What Fairfax Women Want: Julia! Julia! Julia!

by Tony Thomas

January 4, 2013

“…I will chant again to myself the wise words of one Leslie Knope, ‘I am a goddess, a glorious female warrior. Queen of all that I survey. Enemies of fairness and equality hear my womanly roar!’ — SMH Daily Life Editor Sarah Oakes, October 30, 2012.[i]

The SMH Daily Life’s “poll” last month to establish Australia’s 20 Most Influential Female Voices was certainly not shonky, but it was a bit whiffy. The “poll” was “won” by Prime Minister Gillard and two of her federal ministers, five ABC stalwarts, four left writers, an Aboriginal, a Muslim, a thing (ranked No 9), and five miscellaneous.

The “winners”, as ranked by Daily Life: 1. Julia Gillard; 2. feminist writer Anne Summers; 3. copy-writer, ABC stalwart and self-described ‘feminist/atheist’ Jane Caro; 4. Elizabeth Broderick, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner; 5. Leigh Sales, ABC presenter; 6. Germaine Greer, feminist; 7. Clementine Ford, regular Daily Life columnist; 8. Stella Young, editor ABC’s Ramp Up website; 9. “Destroy the Joint Collective” against conservative broadcaster Alan Jones; 10. Tracey Spicer, Ten News presenter and “outspoken feminist”; 11. Penny Wong, Federal Minister for Finance; 12. Sarah Ferguson, ABC journalist; 13. Nicola Roxon, Attorney-General; 14. Annabel Crabb, Leftist feminist writer; 15. Sophie McNeill, ABC Triple J journalist; 16. Marieke Hardy, left shock-jock writer; 17. Tara Moss, author; 18. Chrissie Swan, radio presenter; 19. Nareen Young, indigenous CEO of Diversity Council Australia; 20. Susan Carland, Muslim convert and Muslim of the Year.

The contest was frequently described by Fairfax sites as a “poll” and is described in the Terms & Conditions as a “vote”.[2] But the top 20 winners were chosen, not elected, by faceless persons (presumably female) associated with the Daily Life feminist section. The selectees were all simpatico with the Daily Life organisers — “in our corner”, as editor Sarah Oakes put it disarmingly…[3]

…Not just “in our corner” but part of Daily Life, in the case of columnist Clementine Ford, ranked No 7 by Daily Life. For heaven’s sake, why didn’t Sarah Oakes choose herself as No 1, or at least No 6 ahead of her junior contributor?

The Prime Minister’s “win” was hailed around the progressive media as a triumph. The reality was that Julia Gillard received “over 500 votes”.[4] This seems a remarkably low number, given the need to vote in the poll was spruiked relentlessly on scores of Fairfax portals and facebooked and tweeted all over the shop. Contrast 500 votes for Gillard with the 100,000-plus votes on the “sack Alan Jones” petition run by same social media two months earlier.[5] (By repeatedly entering the Daily Life poll, as officially permitted, I could have generated 200 votes for Ms Gillard in a comfortable day’s work).

When a Prime Minister is scratching for 500 votes among her strongest supporters – left feminist women – either (a) she’s in trouble or (b) no-one is paying any attention to Fairfax portals and feminist social media. Or (c) both.

The running of the “poll” had elements in common with voting systems employed by African dictatorships: vote, but we decide. Incidentally, voting more than once – even using the same email address – was not merely tolerated but encouraged by Daily Life.[6] (Concurrently, the Terms & Conditions prattled on about ensuring “fairness or integrity or proper conduct” -Clause 38. Work that out).

The few facts about the results disclosed by Daily Life included that “women responded in their thousands” to Daily Life’s call for nominations.[7] There were 2000-plus women nominated by readers; the Prime Minister got “over 500” votes; and the No 2 selectee got half that – presumably 250 votes.

Here’s a few things that were NOT disclosed (at least, not revealed by my online searching):

The number of reader responses (necessarily including multiple votes by the same person)
The exact number of votes, including multiple votes, that Ms Gillard got
Whether the No 2 woman by votes was Anne Summers, or whether Daily Life merely selected Summers (regardless of her vote ranking) because they adored her.
How many votes each of the next 18 women selectees got. For example, did Marieke Hardy (placed No 16 by Daily Life) get two votes, ten votes or 20 votes? The number would have to be tiny, given that No 2 (presumably Summers) got only 250 votes.
Were higher-ranking women nominees by votes jettisoned by Daily Life because such women (hypothetically Julie Bishop, Miranda Devine, Judith Sloan) were NOT in the same “corner” as Daily Life’s controllers?
As the contest stipulated, no correspondence about the results will be entered into (Clause 31).

I ran for BRW Magazine an annual best-bank foreign exchange poll for about 15 years, an interest-risk management poll for about five years, and a best-stockbroker poll for close to a decade. With each, I set out for readers our precise methodology and provided the total raw results (minus voter identification) to any bank or broker who asked. Daily Life adopted a lesser standard of disclosure, a tad better than what I would expect from North Korea.

The Daily Life exercise was not a trivial affair, and it dovetailed beautifully with the electoral spin of Ms Gillard’s flack-meister John McTernan. The Prime Minister gave an exclusive interview to the SMH’s worshipful Jacqueline Maley, published on December 11, coinciding with and mentioning Daily Life “poll” results. This interview was front-page news around the country.

Also on December 11, the results of a real poll, The Australian’s Newspoll, were announced. This showed, among other things, Ms Gillard’s approval rating down 1 point to 36%, and disapproval at 52%. The Age’s Judith Ireland and Michelle Grattan were happy to mingle the two poll stories, quoting Daily Life’s view that Ms Gillard’s ‘misogyny’ speech [defending Speaker Peter Slipper] was “a watershed moment for women in this country”.[8]

Ms Gillard the previous evening (Dec 10) had hosted a soiree for 25 women bloggers and web writers (below) at Kirribilli House “as she gears up to use gender issues to maximum advantage in the coming election year” according to Ireland and Grattan. Among the acolytes attending were Daily Life’s controller Sarah Oakes, and “poll” winners Anne Summers, Daily Life’s Clementine Ford, Marieke Hardy, Chrissie Swan, and maybe others.[9]

A few days later, bathed in the lingering euphoria, Anne Summers wrote for the SMH, “It is probably impossible to overestimate the admiration and affection for Gillard among women, especially young women, after her ”sexism and misogyny” speech in Parliament in October.”[10] (My emphasis). That’s telling them, Anne! However, a month after the Prime Minister’s misogyny speech, Ms Gillard’s overall satisfaction rating via Newspoll was 37% and dissatisfaction rating 52%. In the three months to October (before the misogyny speech), Ms Gillard’s net satisfaction rating (approvers minus disapprovers) even among women voters was minus 23.[11]

To help influence the result desired by Daily Life, the on-line voting form included pictures of 24 women selected by Sarah Oakes & Co. The Daily Life’s suggestions on who to vote for, were (with the 12 winners selected by Daily Life in bold) Olivia Rousset, Jane Caro, Eva Cox, Leigh Sales, Quentin Bryce, Marie Bashir, Kate Ellis, Julie Bishop, Annabel Crabb, Nicola Roxon, Clementine Ford, Julia Gillard, Anne Summers, Nareen Young, Penny Wong, Catherine Deveney, Susan Carland, Tanya Plibersek, Germaine Greer, Marieke Hardy, Anna Funder. (I couldn’t identify three women from their pics).[12] It must have hurt the selectors to throw a few of their pets, like feminist Eva Cox, under a bus.[13] Oakes & Co also had to grit teeth and whittle down the Labor federal ministers from their short list of five out of 20 to a mere three.

Did the SMH poll observe all legal niceties? Of course, and I have no intention of complaining about the poll to the NSW Office of Fair Trading. However, I find curious one aspect of the poll, involving a valuable consideration. To whip up votes and nominations from the masses, and garner personal details for data-base marketing, the organisers offered as a prize one of those female-friendly iPad minis, worth $554.[14]

The poll’s official website says, and repeats the claim in numerous satellite websites of Fairfax publications, that people who enter the poll stand to win the iPad mini, which will be “drawn”, i.e. it’s a lottery-like process.

Here’s the official website:

All you need to do to cast your vote is click here and tell us who you would like to nominate and why she’s earned your vote. You’ll also be entered in to the draw to win an iPad Mini.[15]

Here’s just one of the dozens of mastheads in Fairfax Regional Media touting the prize: “Click here to nominate — you’ll also be entered into the draw to win an iPad Mini.[16] (Note by the way that some of the Fairfax regionals only wanted you to “help curate” the list of women, a welcome bit of frankness).

Now click through to bring up the formal terms and conditions for the iPad prize, and you find this:

3. The competition is a game of skill. Chance plays no part in determining the winner.

8. Entries will be judged on merit and creativity of nomination.

26. Each valid entrant … will be entered into the prize determination. One (1) valid entrant will be judged based on originality and creative merit to become the winner. The prize determination will take place at Fairfax Media Limited of 1 Darling Island Road, Pyrmont, NSW 2009, on Tuesday 11th December, 2012 and will be conducted by a panel of judges from Fairfax Media Limited. [17]

In quantum mechanics, it is possible for a weeny thing to be and not be, and to be in two places at once. The Fairfax “poll” behaved like that. On the one hand, it was a lottery for an iPad mini with your entry “drawn”, maybe out of a e-hat. On the other hand, it was a competition for an iPad mini like the Man Booker Prize or the Miles Franklin Award, a high-brow Fairfax contest judged on entrants’ literary breakthroughs and sublime renderings of the aesthetic and political imagination.

Every entry, under the latter formulation, would be assessed (Clause 26). The judges were pledged to assemble and adjudicate at Fairfax headquarters on Tuesday December 11, a bare day after the poll closed at a minute to midnight on December 10.

What a task! If there were 2000 separate women nominated, and Ms Gillard alone got 500 votes, maybe the average vote per nominated woman was 10, so the entries to assess totalled 20,000. I imagine these judges – I estimate 10 were required – returning home at 4.30a.m. haggard and red-eyed from their labors.[18]

I can appreciate why the Terms & Conditions have omitted the usual clause saying when and where the winner would be publicly announced – such clauses functioning as a probity check. (For example, Get Wines Direct has numerous competitions and invariably commits to publishing the winners’ names). Imagine The Australian’s Cut & Paste getting hold of the Fairfax winner’s laudatory essay to Ms Gillard and making fun of it!

I emailed Fairfax’s legal department on December 14 to clarify once and for all whether this competition was for skill or just a lottery? If a lottery, were the relevant State regulations on lotteries complied with?

If a skill competition, who comprised the panel of judges and did they meet on Tuesday December 11 at Fairfax headquarters to determine the winner?

Who won the iPad mini? From my on-line research, this person has apparently never been publicly named by Fairfax. If so, is this irregular?[19]

My email to Fairfax made it crystal clear that I was writing an article for Quadrant about the Daily Life poll. After some vicissitudes, I received a reply on December 21 as follows, from Lindy Palmer, Paralegal, Legal & Company Secretarial, Fairfax Media:

Dear Mr Thomas,

Thank you for the enquiry about Fairfax Media’s Daily Life search for Australia’s Most Influential Female Voice competition which ran from 26 November 2012 to 10 December 2012.

It is not normal practice for competition promoters to enter into correspondence regarding competition results. However, I can confirm that the competition was properly conducted, in accordance with the Terms and Conditions, and that our statutory obligations were met.

It was not entirely clear from your correspondence whether your enquiry was made with an intention to publish a story. If that is the case, you should direct any further correspondence to Fairfax’s Manager of Communications, Brad Hatch…

Regards
Lindy Palmer

I emailed Brad Hatch on December 23 with the same queries, a bit close to Christmas I admit. After no reply, I rang him on January 3 and he said, “We don’t have anything more to say than Lindy Palmer’s response to you. We maintain we have complied with all the relevant terms.” His official response was: “The competition was properly conducted, in accordance with the Terms and Conditions, and our statutory obligations were met.”

I made a special plea to Hatch to tell me if the winner had been publicly named. He said he would get back to me on that.

So, taking Fairfax’s Ms Lindy Palmer at her word, as any gentleman should, and respecting Brad Hatch’s confirmation, it appears that the Daily Life crowd incorrectly advertised the iPad competition as a lottery to be “drawn” when in fact creative skill and not chance determined the winner. In that case countless thousands of contestants were probably misled into not bothering to exercise their creative and descriptive talents, leaving a limited pool of knowing contestants to add their literary flourishes and get on the inside track to win the prize. As a bush lawyer, I’d say the contest was administratively flawed and every entrant must be given another chance to win a Fairfax iPad mini. Or to save arguments, Fairfax could give every contestant an iPad mini to atone for its blunder. As the Office of Fair Trading requires, “Such promotions must be run fairly.”[20]

After all, you can often read in Fairfax papers those abject corrections and grovels by supermarkets and whitegoods stores, saying they had misstated the price of a can of tuna by 5c or forgotten to mention the advertised washing machine was without the green flashing light. How much worse was it for Daily Life to misadvertise to thousands of competitors that the iPad prize would be “drawn” when it was actually a talent contest? Suppose it was not an humble iPad prize but a new 2012-model Volkswagen Golf? Do not our regulatory guardians take an interest in these cases?

To wrap all this up , the “poll” was not shonky (depending how you define “shonky”) and the terms for the iPad prize were a little mysterious, and onerous for the judges. Apart from that, it was another great effort by Fairfax’s femmes, marketers, lawyers and flacks. Congrats to the “winners”, oops, “selectees”. #

Tony Thomas claims to be one of Australia’s Top 20 Influential Men’s Voices.

[1] http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/the-art-of-comment-moderation-20121029-28eu9.html

[2] Clause 6 at http://www.dailylife.com.au/supported-content-1/australias-most-influential-female-voice–terms-and-conditions-20121123-29xsu.html

[3] http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/the-20-most-influential-female-voices-of-2012-20121210-2b55h.html

[4] http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/julia-gillard-the-full-interview-20121205-2av6q.html

[5] Caro “spear-headed” the Destroy the Joint movement. http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/destroying-the-joint-on-the-way-to-the-postpatriarchy-20120903-25a7h.html

[6] “Entrants in the competition may enter as many times as they like.” Terms & Conditions.

[7] http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/political-news/swan-first-twigged-my-speech-was-scorcher-says-gillard-20121210-2b5q5.html

[8] http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/labor-dips-in-polls-20121211-2b6m8.html

[9] A group photo is at http://egovau.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/prime-minister-starting-to-leverage.html

[10] http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/gillard-working-her-womenfocus-mojo-20121214-2bfgo.html#ixzz2Gnk7rvmi

[11] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/what-about-the-prime-ministers-problem-with-men/story-e6frg75f-1226488508275

[12] I and my co-opted helpers may also have misidentified some of the women in the pictures.

[13] Cox also featured as a pet in a Daily Life “inspiring women” selection last March 8:

“The sociologist, social commentator and feminist mother hen remains thoroughly modern at 74, and is still one of Australia’s most ‘right on’ voices when it comes to all matters gender politics”.

http://www.dailylife.com.au/photogallery/news-and-views/21-women-to-admire-20120307-1uk8c.html

[14] see Clause 39 of Terms & Conditions re marketing

[15] http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/vote-for-australias-most-influential-female-voices-20121105-28tyw.html

[16] e.g., via the Moree Champion bi-weekly — http://www.moreechampion.com.au/story/1144994/here-comes-a-new-generation-of-feisty-gifted-women/

[17] http://www.dailylife.com.au/supported-content-1/australias-most-influential-female-voice–terms-and-conditions-20121123-29xsu.html

[18] 20,000 entries assessed at 100 per hour = 200 person-hours during a 20 hour period = 10 judges needed.

[19] The Terms & Conditions explicitly require entrants’ consent to disclosure of their particulars, hence no privacy issue can be involved (Clause 39).

[20] http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/Businesses/Advertising_and_marketing/Special_offers_and_competitions.html

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