Jesse Fink blows the lid on SBS editorial pressure

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

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    SBS veteran Australian football broadcaster Les Murray. AP Photo/SBS Television

    SBS has long been known colloquially as the “Soccer Broadcasting Service,” and many of us were introduced to football thanks in part to Les Murray’s wonderful “World Soccer” program. But former SBS columnist Jesse Fink has lifted the lid on a culture of collusion at the mainly taxpayer-funded network, and his allegations are explosive.

    In a damning report on the ABC’s “7.30 Report” last night, Fink alleged he felt pressured by Murray – Editorial Supervisor of SBS Sport – to curtail criticism of Football Federation Australia’s bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

    Fink goes further in a blog posted on his website overnight, revealing that two of his columns criticising various aspects of Australia’s World Cup bids were not published by “The World Game” website.

    Having recently been informed the contract for his widely read “Half Time Orange” blog would not be renewed, there’s a chance some may view Fink as little more than an ex-employee with an axe to grind.

    Yet, it’s clear that if “football fans aren’t getting the full story” from SBS, as alleged by “The 7.30 Report,” then supporters are entitled to ask questions.

    Indeed, it wasn’t only Fink who revealed he felt pressured to omit critical references to Australia’s World Cup bid, and in particular those pertaining to FFA consultant Peter Hargitay – a personal friend of Murray’s.

    The Roar’s very own Davidde Corran revealed an email from Murray to “The 7.30 Report,” in which Murray allegedly accused Corran of discrediting SBS by criticising Hargitay in a Roar column.

    “Well, if you have these things to say, we want to keep them in house, you do them through SBS,” Murray is alleged to have written to Corran.

    Point 6 of the SBS Charter of Values urges those at the network to “engage with each other” with “honesty, respect and fairness.”

    “Fostering honest, trusting and mutually respectful relationships” and “being fair, clear and transparent in the way we interact with each other” are supposedly the hallmarks of those values.

    Yet, it hardly seems “fair, clear or honest” if Fink and Corran – both of whom have worked for SBS in various capacities – felt editorial pressure to exclude negative stories about Australia’s World Cup bids.

    And as many have already pointed out, the man alleged to have instigated that pressure is also a serving member of the FIFA Ethics Committee.

    For the sake of full disclosure, I should point out I know both Fink and Corran personally.

    I met both when I moved back to Australia from Japan and the pair are journalists whose work I respect and appreciate.

    But I have nothing to gain, professionally or personally, from highlighting their story.

    I’m only interested in the truth, and as football fans that’s something many of us assumed a public network was ethically obliged to deliver.

    Les Murray is alleged to have threatened the ABC with legal action over last night’s story, although he declined to comment publicly on the matter.

    It comes in the wake of a damaging public spat with Socceroos captain Lucas Neill, after Murray was forced to retract allegations in his latest book that Neill lead a “mutiny” against then-Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek at the World Cup in South Africa.

    Murray is a man whose passion for football many of us have long admired.

    But his personal friendship with Peter Hargitay, his near-defamation of Lucas Neill, and revelations of editorial pressure at SBS have many second-guessing his integrity.

    As a media personality, Murray has done more than any other to lift the profile of football in Australia.

    But in his pursuit of the “greater good” of Australia hosting the World Cup, he appears to have confined his journalistic ethics to the rubbish bin.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (254)

    • July 8th 2011 @ 5:50am
      The Special One said | July 8th 2011 @ 5:50am | ! Report

      Two things id like to say.

      Davidde, kudos to you for speaking out. Your piece on Hargitay was an eye opener for many at the time including myself.

      Jesse, I hope all goes well for you. I believe you are one of the best soccer writers in Australia because you are willing to criticise the state of the game in this country.

    • July 8th 2011 @ 6:07am
      Alex said | July 8th 2011 @ 6:07am | ! Report

      So the only fact you are reporting is that while working for SBS Fink and Corran ‘felt editorial pressure to exclude negative stories about Australia’s World Cup bids’?

      You are only parroting their arguments, nothing else in your little blog is factual. ‘[Fink’s] allegations are explosive’, ‘in a damning report’, ‘Yet, it hardly seems “fair, clear or honest”’, ‘[Les] appears to have confined his journalistic ethics to the rubbish bin’ are just judgement calls without any argument.

      The transparency of you just repeating the dubious allegations of your friends is for all to see. Despite your attempts to plead otherwise you aren’t reporting any facts, make several huge judgements and post link’s to your friend Fink’s dubious criticisms.

      Where is the ‘explosive’, ‘damning’ evidence that Les’ decades long-serving journalistic career is in ‘the rubbish bin’? You can believe your friend Fink’s arguments that he is raising against Les ‘coincidently’ just after he got let go by SBS, but don’t expect a single reader to believe his sour grapes inspired ravings.

      • July 8th 2011 @ 8:59am
        Kento said | July 8th 2011 @ 8:59am | ! Report

        If journalists are being pressured about what they do and don’t write about, then this IS ‘explosive’ and ‘damning.

        It’s called the thin edge of the wedge and the thick edge looks like what happened at News of the World.

        Freedom to write what needs to be written is vital for a country like Australia.

      • July 8th 2011 @ 9:27am
        GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        The stench of conflicts of interest are emerging. So yet more ‘shoot the messenger’ diatribes and avoid the clear issue of Les Murray’s involvement in a publicly funded bid by a senior editor in a publicly funded TV channel.

        • Roar Guru

          July 8th 2011 @ 9:45am
          Fussball ist unser leben said | July 8th 2011 @ 9:45am | ! Report

          @ GrecoRoman

          If you listen to the Conservative political commentators in Australia you will hear the same mindless comments about alleged control of the publicly-funded ABC by allegedly Left-leaning editorial staff.

          A boss is alleged to have given “direction” to his employees … oh my gosh … that’s OUTRAGEOUS. We should call the AFP and start a Senate Inquiry … maybe, we can even send Les to Villawood until we investigate his bona fides?

          • July 8th 2011 @ 9:55am
            Michael said | July 8th 2011 @ 9:55am | ! Report

            +1

            The editorial group has a say on what gets published? WORLD NEWS SHOCK!

            C’mon. Please.

            Jesse has his own website now where he can publish unhindered and largely unwatched.

            Maybe this could be read as a sign that SBS want to move away from negative journalism to Aus football to a more solution-oriented model?

            • July 8th 2011 @ 10:23am
              GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 10:23am | ! Report

              “Jesse has his own website now where he can publish unhindered and largely unwatched.”
              – Bully for him. Yet how does that detract from what was revealed last night?

              Maybe this could be read as a sign that SBS want to move away from negative journalism to Aus football to a more solution-oriented model?”
              – Oh, so it’s about how football is treated in the media, not the conflicted interest of a publicly funded state broadcaster?

          • July 8th 2011 @ 10:15am
            GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 10:15am | ! Report

            “A boss is alleged to have given “direction” to his employees … oh my gosh … that’s OUTRAGEOUS.”

            Once again, ignore the issue and construct a straw man argument and not consider the basis for these ‘directions’ and where they come from and the possible conflicts of interest. There probably should be an inquiry of sorts.

          • July 9th 2011 @ 9:57am
            Beau said | July 9th 2011 @ 9:57am | ! Report

            um, not commenting on the specific allegations or people involved, but i know as a general principle that if a boss in any company had a conflict of interest between his employer and some outside interest and was acting in favour of that outside interest in his work, that’s actually likely to get him sacked.

    • Roar Guru

      July 8th 2011 @ 7:07am
      nordozzz said | July 8th 2011 @ 7:07am | ! Report

      seriously… people tire of Fink as all he ever writes about is politics and he just latches on to anything and everything with a negative slant. Rarely ever writes about actual football of late. As a reader and football lover it is irritating to see SBS waste their resources and space on the guy. Glad his contract has not been renewed. Good riddance.

      The guy has hardly been silenced in the broader sense, to suggest he’s not been getting a fair run at SBS with his blogs is absurd.

      “I’m only interested in the truth, and as football fans that’s something many of us assumed a public network was ethically obliged to deliver.”

      You’re incredibly naive if u think there even is such a thing as “the truth” … no network or media outlet can be “obliged to deliver” it, only provide opinion, perspective and context around football issues. Which SBS has allowed with Fink time and again, as well as from others.

      Compared to other media workplaces, Murray’s editorial directions sound relatively tame. Those emails don’t read like that big a deal tbh. I guess you’re holding him to a higher standard as its a public broadcaster. The overlap between editorial and commercial interests is just not something people at public broadcasters are used to dealing with. Get used to it SBS contributors, as these days the place is a semi-commercial network effectively.

      • July 8th 2011 @ 9:23am
        GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        You’ve got to be kidding? Public monies used to fund this bid to host the WC. Editorial pressure from a state funded broadcaster whose senior editor of sport is personally linked to the bid. All you can respond with is snide comments relating to the quality of the journo? Pathetic.

        • Roar Guru

          July 8th 2011 @ 11:40am
          nordozzz said | July 8th 2011 @ 11:40am | ! Report

          Come off it mate… anyone who is pathologically critical seems to think they have a mortgage on protecting some “truth” … forget balance and actually looking at all sides. Even calling Jesse Fink a journalist is a fact that could use some checking!

          I fail see how Les Murray is silencing someone who had a VERY good run at putting his consistently average blogs out there for so long. If he was trying to muzzle the guy, he was doing a shocking job at it. I just think the quality and “one trick pony” aspect of Jesse’s approach just wore his bosses down. He wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near as long at a commercial media outlet, and nor would half the paid contributors on this site imo. Call that snide all u like, its just reality … some of us have worked in this industry for a bit and do know a thing or two also …

          The publicly-funded aspect of the bid isn’t all that relevant, aside from Les wanting to ensure SBS’s coverage of it had some modicum of respectability. Thats just doing his job! Drawing some parallel because SBS is also publicly funded, thats some stretch of logic.

          • July 8th 2011 @ 12:36pm
            GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

            “The publicly-funded aspect of the bid isn’t all that relevant, aside from Les wanting to ensure SBS’s coverage of it had some modicum of respectability.”

            It is very relevant and your interpretation of SBS’, or what was stated in last night’s broadcast, Les Murray’s directives as to the coverage of the bid are very contentious. If there is no concern then no doubt the pollies responsible for sport and the overseeing of SBS funding respectively will be quite happy to oblige the public and state clearly they see no problem with what happened.

            • Roar Guru

              July 8th 2011 @ 12:41pm
              nordozzz said | July 8th 2011 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

              I doubt they think there’s enough in this story to comment either way. But good luck with that inquiry…

              • July 8th 2011 @ 12:59pm
                GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

                You may think it’s not that important, but there has to be some accountability in relation to how public money is utilised. If there’s no concern about how tens of millions of dollars have just been p*ssed into the wind, I’d be surprised. Not everybody has such a blase and dismissive attitude about this.

              • Roar Guru

                July 8th 2011 @ 1:26pm
                nordozzz said | July 8th 2011 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

                ok great i’m sure it’ll get some mileage if u have someone in mind whose opportunistic enough to latch on to it. Problem is something like this needs substance to stay the course, there’s little in that report last night that was that big a deal. I’ve watched it a couple of times and read his statement (and SBS’s), there’s not that much there. Also read the bulk of Fink’s blogs over the years. He’s not as good as u seem to think he is.

    • July 8th 2011 @ 7:40am
      Roger said | July 8th 2011 @ 7:40am | ! Report

      So, SBS put pressure on Fink not to criticise our World Cup bid?

      Good on SBS.

      All Fink does is criticise, and I for one am sick of the negativity. It was a good day here on the Roar tha I no longer had to read the ‘stories’ he was dishing out.

      Honestly, I also scoffed at the comment that Fink is one of the most popular writers in Football. Other than the first comment on this article, I don’t recall any fan who has recently indicated support or appreciation for Fink’s articles.

      Bring on the balanced reporters, who can apreciate and write about both the good and the bad.

      • July 8th 2011 @ 9:36am
        GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        So, SBS put pressure on Fink not to criticise our World Cup bid?

        Good on SBS.

        Err, no, not good on SBS. I think there should be a Senate inquiry, at least, to determine the broadcaster’s role in the bid process. The responses on here remind me of the ex FFA executive (Mercedes Bonitas or something?) that was personally attacked and pilloried for having raised criticisms of the use of ‘lobbyists’ Hartigay and co. Spiteful personal attacks to hide the real issue.

        • July 8th 2011 @ 10:58am
          Roger said | July 8th 2011 @ 10:58am | ! Report

          GrecoRoman.

          A Senate Inquiry?

          Ok, here’s some media 101 for you. The SBS, like any broadcaster, has a right to present their views. If their reporters require some direction, then it is well within their rights to stipulate it. After all, SBS (like all media) need to protect their brand.

          Accusing my post of being ‘spiteful and personal’ is also pretty rich, given Jesse’s constant rants against everything and everyone. What, he is allowed to have an opinion but I am not? My opinion is that his reporting is rubbish. Nothing personal against him, just his articles.

          I am all for criticism of the code, as long as the people doing it have some credibility. Jesse lost his some time ago.

          Also, what’s your angle? Do you see this as an opportunity to bring down Football so that your League can be seen in a better light?

          • July 8th 2011 @ 11:53am
            GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 11:53am | ! Report

            Roger, Thanks for your considered reply. I appreciate it.

            A Senate Inquiry?
            – Maybe, maybe not. I actually came on to the site this morning expecting constructive discussions on which directions to take after what was revealed in last night’s broadcast – especially from posters who would have a better understanding of the mechanics of sport bureaucracies than myself. Unfortunately, it’s been within the posts, at times, hysterical personal attacks on this guy Jesse Fink and completely ignoring the critical matters that were raised last night.

            Ok, here’s some media 101 for you. The SBS, like any broadcaster, has a right to present their views. If their reporters require some direction, then it is well within their rights to stipulate it. After all, SBS (like all media) need to protect their brand.
            – Roger, I don’t disagree with that. Not at all. The editorial questions raised were in relation to whether or not there is conflict of interest considering the personal involvement of individuals in the bid process and how the editorial ‘line’ was ‘shaped’ or ‘directed’ as you put it. The brand is publicly funded. As was the bid.

            Accusing my post of being ‘spiteful and personal’ is also pretty rich, given Jesse’s constant rants against everything and everyone. What, he is allowed to have an opinion but I am not? My opinion is that his reporting is rubbish. Nothing personal against him, just his articles.

            I am all for criticism of the code, as long as the people doing it have some credibility. Jesse lost his some time ago.
            – I don’t know if you saw the broadcast last night, but he wasn’t the only journalist who had serious questions about what was going on. I don’t see that attacks on Fink’s views of football as being relevant at all to what was raised last night.

            Also, what’s your angle? Do you see this as an opportunity to bring down Football so that your League can be seen in a better light?
            – Ok, I’m not a code warrior and don’t support any code of football over another. I have no entrenched opinions that are negative to football. My main sport is Wrestling/Judo/Grappling, but I’d be a fool to think that they’ll ever be a mainstream sport in this country and don’t think about it. I have no axe to grind with TWG. In fact, I eagerly await the day I can support a football club in the A-League here in Western Sydney. I am deeply passionate about the clubs I support, which are based on where I live and that they truly reflect the community, not their code. I am very involved in community sport (and a number of different sports at that) and a big part of my concern is grass roots funding levels. So what is going on with this whole WC saga and the millions poured into it and the complete lack of accountability in relation to it as well as the damage it is doing to Football (the most popular sport in the area I live) does concern me. All I want to see is some transparency.

            • July 8th 2011 @ 2:03pm
              Roger said | July 8th 2011 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

              Oh well played, you managed to disarm me in the first sentence. I have to say it worked.

              Anyway, onto the issues:

              1. Senate Inquiry – I don’t think they have been hysterical posts. Rather, they are a reflection of the Football community and their current feelings towards Jesse Fink, SBS, and the FFA. Just because we don’t agree with Jesse Fink, doesn’t mean we are wrong and that we don’t understand what the issue is. As I have posted elsewhere in this thread, I agree that there needs to be accountability for public spending. Also, in fairness, this article here (which is what we are all commenting on – yourself included), is at least as much about Jesse Fink as it is about the issue.

              2. I think we just need to agree to disagree. Public funded or no, SBS is a brand, and they have a reputation to keep. I work in media as well (not at the same level of course), and I constantly find myself in a position whereby my views take a backseat to the organisation’s views. It is part of the job. I don’t understand why journalists would be so special that they are not subject to the company’s directions. In relation to conflicts of interest, aren’t there conflicts of interest in all media reporting? Unless of course they are freelance, and even then…

              3. You’re right, Jesse wasn’t the only journalist who expressed concerns. But that doesn’t necessarily make him right. Regardless, it’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf. We have had such a barrage of negativity from Jesse of late that this just seems like another chapter in his negative nelly commentary. I guess his history undermines his point.

              4. Well, you may get the Sydney Rovers soon? Maybe. If the good folks of Sydney show that they can support more than one team. In relation to the rest of your points here – see first comment.

              • July 8th 2011 @ 2:32pm
                GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

                I can’t speak for Jesse Fink of course, but dasilva posted a link to what he has to say. Without being too familiar with the guy’s work, he really seems to be attracting a lot of flak in this column that Mike put up. Whether it’s warranted I’ll leave that to the the other roarers.

                http://jessefink.com.au/2011/07/why-i-blew-the-whistle/

              • July 8th 2011 @ 2:39pm
                Roger said | July 8th 2011 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

                Thanks for the link.

                Also, may I say, that for someone who claims to know ‘little about his work’, you sure have a thorough understanding of where he is coming from. Amazing really.

                Also, did you know that Jesse is from Western Sydney too?

    • July 8th 2011 @ 7:49am
      NY said | July 8th 2011 @ 7:49am | ! Report

      Fink and Les Murray are as bad as eachother, and bad for the game in Australia in general these days. Fink especially has some kind of axe to grind. His writing was definitlely unbalanced towards the end criticising everything in general. It was ridicilous. I would like to see both disappear in the next 12 months to be honest. And Foz needs to lift his act a little too.

    • July 8th 2011 @ 7:52am
      Kasey said | July 8th 2011 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      I’m glad Fink is gone. He was a one-trick pony from the very beginning.
      Step1 to writing a fink-blog – identify problem
      Step2 – ask a spokesperson from FFA what they are going to do about it(may be optional – not sure)
      Step3 – blame FFA for everything from Global Warming to the original problem identified in step1
      Step4 – sit back and watch in glee as your money rolls in from SBS for being a professional troll
      **New steps as of June2011:
      Step5 – when new contract forthcoming – rationalise it internally that it was not because you were a terrible columnist, but that it must be some sort of conspiaracy against your truth telling (Fox Mulder style)

      Step6 – convince the ABC to interview you but to edit your erants down to a manageable level so you appear less bitter.
      the end

      • July 8th 2011 @ 9:40am
        GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        Hysterical drivel.

        • July 8th 2011 @ 10:20am
          Steggz said | July 8th 2011 @ 10:20am | ! Report

          No, that sums up the Fink model pretty well IMO

          • July 8th 2011 @ 10:31am
            GrecoRoman said | July 8th 2011 @ 10:31am | ! Report

            Err, and what does that have to do with last night’s broadcast? Just pathetic character assassination.

        • July 8th 2011 @ 10:59am
          Roger said | July 8th 2011 @ 10:59am | ! Report

          Oh, because you don’t agree with him it is hysterical?

        • July 8th 2011 @ 12:28pm
          Kasey said | July 8th 2011 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

          you would say that Mr fink, recognise the format do you?

        • July 8th 2011 @ 3:21pm
          Realfootball said | July 8th 2011 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

          You really do have some kind of problem, G-C.

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