The Northern Territory Government has declined to comment on claims by a former NT News political reporter that the Government was party to a secret arrangement with the newspaper.
Christopher Walsh, whose employment contract at the publication was terminated on October 19 last year, is suing News Corp Australia subsidiary Nationwide News and NT News editor, Matt Williams, for unfair dismissal.
The media company said it “strongly refutes” Mr Walsh’s allegations it was involved in a “blind-copying arrangement,” in which the reporters questions to the Government, and their responses, would be “secretly shared” with the NT News editor and the publication’s general manager, Greg Thomson.
In documents filed in the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney, Mr Walsh claims the arrangement was suggested by Mr Thomson and reached during a dinner discussion about government advertising in the NT News.
He alleges the discussion involved the chief executive of the Department of Chief Minister, Jodie Ryan, the chief operating officer of publishing at News Corp Australia, Damian Eales, as well as Mr Williams and Mr Thomson.
Mr Walsh alleges the arrangement was “to the effect that (his) questions to the NT Government and Public Service, and the responses to those emails, would be secretly shared by Ms Ryan with Mr Williams and Mr Thomson.”
He alleges Ms Ryan “did not like the exposure from articles written by (Mr Walsh) in which she was held accountable to the public”.
Mr Walsh claims he was unfairly sacked because he raised concerns with his managers about the alleged blind-copying arrangement, as well as a separate alleged request from the editor to the Office of the Chief Minister over a contempt of court charge involving another reporter.
‘Blind-copying arrangement undermined democracy’
News Corp Australia and the NT News have strongly refuted the claims made by Mr Walsh.
“As the matter is currently before the court, we have no further comment,” the media company said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Northern Territory Government, which has not a respondent to the case, said it would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal matter.
The court documents state that on October 5 last year Mr Walsh became aware, through a conversation with Mr Williams, that the editor had been blind-copied into a response to questions Mr Walsh had sent to the Department of Housing.
Mr Walsh alleges that three days later, the NT News decided not to publish one of his stories, because, the court documents state, Mr Williams was “under pressure from the top”.
The following day, Mr Walsh claims he was informed about the blind-copying arrangement from the communications director in the Office of the Chief Minister, whom Mr Walsh says assured him would not continue because “it undermined the media”.
Mr Walsh claims he then had a meeting with Mr Thomson, who allegedly informed him the arrangement was made at a dinner in July or August.
The court papers state the reporter then sent an email to Mr Thomson and Mr Williams to complain that the blind-copying arrangement was “a threat to [his] integrity as a political reporter” and “an infringement of the freedom of the press and undermined democracy”.
Reporter says sacking resulted in ‘dislocation of life’
On October 16, Mr Walsh says he was told to attend a disciplinary meeting in relation to a complaint from the head of the Department of Housing.
Two days later, Mr Walsh says he had to attend a second disciplinary meeting over his complaint about the blind-copying arrangement.
Then on October 19, he was sacked.
Mr Walsh says the Notice of Termination “expressly referred to the email” in which he complained about the blind-copying arrangement.
Mr Walsh claims his sacking contravened the Fair Work Act, was a breach of his employment contract and damaged his “professional and personal reputation,” leading to “pain, suffering, stress, anxiety, humiliation and dislocation of life”.
He is seeking orders that the company reinstate him to his previous position and remunerate him for lost earnings.
The matter will go before the court on February 5.
Disclosure: Mr Walsh has been an observer of ABC Radio Darwin’s programs this week.