Rupert Murdoch’s South Australian tabloid, the Advertiser, appears to have largely boycotted the Adelaide Fringe festival after a sponsorship arrangement between Australia’s biggest arts festival and its hometown paper broke down.
Local art critics who review for the masthead claim an editor at the Advertiser contacted them individually and said “it’s all off; you’re not reviewing anything this year”, breaking a long tradition of support between the Fringe and the Advertiser.
The Fringe director, Heather Croall, has confirmed the festival has not placed any advertising with the Advertiser for the first time in recent years and says it is “deeply disappointing” there has been sparse coverage.
The festival’s opening weekend was largely ignored by the paper despite the attendance of 330,000 people and the opening of more than 1,280 shows.
The Strut & Fret producer, Scott Maidment, reportedly told the opening crowd “the Adelaide Advertiser has decided not to come to any shows, not to review any shows and not to do any stories on the Fringe”.
“I think it’s a really poor state of affairs when we have the whole community come together for the Fringe.”
The editor of the Advertiser, Gemma Jones, who has been at the helm for 18 months after a stint as deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, refused to answer questions about the publication’s apparent reversal of support.
“The Advertiser is covering the Fringe Festival on its merits, focusing on the aspects that resonate most with our audience,” a spokesperson said.
“Any claim our coverage is influenced by commercial considerations is 100% false.”
There has been some speculation the masthead no longer has the resources to cover the event after years of staff cutbacks.
News Corp is facing more culls of one in 20 staff after posting a 47% decline in earnings in its news media division and lower quarterly revenue overall.
Adelaide’s only major daily newspaper has been historically enthusiastic in its support of the 31-day Fringe festival, publishing hundreds of reviews and articles each year about the cabaret, theatre, comedy, circus, music and visual arts. The festival dominates the social calendar for five weeks.
The only article in Monday’s paper, on page nine, was a negative one about the Garden of Unearthly Delights charging a $4 admission fee during peak periods. The fee has been in place since 2021.
“The lack of coverage in the Advertiser over the opening of Australia’s biggest arts festival raised a flag with us,” a festival spokesman said. “We are hoping that with 330,000 attendances at Fringe on opening weekend the Advertiser will see the merit in covering this wonderful festival.”
Croall told local media she had been negotiating with the Advertiser for months but had been unhappy with the sponsorship package on offer.
“We have always been of the understanding in any media outlet that advertising and editorial are oil and water,” Croall told the independent news website InDaily. “We did not think that advertising spend was cash for comment.”
A former arts editor of the Advertiser, Samela Harris, told the Guardian she was “mystified” about what had gone wrong.
“You can’t say that this incredible event isn’t a big story,” Harris said.
“In the past you couldn’t fault the paper’s generosity with the amount of coverage it gave. There were lift-outs and programs so that audiences could just choose their shows from the paper.”
Organisers say ticket sales are up and 482 performances are already sold out.