CHOICE denies targeting real estate industry

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has rejected claims that its recent article on the relationship between newspapers and real estate advertisers was targeted at the real estate industry, and was instead aimed at highlighting the newspapers where “there is no disclosure when vested interests arise.”

“Consumers are unaware of the source of the information that they are reading, and in some cases advertorial masquerades as editorial,” the author of the report, Zoya Sheftalovich, investigative journalist - news, at CHOICE, told Real Estate Business.

“We have cited examples of this occurring throughout our article.”

The CHOICE article mentioned Fairfax’s The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age; The Courier (Ballarat); The Australian; The Daily Telegraph (Sydney); The Courier Mail (Brisbane) and Adelaide Now (website of the Adelaide Advertiser).

“Through this investigation, CHOICE has found the distinction between advertising and editorial in the real estate press is largely absent,” the organisation claimed in its ‘real estate’s influence on newspapers’ investigation, published on October 19.

“The relationship between media and real estate is apparently so cosy in some instances that big spenders are kept happy at all costs.”

CHOICE said it had identified examples of journalists using real estate professionals as “everyday men and women in positive news stories” in positive property market articles; perks being given to real estate advertisers; and no room for criticism of advertisers.

Ms Sheftalovich said the claim made in the Real Estate Business article that Fairfax’s editorial team hadn’t been contacted in the course of her investigation was incorrect.

She told Real Estate Business that “…in the article, you quote Peter Gearin, sections editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun Herald, who told Real Estate Business that CHOICE did not contact him to check the claims made in the [article]."

“On Monday the 12th of September at 1:00pm I sent an email simultaneously to editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge and Tony Blamey seeking comment for the story,” Ms Sheftalovich said. “One hour later, Mr Blamey rang me on the number I provided. Mr Ramadge, the editor in chief of The Age, the publication I was inquiring about, never returned my email or phoned me.

“Mr Blamey would have been aware of the fact that I attempted to contact Mr Ramadge, as both were included in the same email request for comment.”

Ms Sheftalovich confirmed to Real Estate Business that she did not telephone Mr Ramadge.

Mr Gearin said in the earlier Real Estate Business article that the CHOICE article was “a pretty outrageous slur on our professionalism and independence, something that we value very much. Not only in the Domain area but across all the different areas where we practice journalism.

“To suggest that somehow we’re at the beck and call of the commercial arm of the company is ridiculous.”

Ms Sheftalovich also took exception to the claim in the Real Estate Business article that Anthony Toop, who also appeared in the CHOICE article, had been accused in the CHOICE article of gaining favourable editorial in The Advertiser.

“You state that: ‘Anthony Toop, managing director at Toop&Toop in Adelaide, was another to appear in the report, accused of gaining favourable editorial coverage,’ she said.

“Mr Toop is not being accused of anything,” she continued. “CHOICE did however find several favourable mentions about Mr Toop in Adelaide Now, and noted that Toop & Toop is one of the larger advertisers in the Adelaide Advertiser. Furthermore, the claims being made were of a general nature.

“Mr Toop also claims that the article in question appeared in the Sunday Mail. While the article may have also appeared in that publication, it most certainly appeared on Adelaide Now.”

The CHOICE report refered to an article which focused on Anthony Toop's return to the real estate industry after a six-month hiatus, sporting "a head of flowing hair, rendering him almost unrecognisable.”

Immediately following this, the CHOICE report said: "And this is by no means a one off. So why is it that a new haircut or a real estate agent's birthday is news in a capital city newspaper? You need only look to the back pages to find out, says Angelo Karantonis, a property expert, and associate professor of the School of the Built Environment at the University of Technology Sydney.

“Take note of the names of the agents and agencies they’re referring to. Then have a look at the ads at the back – the ones who advertise a lot are the ones who get the write-ups. If Joe Bloggs Real Estate advertises a quarter of a page once in a blue moon, he won’t get editorial.”

In the Real Estate Business article, Mr Toop rejected the claim he gained favourable press coverage.

“Apart from articles directly related to local real estate issues, getting Toop-based editorial into The Advertiser has been extremely frustrating, even when we believe the story is genuinely newsworthy,” he said.

“We have had so much difficulty getting editorial we established our award winning ‘InsideStory’ column and blog, and we completely fund this. In October 2009 we set up the first ‘online real estate TVs’ with Toop.TV , a weekly live and interactive real estate show to get our message out.”

When asked if CHOICE would publish Mr Toop's and Fairfax's comments from the Real Estate Business article, Ms Sheftalovich said they “are welcome to get in touch with me directly [by telephone] or via email, and can also leave a comment on the story that appears on the website if they'd prefer that option.

“They are also welcome to email our editor…[we] can discuss their concerns and any issues that have been raised directly, and if there is clarification that needs to be made then I am able to do that, after consultation with them and with my editor.”

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