Mark Latham gets front page billing and Lisa Pryor gets no apology

Yesterday The Sydney Morning Herald published an evocative photograph of the cricketer Phillip Hughes surrounded by his teammates, just after sustaining a serious head injury, on the front page. The decision angered some and sparked a wave of discussion on social media. Just after lunch the newspaper's editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir published a thoughtful and considered explanation for running the image. 

Compare that respectful and prompt response to readers' feedback with Goodsir's equivalent at The Australian Financial Review.

Almost a week after publishing a column by Mark Latham that the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists described as "concerning" in relation to mental health, Michael Stutchbury responded to Lisa Pryor's request for an apology. 

His response? There would be no apology. Pryor has told Women's Agenda she is disappointed.

"As a former opinion editor I completely appreciate what a disgrace it is that something so malicious and defamatory could make it into any newspaper let alone a newspaper of the Financial Review's standing," Pryor said.

Last night she tweeted that this is the beginning of her correspondence with the paper on this matter, not the end. As it should be.

Today, the same newspaper has afforded Latham a spot on its front page, no less, to "hit back at his feminist critics". Note how they didn't mention the succession of psychiatrists, psychologists, peak bodies for psychiatry or mental health who were among those who levelled criticism at the paper for the claims Latham made? 'Feminist critics' sounds so much less legitimate.

Of course this is opportunistic; Latham's column has delivered the newspaper tremendous traffic. Why would they deny him and themselves another bite at that apple? It seems they won't. It's disgraceful because the newspaper has an obligation to report sensitively, responsibly and accurately about mental health. And they have failed on all three counts. But, apparently, that is of little concern to the paper's editor.

Whenever someone's published opinion is criticised it's inevitable that some people will argue "free speech" as a defence for publication. Free speech exists to an extent in Australia but the relevant point is that not all speech is equal. Not every Australian is offered a platform in a national publication to exercise their free speech; so the impact of what is written by those who do enjoy that privilege is amplified. There is no question that Latham is entitled to his views, but there is a question about whether his views deserve a national platform.

And that question is pertinent given the broarder context. Today, sitting alongside Latham's column is a column by Helen Conway that is as insightful, accurate and constructive as Latham's is narrow, inaccurate and unconstructive. Guess which one received front page billing?

The contrast between the two columns is particularly stark given the subject matter. While Latham once takes aim at women who dare to work and discuss the realities of parenting, Conway examines why despite discussing the issue of gender equality in corporate Australia for 20 years, little has changed. "Australian women are among the most educated in the world yet are also among the most underutilised in the world," Conway writes. Despite the talk Australian companies don't have a strategy for gender equality.

Is it any wonder when the newspaper for "corporate Australia" chooses to publish a columnist who habitually denigrates working women? Pages 50 and 51 in today's Financial Review paint a clear picture and it isn't pretty. Last week I asked if the Financial Review doesn't like women. It seems I was right.

Georgina Dent

Georgina Dent is a former editor of Women's Agenda, she is also an editor, journalist and former lawyer. 

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