04.No room for criticism
The relationship between media and real estate is apparently so cosy in some instances that big spenders are kept happy at all costs – even if it means forcing journalists to toe the line or rejecting competitors’ advertising dollars.
Terry Ryder says he resigned from The Courier Mail in the late 1990s because he wasn't able to write freely without being dictated to by the real estate industry. He says one of his articles, which criticised the auction process, received high-level complaints from the real estate industry and went straight to the senior people at the paper.
“I know through speaking with journalists over the years that they feel constrained. They know they will lose their job if they don’t toe the line, so they don’t write anything harshly critical of the industry, which is a major shame from the consumer’s point of view," Ryder says.
Unfavourable advertising banned
Neil Jenman spent a decade working as a real estate agent before turning to public speaking and publishing books about ethics in real estate.
“For 10 years the local newspapers haven’t allowed me to advertise my books,” he says. “Cumberland, News Ltd, the Leader newspapers in Victoria, and Quest in Brisbane have outright banned me.”
Sure enough, CHOICE has seen a copy of a memo sent to all branch managers and real estate sales consultants of Cumberland Newspapers stating: “Please be on the lookout for any attempt to have advertising for [Jenman’s] book Real Estate Mistakes placed for publication… any ads promoting this publication are not to be accepted for publication in any Cumberland newspaper” [Cumberland Newspapers’ emphasis, not ours].
Alan Smith admits to being one of the architects of this memo. “The view we held at the time was that we needed to be careful of his material because it was just sensational headline type stuff to promote his own brand. We didn’t refuse to advertise the books completely. That was the initial advice, but we were happy to take those ads in the general news, just not in the real estate section.”
Greg Cooper from Cooper Newman Real Estate in Burwood, Victoria, has also had his advertisement rejected, this time by Melbourne’s Whitehorse Leader newspaper on 2 September 2011. The reason? Sellers are often contractually bound to reimburse real estate agents for advertising, regardless of whether a property sells. Cooper, who is accredited by Neil Jenman, offered to pay the bill, stating: “Trapped with an advertising bill and no sale? Talk to us about a solution.”
“They believed readers might view those words as a negative toward advertising,” says Cooper. “Two hours before deadline, they said they would run it provided we removed the words, which I refused. A lot of our ads have been blocked. I would say it was likely other agents complaining. It’s because they have more advertising.”
The Whitehorse Leader confirmed to CHOICE that the advertisement could not be run unless Cooper agreed to remove the reference to advertising costs.