Football in South Australia has been in a long battle against a pro-Aussie Rules media for many decades. To call it racism is too strong a statement but it has long been evident that there is a bias in the media against football.
Newspapers represent the voice and opinions of the people. A newspaper that is out of step with the opinions of its readers will struggle for readership where there is competition for readers. Newspapers are also able to influence public opinion and so it can be a fine line between representing the opinions of the people and influencing those opinions. Here in Adelaide, we are essentially a one newspaper town and the Adelaide Advertiser is the dominant media outlet. As the only major newspaper in the State, the Advertiser can wield significant influence over public opinion. With that significant influence comes responsibility but sometimes that influence is used to pursue an agenda.
Over the years there have been some who have sought to use the influence of the media to pursue their personal interests. In sporting terms, on occasions this has meant the pursuit of an anti-football agenda. Examples of individuals who have take a very negative approach towards football in their newspaper articles has included Geoff Roach and Rebecca Wilson.
You only have to visit the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser website to see the natural bias in its reporting. On the main page, there is a complete section devoted to Aussie Rules. It is the headline sporting section. Every other sport is confined to another section that comes in below the Aussie Rules section. Whilst there cannot be a more obvious demonstration of the sporting bias of the newspaper, it will argue that this is reflective of what the people of South Australia want to read. However this is not where the bias ends.
Recently, the battle ground has moved into the realm of sporting facilities. After decades of neglect and under investment, there has been significant investment in football sporting facilities in South Australia. This has driven by the fact that football is the highest participation sport in the State by a significant margin. It has simply been the weight of numbers driving through this overdue investment in football sporting facilities. None of the investment has been lavish – there is no gleaming $750m football stadium. Rather it has been micro investments involving federal, state and council grants focused on upgrading grass roots football pitches and change rooms bringing them up to an acceptable standard for active community use. After decades of under investment, is a catch-up of funding to bring football facilities up to a standard that is comparable with what other sports already have in place.
With the change of government in South Australia in 2018, former sports reporter Corey Wingard became the Minister for Sport and Recreation. Under his watch, the State Government programs that saw the upgrading of sporting facilities were quickly closed. These programs were replaced by a new sporting facilities funding program that is only open to AFL, cricket and netball. No other sport is eligible to apply for a grant to upgrade its sporting facilities under this grant program. This is a blatantly discriminatory funding program that is consistent of the personal sporting interests of the Minister. That such a discriminatory program is able to exist is nothing short of astounding. That the Adelaide Advertiser is silent on this blatant discriminatory funding program is also astounding. The Adelaide Advertiser has been completely silent on this and, in its silence, is consenting to the discriminatory nature of the funding program. Possibly as much as $20m of taxpayers dollars will have been handed out under this discriminatory funding program.
So this brings me to the reason why I decided to express my opinion today. Over the past months there have been a series of positive articles in the Adelaide Advertiser encouraging funding for Aussie Rules and Cricket facility upgrades. Commonly these projects are unfunded and have their hands out seeking more funding. Concurrently there have been several articles that have been negative about football facility upgrade projects. Why?
Today, there was another negative football facility article in the Adelaide Advertiser. The headline screamed “Another cost blow for Mount Barker’s $35m sporting hub” accompanied with an image of a football and football boots. But it is only when you read the detail that you find out that the cost blow out is a $50,000 increase in the cost of lighting due to foreign exchange movements. So lets do the math. The so called cost blow out equates to less than 0.15% of the $35m project cost. Yes – significantly less than 1 per cent of the total project costs. What a beat up of the facts.
Aside from the insignificance of the dollars involved relative to the project size, any reporter looking for the truth should have been asking what is the contingency allowed for cost increases and variations in the project. Any Council project should have a contingency of at least 10% and possibly as high as 20%. This is standard practice in all development projects. So the contingency should be something between $3.5m and $7m for a project of this size. Even a small contingency of 5% of the project value would be $1.75m. This is no cost blowout. This is a normal part of project development and the cost should be covered under the existing project budget.
A quick review of Council minutes puts the Stage 1 budget for this project at $23m (not $35m). The minutes refer to changes to the AFL built facilities resulting in project cost increases. These cost increases are much greater than the “cost blowout” due to the lighting. But there is no mention of the AFL “cost blowout” by the Adelaide Advertiser. Why?
If this is the stance of Adelaide Advertiser for this $35m project, are we are going to see a steady stream of articles over the next 12 months as the actual costs of every contractor and supplier varies from the original quote provided in a pre-Covid-19 world?.
This project is not just a football project. It is a multi-sport facility. The full project includes 2 full sized AFL ovals, tennis courts, netball courts and significant built facilities. Football is only one part of a much larger project. So why is the Adelaide Advertiser appearing to target the football component of the project? The article makes no mention of the fact that the lighting is not just for the football grounds but also covers the other sporting facilities at the complex. The graphics and accompanying video are football related and all the sporting references are to football only. It leaves the reader with the impression that this is just about a football facility. Its clear there is some anti-football agenda being played out here.
The article fails to go into the detail. Is that because that would detract from the story?. It neglects to mention that the even after the so called cost blowout, the lighting costs will come in some $450,000 below the original cost expected by the Mount Barker Council which was based on the lowest quote under the tender for the project. The final lighting costs represent a significant saving to the Mount Barker Council. A significant saving for the project has been turned into a cost blowout.
Finally, a dose of reality. If someone wanted to buy the amount of space devoted by the Advertiser to this story, it would probably cost more than $50,000. That is, it is possible the Advertiser has invested more of its resources into reporting this so called “cost blowout” than the actual value involved. Negative reporting at its best.
In the end the reporter writing the article may just be a pawn in another person’s game. But somewhere along the line there is an anti-football bias. Maybe we dont have all of the facts at hand and we have only taken a quick look at the information. In itself this one article is not significant. But when looked over a longer period of time, it becomes clearer that there continues to be a bias in the media against football.