On 21 September we ran a story under the headline “200 free Land Rovers for RSLs“.
FILE PHOTO (November 2013): An Australian Army Land Rover lands on a beach in the Philippines during Op Philippines Assist. Photo by Corporal Jake Sims (digitally altered by CONTACT).
I now have to confess that the word ‘free’ was an assumption on my part, which I have today been made aware is incorrect.
However, in my defence, the minister’s press release says the vehicles “will be offered” and “made available” in time for Anzac Day – with no mention of cost. My humble brain made the erroneous assumption that this was in fact a ‘gifting’ of vehicles to a well-known veterans’ charity.
While the press release didn’t actually say ‘free’ or ‘gift’, I note The Australian Newspaper, reporting from the same press release said, “Hundreds of ex-military vehicles have been gifted to the RSL”.
So even that esteemed newspaper made a different but related erroneous (and forgivable?) assumption based on available facts – i.e. the press release, devoid of one key and obvious fact.
It’s also interesting (I think) that The Australian and CONTACT appear (after extensive Google searching) to be the only media outlets to report this story at all – even though there was a semi-glamorous ‘hand-over’ event staged at the Australian War Memorial.
The ‘hand-over’ event was attended by a senior RSL representative (although that’s also an assumption on my part, since there was zero caption details on the AWM photos), an unnamed Army brigadier, AWM Director Brendan Nelson (also unnamed, but I know him by sight), several soldiers and a handful of civilians.
Interesting too that the AWM’s Facebook page (and Flickr account) reported the ‘hand-over’ event, but Mr Chester’s otherwise very prolific Facebook page didn’t. Nor did the RSL National Facebook page.
A bit sad that – after all the effort (and expense) of staging an event.
Anyway, I was alerted to my error today by an RSL sub branch who followed instructions and expressed their interest in receiving a Land Rover.
In their initial email to the relevant authority, this sub branch never mentioned the word ‘free’ or ‘gift’ – yet the response they received said, “Note, the Land Rovers are being sold, not gifted” – but still no mention of cost.
I’m assuming (though that’s dangerous – obviously) the relevant authority has probably been inundated with expressions of interest in ‘free’ Land Rovers 😉
While I freely admit to an error of assumption (and fact-based reporters shouldn’t really assume anything), I will argue in my defence that my error may be both understandable and forgivable under the circumstances.
Those circumstance being that a salient and obvious fact was omitted from the minister’s press release.
Whether deliberate or in error, a real consequence of the omission was that Mr Chester was hailed and thanked and thought of as a good bloke, a champion, a generous minister (compared to the ‘rest of them‘).
If that obvious fact was included, on the other hand, there may well have been less kudos – or worse, if he was perceived to be taking money out of the charity bucket.
My cynical head says the omission was deliberate, for the above reasons.
While Spin Doctoring 101 might say ‘make your minister look good’, Spin Doctoring 102 would surely say, ‘thou shalt not get caught (especially in obvious errors)’.
Which goes double for the reporter who assumed too much 😉
Minister Chester’s office was contacted for comment on 11 October and provided the following response on the 17th.
“The Land Rovers, which are normally sold for an average of $12,000 per vehicle, are being offered to RSLs for $6,180 (exclusive of GST), on a cost recovery basis, which is the cost of servicing, respraying and other work required to ensure that the vehicles are safe and roadworthy prior to transfer of ownership. Cost recovery ensures that this important work can continue. Each vehicle will be provided with a New South Wales roadworthy certificate.
More than 80 RSLs have submitted an initial Expression of Interest (EOI) since the Minister’s announcement.
Contact details were also provided on the media release distributed by the Minister and the Department of Defence. The Minister’s office and Department always welcome questions should news outlets or members of the public require further details.”
The last line essentially means “if we don’t include obvious and salient facts (which inclusion might make our minister look less generous), you people should do your job properly and ask for clarification via our office”.
But CONTACT did do that (belatedly), and it took six days to get a simple and fact-based answer!!!!
That’s not acceptable to me or any other reporter.
Nor should it be acceptable to the minister, who has suffered through the overwhelmingly bad publicity dished up by CONTACT 😉 – plus the erroneous and never-to-be-corrected erroneous reporting in The Australian.