Peter Coleman: Dumb things... and why there's a fuss about that studio party

Nine Entertainment seems to have admitted that hosting fundraising dinner which boosted Liberal coffers by $700,000 was not the smartest idea.

The event - on a set at Nine's Willoughby studio - has been roundly criticised by former Fairfax journalists, their union, and anyone else with an opportunity to comment.

Yesterday afternoon, James Chessell, who is Nine's executive editor for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, told staff Nine chief executive Hugh Marks had admitted hosting the $10,000-a-head fundraiser was a "mistake".

Marks said the primary motivation - to "engage with government on issues of importance to the newsrooms" - could have been handled better.

The fuss reflects the difference between what might be acceptable for predominantly TV broadcaster Nine, and the former Fairfax Media business it acquired last year.

The 'charter of independence' under which Fairfax operated was to some extent an anachronism from the days when the country's most influential publisher was being tossed from owner to owner like a ball... and when its roster of journalists were also more influential. The latest owner, Nine appears happy to go along with it. But the fact that the 'Independent Always' motto appears on both the Sydney and Melbourne metro dailies indicates how little it really means, and has meant since long before Nine got hold of them.

I don't know whether the Fairfax family would have hosted a Liberal fundraiser in their days of ownership, but the idea of 'press barons' nailing their political colours to the mast - or using their mastheads to serve personal ends - used to be routine; why else would you take the risk publishing entails, some would ask.

Monday is media day in the Australian press, so the partly imaginary debate about the wisdom of Hugh Marks' studio party has been manna from heaven for Rupert Murdoch's The Australian and its Media section

Which begs the question, would Murdoch have any qualms about hosting an event, if it served his purposes? A little crass perhaps, but possible. Easier however, to imagine a scenario in which pollies furnish the Murdoch empire $1 million of value than the other way around.

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