'I hate journalists and I'm over the mainstream media': ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr
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'I hate journalists and I'm over the mainstream media': ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has declared he is "over" the mainstream media and "hates journalists".

Mr Barr, speaking to communications specialists at a "meet the buyer" event at the ACT parliament on Thursday, set out his new plans to bypass traditional media.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr: I hate journalists and I'm over the mainstream media.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr: I hate journalists and I'm over the mainstream media.

Photo: Karleen Minney

"It is a very clear and deliberate strategy for change, it has the backing of my government, my administration," he said in a recording of the event leaked to The Canberra Times, challenging the communications companies to come up with contentious and risky ideas.

"And if the word of the chief minister is anything in this context, let me be absolutely crystal clear about our intention to both resource this and to deliver this change. It has to happen. We're going to make it happen," he said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr addressing journalists at an announcement about the arrival of the UNSW in Canberra last year.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr addressing journalists at an announcement about the arrival of the UNSW in Canberra last year.

Photo: karleen minney
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Mr Barr told the group he had been "blunt and frank" in delivering the same message to "everyone within the communications area of government".

"It is absolutely clear to me that that is the way forward and that is the path that we are going to be pursuing over the next few years."

Mr Barr began his remarks by saying he would start with some "frank statements that may or not shock some people in the room". "I hate journalists. I'm over dealing with the mainstream media as a form of communication with the people of Canberra. What passes for a daily newspaper in this city is a joke and it will be only a matter of years before it closes down," he said.

Mr Barr claimed the average age of viewers of the ABC television 7pm news bulletin was in the mid-60s, and the circulation of the print edition of The Canberra Times was less than 15,000.

In this file photo from 2010, then- education minister Andrew Barr refers to The Canberra Times education coverage in praising the performance of Canberra Schools.

In this file photo from 2010, then- education minister Andrew Barr refers to The Canberra Times education coverage in praising the performance of Canberra Schools.

Photo: Gary Schafer GCS

Most Canberrans did not consume traditional media, Mr Barr said, referring to the relative youth of the wider community with half of Canberrans aged under 34. It is a recurring theme of Mr Barr's that older Canberrans have a disproportionate say, including last week when he hit out at the opposition of "a certain generation of Canberrans" to tall buildings.

"We need to completely overhaul the way we communicate as a government and that's exactly what we're doing," he told the communications specialists. "My challenge to everyone in this room is to be at the cutting edge of communication, to put up contentious, risky and interesting ideas about how we can communicate ...

Andrew Barr after presenting outgoing ABC radio host Genevieve Jacobs with flowers last year: The average age of ABC television news viewers is the mid-60s, he says.

Andrew Barr after presenting outgoing ABC radio host Genevieve Jacobs with flowers last year: The average age of ABC television news viewers is the mid-60s, he says.

"No idea should be too crazy ... We wont accept every single one of them but we definitely have to change how we engage."

The government wanted to hear directly from Canberrans and communicate directly back to them, "not through the filter of journalists, and particularly through the filter of print journalists, which is a dying industry", he said, inviting ideas for digital, video and creative content that would "completely sweep aside the reputation that Canberra has for being bureaucratic and dull".

Fairfax Media said Canberra was well served by its independent media, including Fairfax's own publications.

"Those held to account by the media often find it not to their liking," the company said in response. "It is worth remembering the profound words of the United States Supreme Court in its landmark decision on media freedom to report – for the protection of 'the governed not the governors'."

Mr Barr has had an uneasy relationship with the media and has often criticised The Canberra Times, frequently refusing to deal directly with its political reporters.

He has also refused to deal with other groups which have upset him, including Clubs ACT, which ran a campaign against his government at the 2016 election. Last year, he blasted Clubs ACT as "a wreckage and a joke" and vowed to no longer deal with the industry group that represents clubs. Instead, he said he would negotiate with the breakaway clubs group organised by the CFMEU-linked Tradies clubs.

In June 2016, he told estimates he had taken "great pleasure" in cancelling his subscription to "the daily rag", to which his then minister, Joy Burch, said she had cancelled hers "years ago". Mr Barr's office said at the time that he read the paper on his ipad so no longer needed the hard copy, which was in any case "always available in the office".

At one stage in 2017, Mr Barr locked down his Twitter account.

He began talking about his desire to bypass special interest groups after the government was forced to back down on the bid to redevelop Manuka Oval and when he hit opposition to the West Basin redevelopment.

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Asked for comment on Friday, Mr Barr's spokeswoman said he had long believed that government communications must rapidly adapt to the changing needs of audiences and embrace new technologies and more direct ways of communicating.

"The Chief Minister was challenging communications professionals to challenge us, inspire us and go beyond the ordinary and think of new ways to reach our diverse community given the decline of the traditional media," she said.

Kirsten Lawson

Kirsten Lawson is news director at The Canberra Times

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