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.
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 said “…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].”
“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.”
Ms Sheftalovich confirmed to Real Estate Business that she did not telephone Mr Ramadge.
Mr Gearin said in an earlier Real Estate Business article that the CHOICE article was “a pretty outrageous slur on our professionalism and independence.”
“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 had been accused by CHOICE of gaining favourable editorial.
“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.”
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.”
Mr Toop rejected the claim.
“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.
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 ... on the website.”