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The Australian plain packaging claims expose poor editorial judgement

Mark Fletcher
June 17th, 2014 · 18 Comments

Labor’s plain packaging fails as cigarette sales rise

This June 8 headline and accompanying article published in The Australian has been shown to be based on specious information as last night’s Media Watch program explained. Relying on respected government sources and tracking back connections between the journalist and the source for data relied upon to big tobacco the Media Watch report destroyed the report by The Australian.

With newspapers challenged for revenue, their best chance at a future comes from fearless and accurate reporting and not doing the bidding of businesses looking for an outlet for their spin.

While I understand big tobacco and those who support them and their spin (in newspapers, blogs and other outlets) the real story that matters is the health outcomes we all hope for of less people getting ill and dying from tobacco related illnesses. This public health issue is why we need fact-based reporting and not spin that serves the tobacco companies.


Category: Ethics · Newspapers

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 EDDY // Jun 20, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    Oh and everything media watch say must be true,, try looking up whos sueing Paul Barry and co this week. Another reason why the ABC should have it’s funding cut


  • 2 Mark Fletcher // Jun 20, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    Eddy sorry for the delay publishing your comment. You changed your name from your previous comments and WordPress put your comment in a queue to be moderated.

    On this issue, other media has reported facts this week that discredit the reporting in The Australian. On this issue, I think the media watch evidence is moo trustworthy than what was in The Australian.


  • 3 Bill // Jun 20, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    Media watch got it wrong time to sell their abc


  • 4 Mark Fletcher // Jun 20, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    Bill I disagree. there are too many respected statisticians, health experts and others who have discredited the gushing reporting in The Australian. Take this from Crikey today on someone The Australian hounded for an interview:

    The Australian’s plain packaging “exclusive” is a story that just won’t go away. Christian Kerr’s story, which used research funded by Big Tobacco to argue that the number of cigarettes sold in Australia had gone up since plain packaging was introduced, was torn apart on Media Watch on Monday night. The next day the Oz doubled down on its original allegation, devoting five new stories to the claims. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics further debunks the premise of The Australian’s yarn.

    But the story gets even stranger. Mike Daube, professor of health policy at Curtin University — who was quoted on Monday night’s Media Watch segment, and was attacked in Tuesday’s Oz — sent the following letter to The Australian’s letters pages.

    He was told by letters editor Graeme Leech that the Oz didn’t have the space to run the whole thing and he could have only 150 words — despite The Australian devoting several pages to the issue over the previous few days.

    Letter to the editor

    As part of The Australian’s campaign against plain packaging, [Tuesday]’s editorial refers to Friday’s front-page article as a “perfectly reasonable report”. That article was based on a secret report apparently provided by tobacco interests with comments only from the tobacco lobby. The report remains secret, so it is impossible to analyse it or to understand why the conclusions differ from official figures.

    The Australian asked me for comment on Friday morning — after the article had appeared — but refused to provide the report. On Tuesday afternoon, after the ABC’s Mediawatch segment, a reporter and photographer from the Australian arrived at my office without warning, saying they wanted to ask questions about statistics. I said that I would comment if I could have a copy of the report, but they were unable to provide this. An hour later, the reporter ‘phoned to say that he could send me the report. Half an hour after this he ‘phoned back to say that he had been told he could not provide the report — only a graphic that had appeared in The Australian.

    Even setting aside the rest of The Australian’s campaign (so far three front pages, two editorials and multiple articles), it is hard to see how all this can be described as “perfectly reasonable” journalism. It is also hard to understand why The Australian persists in claiming failure for plain packaging after 18 months in the face of not only encouraging official figures, but crucially the reality that, as Nicola Roxon emphasised from the outset, “Of course we’re targeting people who have not yet started, and that’s the key to this plain packaging announcement — to make sure we make it less attractive for people to experiment with tobacco in the first place”.

    A related article refers to me with phrases including “political involvement” and “Gillard government adviser”. I was Deputy Chair of the National Preventative Health Taskforce and chaired the tobacco expert committee. It is ridiculous and offensive to describe that as “political involvement”, or to imply that membership of expert health committees somehow makes one politically partisan. I have enjoyed working for and with governments and Ministers from both sides of politics, have no political links, and was indeed publicly critical of the last government on various issues. My last “political involvement” was as a member of the British Young Conservatives in the 1960s.

    Professor Mike Daube AO
    Professor of Health Policy
    Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia


  • 5 Bill // Jun 20, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    Duabe it was his baby i would say the same and do not forget chop chop


  • 6 Bill // Jun 20, 2014 at 4:22 PM

    Try reading Paper from RMIT called Is Illicit Tobacco Demard Sensitive to Relative Price ,
    . All so the tax is one of the top 10% of taxs


  • 7 Mark Fletcher // Jun 21, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    And this from Glenn Dyer writing at Crikey:

    News Corp’s tobacco addiction. Last night Media Watch joined the chorus slamming the Oz’s scoop on how plain packaging was supposedly causing smoking rates to rise. We now know how the Oz misread the statistics on sales and consumption and failed to relate that to the rise in tobacco excise at the end of December. As usual when excises rise, retailers order more of a product (beer is another example) to build up stocks of the lower taxed product. Tobacco was no different. Tobacco sales by the cigarette companies will have fallen in the early months of 2014, but don’t expect the Oz to explore that line.

    Media Watch pointed out the links between the author of the story, journalist Christian Kerr, and right-wing lobby group the Institute of Public Affairs. But Media Watch could have gone further and detailed the 25 years of links between Big Tobacco and News Corp, which owns The Australian — not to mention Rupert Murdoch.

    If you go back in time, you’ll see that Rupert Murdoch was a director of tobacco company Philip Morris. And if you check the News Corp board, you also find that current director Peter Barnes was a senior executive of Philip Morris for years, including heading up Philip Morris International. And if you google News Corp, Murdoch and tobacco companies you pick up this link, which contains the following:

    “A 1985 draft speech for Philip Morris’ CEO for a marketing meeting noted that the media company was already on side. ‘We plan to build similar relationships to those we now have with Murdoch’s News Limited with other newspaper proprietors,’ the memo said. ‘Murdoch’s papers rarely publish anti-smoking articles these days.’

    “A second document for the same meeting created two days later asked the question: ‘how can we change the public’s view towards smoking?’ After outlining various strategies to turn back the tide, the memo makes the point that… we are not using our very considerable clout with the media. A number of media proprietors that I have spoken to are sympathetic to our position — Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Forbes are two good examples. The media like the money they make from our advertisements and they are an ally that we can and should exploit.”

    These documents were revealed, the posting says, as part of the 1998 tobacco industry settlement with US governments. The documents detail the close links between News, Rupert Murdoch and Philip Morris.

    “In 1989, Murdoch was invited to join the Philip Morris board, where he remained for a dozen years. And Murdoch invited a succession of company executives to sit on his board. One observer called it “a cozy relationship all around”. It was a coup for Philip Morris, giving the company access to broadcast and print editorial pages and a platform from which to disseminate its view of the benefits of smoking. Hamish Maxwell, who had worked for Philip Morris since the first studies linking smoking and cancer were publicized in the early 50s, was appointed to the News Corp board three years after Murdoch joined the Philip Morris board. Maxwell helped develop PM’s international tobacco business, which, as director of marketing, he shaped into a major growth engine. Maxwell left the News Corp board in 1998, and the following year another senior Philip Morris executive joined it. Like Murdoch, Geoffrey Bible was an Australian. Like Maxwell, Bible was a long-time PM employee.”

    Peter Barnes followed Geoffrey Bible. The above posting also details other links between Murdoch, News, senior executives, the New York Post, the Fox News pay TV channel and Philip Morris/Big Tobacco.

    Kerr’s is just the latest in a long line of pro-tobacco stories that have appeared in News Corp papers here and around the world. — Glenn Dyer


  • 8 Bill // Jun 21, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    Try Henry Ergas in todays aus. Crikey is another left wing crowd who hate Murdock looking for any thing to hang on news and i can not see what this bit on crikey has any thing to do with facts, is it crikey playing the man or RMIT with a paper on it


  • 9 Mark Fletcher // Jun 21, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    Bill the history presented in the Crikey article is factual – regardless of what you claims their politics.

    Cigarettes kill people. Plenty in big business ignore this in support of the death sticks.


  • 10 Bill // Jun 22, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    It is called choice by the the way i am a non smoker never had a cig in my mouth If people want to smoke as long as i do not have to smoke it with them, that is their choice and i if you do smoke more fool you but no nanny state for me please


  • 11 Mark Fletcher // Jun 22, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    Bill I agree with free choice. This post is not about that, it’s about inaccurate reporting by what should be a respected news outlet.


  • 12 Bill // Jun 22, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    Aus was right on


  • 13 Peter // Jun 22, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    Bill people like you can say what you like about the ABC. Understand this though I will believe the ABC any day over Rupert Murdoch. Just because it may be good for Rupert in does not mean it is good for us.

    Bill also who are you are arguing for big tobacco, are you a paid servant of big tobacco. You words would carry weight if you were addicted to smokes. If they are so good why don’t you take them up.


  • 14 michelle // Jun 22, 2014 at 1:30 PM

    I may be slightly off topic here but from a long time smokers perspective (over 40 yrs on the smokes) there are some realities I would like to share. Firstly three important points 1) they are NOT illegal, 2) no other consumer product is taxed at the rates we now pay, 3) to my knowledge no one has ever smoked a packet of cigarettes got into a car and because of the ingestion of nicotine and tar killed anyone.

    Inform and educate absolutely, make all the kids fully aware of the health risks no argument from me. Discourage the taking up of smoking by communicating the realities I am all for that….but.

    So the huge anti smoking lobby has at its core the desire to protect society what about attacking alcohol in the same way? More damage to our society by the consumption of alcohol why no plain packaging rules there? Why no calls for banning all alcohol (by the way I drink as well). We all know the answer to that one.

    Before you all start on me yes I do know the risks I take but the truth is I am an addict, my choice I agree (to an extent) and I pay dearly each day. It is easy to target a minority group (predjudice), history and even these blog pages are filled with the results – all the “isms” be it race, religion or sex. Yes I do now equate being a smoker in the same context. I am an intelligent person, I still smoke, I know the risks, I never started smoking because of the coloured packs and I can not stop because of the plain ugly packs. The photos on the packs disturb me so I put them in a case. The anti smokers tut tut me, call me weak, call me stupid, tell me I am going to die a horrible death so I light up another smoke. The financial burden is now high so we go without other things to enable me to smoke. Cigarettes are undoubtedly my best friends they have been with me every day for over 40 years! Through all the good days, bad days, marriages, divorces …. each and every day of my life they have never judged me, they are the only absolute constant in my life. Hypnotherapy didnt work, neither did patches, gum or the tabs from the doctor. Do I wish I never started well honestly yes, but here I am. I do not inflict my habbit/addiction on anyone else, I dont litter (never have), I pay the exhorbatant taxes and now I also have to put up with the judgements, the looks and the comments non smokers and reformed smokers feel it necessary to constantly make.
    The solution should be really simple either cigarettes continue to be legal in which case we smokers need to treated with a little respect and consideration and a little less judgment or alternatively make them illegal in which case if I choose to break the law I will be subjected to appropriate penalties. The arguments about Big Tobacco and its influence have nothing to do with the daily prejudice we smokers now endure.


  • 15 Mark Fletcher // Jun 22, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    Michelle, thanks for sharing your story.

    My only concern with this post is what appears to be inaccurate reporting by The Australian.

    On the issue of big tobacco, my issue with them is their considerable efforts for many years to ensure the public was not fully informed about the dangers.

    I am all for personal choice. This is why I would legalise drugs like marijuana, ecstasy and others. This way they are taxed and funds can be used in ways appropriate to those paying the taxes – like kinda happens with tobacco taxes.

    Live and let live.


  • 16 michelle // Jun 22, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    Cheers Mark,
    sorry my comment ended up a rant.


  • 17 June // Jun 22, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    Michelle, I love that you trust us with such
    innermost thoughts. I agree with Mark about “live and let live”.
    We had 6 children and two of them smoke and I worry about it all the time but I don’t ever castigate them because they are adults and they know all about what the issues with smoking are (one is a Nurse). I worry that their children will take it up but then I think of my husband and myself (both non-smokers with smoking fathers) so there goes my argument.
    It is addictive and very hard to break that addiction.
    Good luck Michelle.
    By the way, this industry doesn’t help you
    in any way. It causes so much stress that you find yourself reaching for the ciggies.
    I don’t know if this is helpful Michelle but I was drinking about 8 cups of coffee per day and I decided that I was going to quit.
    I boiled the kettle as though I was having a coffee and I put a little milk in and after 6 months I have weaned myself off coffee by pretending that the hot water and milk is my coffee.
    Maybe electronic ciggies might work for you.
    Then again, maybe you just enjoy it and it is nobody’s business but your own.


  • 18 Mark Fletcher // Jun 23, 2014 at 6:12 PM


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