The Labor Party's advertising agency has been offering ''exclusive'' interviews with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in exchange for free pro-Labor advertising and editorial on youth websites.
The deal, which also encouraged journalists to produce ''entertaining content on the theme of the inadequacy of the Liberal NBN plan'', had been rejected on ethical grounds by Fairfax Media's popular culture website, TheVine. Two other youth-focused websites - Vice and Pedestrian.tv - were briefed on the interview but Pedestrian.tv were not asked to provide free advertising.
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Jonathan Swan explains what went wrong when an advertising agency sought to barter access to the PM for pro-Labor reporting.
The ad agency has been sacked on the orders of Mr Rudd.
Pedestrian.tv director Chris Wirasinha said Naked Communications had not demanded they give away free advertising for the Labor Party in exchange for interview access.
''That probably would be a deal-breaker, running an interview surrounded by Labor ads,'' Mr Wirasinha said.
''We have never done a deal like that . . . Whether you’re the Prime Minister or Brad Pitt, we don't give free ads in return for access to talent.''
Vice has not responded to a Fairfax Media request for comment.
The deal was being spruiked by Naked Communications, the online and youth-focused advertising agency for Labor's campaign.
Labor's national secretary, George Wright, who is in charge of the election campaign, said he had never seen the advertising-for-access deal, despite the document carrying Labor Party branding. Mr Wright said the actions of the advertising agency were ''completely unacceptable'' and he would apologise personally to the editor involved in the negotiations.
Initially Mr Wright said he would keep employing Naked, but later said the agency had been sacked. The decision was taken by Mr Rudd. A spokesman said: ''He won’t tolerate this sort of behaviour.''
Earlier a spokeswoman for Mr Rudd had said: ''The actions of Naked Communications were conducted without the authority or knowledge of the Prime Minister, or his office.''
However, emails obtained by Fairfax Media suggest the Prime Minister’s office was informed of the negotiations.
After being told his deal for access to Mr Rudd was unethical, Naked Communications executive Nick Kavanagh discussed a compromise arrangement with TheVine’s editor, Alyx Gorman.
''No news from the [Prime Minister's Office] as yet but we'll keep you updated,'' Mr Kavanagh wrote.
Both Labor and Naked Communications said that communication with the Prime Minister's Office did not take place.
The briefing document carries Labor branding and lists the conditions for the ''Kevin interview''.
An advertising executive described the document as ''gobsmacking''. In exchange for 10 minutes ''one-on-one'' with Mr Rudd, it encouraged editors to give away advertising space on websites and networks for youth-focused advertising (related to Labor's election campaign), produce ''entertaining content on the theme of the inadequacy of the Liberal NBN plan'', provide ''inventory and/or editorial for upcoming campaign activity'', and provide ''access to pro-Labor or pro-NBN talent''.
Naked Communications' head of strategy, Brett Rolfe, said the briefing document was prepared internally and ''not discussed, authorised or reviewed by the ALP''.
Since being contacted by Fairfax Media, Mr Rolfe said Labor had advised him that ''the matters outlined in the document are not to be progressed''.
Emails reveal that Mr Kavanagh pushed the bargain vigorously with the editor of TheVine.
After being told it was ''not appropriate'' to demand free advertising in exchange for access to Mr Rudd, Mr Kavanagh replied: ''To be honest we're pretty disappointed that you would be unable to facilitate this . . . We have offered your organisation a unique opportunity . . . yet you're unable to provide us with any advertising support in return?''
Gorman said she was "shocked" by the demand. ''If the Kardashians asked for bag advertisements in exchange for an interview with Kim, I would laugh and hang up the phone,'' she said. ''There is no one in the world we would do that for.''
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