices to give our readers the full picture. People can then decide for themselves if we have been fair, too soft or too harsh in our coverage. Either way, they can make an informed judgement.

After an initial Country Members Accommodation Allowance article written when details were still scarce (7-7-20), we revealed Mr Ellis had paid back tens of thousands in claims on July 21. The second article is when the story – and feedback from our readers – really fired up.

So, why did that story only feature Mr Ellis, and include his full statement? The story was finalised very close to deadline. In fact, our story hit the streets before the entire controversy became big news. The full statement was used so our readers would know we had not just chosen a few key quotes and left out other information.

Why did we not question Mr Ellis further? He declined to make any comments beyond his written statement. We cannot force anybody to answer our questions. And now there is an Independent Commissioner Against Corruption investigation, Mr Ellis has received legal advice not to discuss the matter.

Why was the story on page 3, not the front page? Again, the story was finalised very late Tuesday. The front page was finished. Our priority was making sure the story was included at all. This won’t be good enough for some, but we know it has been a bone of contention and our readers  are owed an explanation.

Of course, this all led to last week’s paper when we had time to construct a full and balanced story on the front page, spilling to an entire page inside. We spent considerable time and effort ensuring we covered the issue from every angle, leading with the ICAC investigation and including comments from Labor, so we could not be accused of omitting any aspect of the story. Still, some felt we should have been stronger in our criticisms of Mr Ellis. There are several reasons why we were not.

Most notably, Mr Ellis has not actually admitted to any wrongdoing. He said his claims “may not fall within” the rules. To declare him innocent or guilty of anything is best left to the legal experts, rather than the media.

Still, we’ve run considerably more about Mr Ellis’s involvement in this controversy than any other media so far. The ABC, which broke the story, and The Advertiser understandably focused mainly on the higher-ranked Liberals involved. Labor similarly aimed its attack at the ministers, who would soon resign.

The Plains Producer, which covers the Narungga electorate from Wakefield to Mallala and surrounds, is running its first story about the issue today.

But I know the YP Country Times will be held to a different standard because of Mr Ellis’s family ties to the newspaper. His father, managing director Michael Ellis, could have refused to run these stories, or thrown negative letters to the editor in the bin. Instead, he let the editorial team get on with the job of informing our readers. We have done as best we can given the factors I’ve just outlined, and that will continue until, one way or another, the issue is resolved.

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1 Response Found

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    Sam Nicholls Thursday, 06 August 2020 10:01

    Nick you are a very smart and brilliant writer and journalist. This is why it surprises me that this is your excuse:

    "Why did we not question Mr Ellis further? He declined to make any comments beyond his written statement. We cannot force anybody to answer our questions."

    If Fraser declined to comment you could easily have just written:

    “Mr. Ellis declined to explain why he hadn’t known, for two years, that the rules had changed.”



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