The ABC has pulled an interview between former radio broadcaster Jon Faine and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews just hours before it had planned to publish it online, saying it lacked editorial value in the wake of a social media video posted by the Premier on Sunday about his return to work.
Faine interviewed the Premier last week and provided the ABC with an 1800-word written interview after The Age turned down the offer on the grounds that the government wanted to choose the interviewer. The Age had requested one of its own staff journalists conduct the interview but the government insisted on Faine, who is a columnist with The Sunday Age.
In a statement issued late on Sunday, the ABC confirmed it had decided not to run Faine’s article because the video released by Mr Andrews provided “significant details” of his injury and recovery.
Jon Faine: “The fact is that there is no one else at The Age that has been interviewing Dan Andrews consistently for 15 years like I have.”Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
An ABC spokesman said: “Jon Faine’s story was a valuable insight into the Premier’s ordeal but once Mr Andrews had spoken to these issues publicly, the editorial value of the article was reassessed.”
But Faine said the interview had been significantly broader than the subjects covered by the four-minute video, which focused on how Mr Andrews had sustained his injury and his determination to contest the next election.
“The 1800 words I submitted to the ABC covered many more topics including his response to the toxic rumours about him, the Belt and Road Initiative and whether he was on the wrong side of history, the casino inquiry and the economic recovery,” Faine said.
“It’s a real shame that the crossing over of his social media piece about falling over means the whole piece bites the dust.”
The interview between Faine and Mr Andrews was also formally considered by the ABC’s editorial policy team before its planned publication on Monday – a step not routine for every article appearing online. Sources familiar with the process said the elevation of the article to the editorial policy team indicated the ABC wanted to ensure there were no conflicts of interest ahead of publication.
Faine produced and directed a major public health campaign on behalf of the state government which appeared on television networks and social media last year. Before it was pulled, the article had been expected to run with a line at the bottom declaring Faine’s work with the government.
The ABC insisted this had nothing to do with the decision not to run the interview.
Daniel Andrews and his wife, Catherine, in a still from the video released on Sunday. Credit:Twitter
ABC sources, who were not authorised to speak publicly, said staff had raised concerns internally about running Faine’s interview, given his work with the government.
Faine’s interview was planned as part of a widespread media push by Mr Andrews to manage coverage of his return to work. He has been on extended leave since March 9, when he fell down wet stairs at a holiday home in Sorrento. He will appear on ABC Radio Melbourne morning radio with host Virginia Trioli on Tuesday but has continued his boycott of 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.
On Sunday, a slickly produced video appeared on Twitter featuring Mr Andrews and his wife, Catherine, explaining the accident more fully. It included piano music and shots of his family preparing food and hot drinks in the kitchen. In it, Mr Andrews said there had been some “vile stories” put out about how his accident occurred.
While all governments attempt to orchestrate a positive media narrative, the Andrews government is known for its tight control.
Age editor Gay Alcorn said while the masthead had great respect for Faine, who writes a weekly column for The Sunday Age, it could not acquiesce to the government deciding who could interview the Premier or government ministers. The Age had requested and had been promised a sit-down interview with the Premier since the second lockdown last year.
“The Age is the most widely read masthead in Victoria and this was to be a significant interview as Mr Andrews returned to work. In my view it needed to be done by a senior staff journalist for The Age rather than a contributing columnist of the government’s choosing. Again, this is no reflection on Jon, for whom I have the highest regard.
“We suggested senior journalists who could have conducted the interview for The Age but were told that it would be Faine or nobody. We reluctantly declined the interview.”
Faine, who retired from the ABC in 2019, has conducted interviews with Mr Andrews since he was a backbencher. Mr Andrews was a regular on Faine’s program and attended Faine’s farewell. The pair continued to talk during the Premier’s recovery.
“We’ve got this weird situation where The Age say we are not having Dan Andrews tell us which reporter he’ll talk to, and Dan Andrews is saying I’m not having The Age tell me who I have to be interviewed by,” Faine said.
“The fact is that there is no one else at The Age that has been interviewing Dan Andrews consistently for 15 years like I have and I’m not friends with him – I could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen him outside of the radio studio.”
The Premier has been largely absent in the 111 days since his fall, bar a handful of social media posts. Mr Andrews announced his return to work via a short social media video post at 8.30pm on June 12.
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