Media madness? Tinkler vs Newcastle Herald
Portrait of Nathan Tinkler by sports caricaturist David Green
The ugly standoff between Nathan Tinkler’s Hunter Sports Group (HSG) and Fairfax Media’s The Newcastle Herald has reached boiling point.
The publication of a story by the newspaper last week about an unpaid Knights tax bill appears to have been the final straw for HSG.
The Tinkler-owned HSG responded by blacklisting the publication in a strongly-worded statement to its members and supporters.
In it HSG claimed that it has “refrained from retaliating to the personal attacks being driven by a negative local press campaign over the past 12 months”.
It denied the accuracy of the tax bill story and said: “To publish this story without the facts is another example of the agenda driven by The Newcastle Herald against the HSG and their pessimistic view in general. HSG has placed all aspects of this issue today in the hands of its legal advisers and further action is anticipated.”
HSG CEO Troy Palmer was quoted in the missive: “We are frustrated by the ongoing campaign to destabilise the Knights and Jets, which is to the detriment of every Novocastrian. Nathan has made a considerable investment to ensure stable Knights and Jets football clubs. It appears some people can’t let go of the tall poppy syndrome or on-going political battles which almost destroyed the Knights on several occasions and they continue to promote any negativity they can about Nathan, be it fact or fiction.”
The statement signed off with the line: “The Knights and Jets are open to fair and balanced criticism of their performance both on and off the field.”
It is fair to say it hasn’t been the best past 12 months for Nathan Tinkler. His Ferrari was stolen and burnt out in Newcastle, his $5.3 billion bid for Whitehaven Coal failed and his businesses have suffered severe cash-flow problems, with many creditors and contractors out of pocket.
Then there has been the sagas with the Jets – the opening day of the season sacking of Jason and Branko Culina, the threat to return the club’s A-League license and then the U-turn, changing the playing strip without consultation and the sacking of the Jets football advisory board.
At the same time financial problems have forced him to try and offload his expensive racing interests and he has embroiled in several legal disputes, including one with horse trainer Anthony Cummins.
A bloke from Muswellbrook and self-made multi-millionaire, Tinkler is big news in his hometown of Newcastle. His moves to save the Jets, buy the Knights, bailout Surfest and bring a netball Test to the city have modeled him as Newcastle’s savior.
Tinkler also set out to create new coal port infrastructure, buy out the GPT development, and bring NBL and WNBL sides to the region, but it hasn’t happened. Wags have dubbed Newcastle ‘Tinkler-castle’ because of the man’s power and influence.
Having a big profile – the biggest – in a city of just over 500,000 brings scrutiny, and that’s where the problems arise.
Tinkler has never had a particularly good relationship with the media, and infamously said to when one journalist when called: “’You’re a f—ing deadbeat, people like me don’t bother with f—ing you. ‘You climb out of your bed every morning for your pathetic hundred grand a year, good luck.” The background of that exchange can be read here.
And while undoubtedly the former electrician has done a lot of good things, especially for the Newcastle sporting fraternity, he has done a lot of worrying and dodgy things as well. He has form to those who are concerned.
Breaking promises, not paying bills, getting sued, sackings without warning and generally doing what he likes whatever the consequences. This of course gets some people’s back up and invites attention. And obviously not all of that attention is going to be positive. And when it comes to professional sporting clubs, emotions fly thick and fast. The hopes and dreams of thousands of fans are at stake.
The Newcastle Herald ran this overview of Tinkler’s tenure at the Knights and Jets back in July.
It outlines some of the concerns the local community has had over HSG’s conduct in the past 12 months.
At the same time The Newcastle Herald has been far from the only media outlet to publish negative or un-flattering stories about Tinkler and his businesses in the past year. The mining magnate and HSG have given fodder to just about every media player in Australia.
The fact is Tinkler and his sports empire have a big PR problem. And banning the only local newspaper in town is hardly going to solve it.
The Newcastle Herald is a former sponsor of the Knights and devotes daily pages and pages of coverage to its local NRL club.
The Jets also receive coverage, perceived by many in football as offering the round ball game the best coverage in a mainstream publication.
The only Newcastle daily paper plays a vital role in providing information and news about the clubs and their players to its readers. It remains a key marketing vehicle for both teams to promote their wares and encourage the public to attend matches.
For those unfamiliar with the former steel city, The Newcastle Herald is easily the biggest media player in town apart from NBN Television, which is part of the Nine Network. NBN News is the dominant TV player and The Herald is the dominant print operation – nothing else, or any other media, comes remotely close.
So blacklisting the largest media force in the region makes little sense.
HSG says the Knights and Jets are open to fair and balanced criticism both on and off the field, but are they really? Have they banned The Daily Telegraph after it ran this article regarding Tinkler allegedly missing player payments, or this one about Tinkler in Singapore?
HSG can end this disappointing mess by simply talking to The Newcastle Herald. If its story was wrong, provide it with the facts. If that doesn’t satisfy them, use your own and other media channels to get your point across.
Engagement and transparency from both sides is the way to end this sad stand-off.
The real loser in all of this is the Jets and Knights supporters, and the Newcastle sporting community in general.
Note from the The Roar:
The Newcastle Herald and Hunter Sports Group were both contacted regarding this opinion piece from our crowd. Hunter Sports Group provided The Roar with additional background information.
Clarification from HSG provided states there is no ban in place, with Herald staff able to attend match-day and post-match press conferences.
Chad Watson, Editor of The Herald, provided this statement:
“The Newcastle Herald always strives to put the interests of our community first. We have a long and proven record of championing the Hunter Valley, its people and its issues.
“The Herald has been a proud supporter of the Newcastle Knights and the Newcastle Jets since the clubs were formed. We still are today and we will continue to be. Even our masthead is blue and red.
“We don’t agree with Hunter Sports Group’s discriminatory stance against the Herald, but that’s Hunter Sports Group’s decision.
“There has been plenty of interest in the fortunes of Nathan Tinkler and his companies — locally, nationally and even internationally.
“The Herald has given a voice to stakeholders from this region who have been affected by those fortunes, for better or worse.
“We are a news organisation, and that’s what we do. As always, we are willing to speak with and listen to all parties involved.
“The Herald stands by the integrity of its journalism and its reporters.
“As you point out, we are not alone. Mr Tinkler and his associated business dealings have made headlines in virtually every media outlet in Australia.”
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