Stedman Ellis’s John Butler Rant Worrying Sign For WA Media

by Smoko Henderson

Last weekend Stedman Ellis, the western CEO of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), attacked John Butler in an opinion piece in The Sunday Times, which was also partially copied to Perth Now.

At best, Stedman’s opinion piece is misdirected, at worst, it is absurd.

(I did not know John Butler was still around.)

He has taken issue with a facebook post from John Butler regarding a protest against some onshore gas establishment, and uses that facebook post to launch into an attack on Butler, haphazardly working in PR for WA industry and also existential considerations about the role of crude oil in John Butler’s career.

Some of it is predictable: “Onshore gas has the potential to be an important driver of jobs and regional development in WA.”

Other parts are somewhat less refined: “That’s right. Without petroleum, John Butler would most likely still be busking on a street corner in Fremantle.”

That Stedman Ellis isn’t a fan of John Butler isn’t surprising, and that he is capable of writing thoughts into a semi-structured rant like anyone else is not what I take issue with here.

The worrying thing here is the implications behind this opinion piece in the face of SevenWest Media’s acquistion of The Sunday Times. The owner of SevenWest, Kerry Stokes, has his own invested interests in exploratory petroleum operations via his separate company, Australian Capital Equity.

It isn’t illegal for a media CEO with mining investments to give a CEO mate in mining a word in the paper, and I’m not suggesting it should be, neither party have done anything wrong legally, but as someone who reads the news, endorses criticism of the state government, and isn’t a CEO, it’s honestly just fucking worrying.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time a fob opinion piece has popped up disguised as news, but the only legitimate news element is that John Butler posted something to facebook, and I would argue it isn’t really news that John Butler is against oil and gas. The worrying thing here is that clearly, an agreement has been brokered somewhere to publish Ellis’s piece in the first place. This is hardly conspiratorial, given that we are still ultimately a small town.

Running with the headline “Stedman Ellis: Why John Butler is off key over oil and gas exploration,” the editors at The Sunday Times were sensible enough to whack it into the opinion section, but that’s as much reserve as the reader gets. I should acknowledge that ultimately, outrage gets more views than integrity-bound journalism, and the fact I’m talking about shows that the strategy works – but it is a worrying reflection of the kind of interests that will be reflected in a WA media monopoly.

For the record, I’m not suggesting that if had crude oil never been refined, John Butler couldn’t play instruments and be famous, though I would advise Stedman Ellis to consider the longevity of wooden instruments throughout time.