The Brag Media
opinion Festivals & Venues February 13, 2019

Op-Ed: How the mainstream media is building up its NSW festival coverage ahead of state election

Former Executive Editor
Op-Ed: How the mainstream media is building up its NSW festival coverage ahead of state election

The shift in the mainstream media’s coverage of NSW festivals has intensified.

Today’s media coverage of the Don’t Kill Live Music rally was picked up by mainstream radio, TV and print, as well as the music media.

What was essentially a NSW-based issue (with industry-wide implications) has generated national – and international – coverage over recent weeks.

Interestingly, this was not a result of some carefully planned campaign en masse by the NSW live music sector. It also comes just weeks away from the next NSW state election on March 23.

It’s built up slowly event by event, a grassroots campaign that suddenly went on the boil.

Like the SLAM rally in Melbourne nine years ago, it started with venue owners and music fans online, permeated through to the wider music and media industries, and lead to a full-blown rally of 22,000 marching through the city streets and holding a noisy rally outside state parliament.

Such across-the-board appeal frightened the Victorian government into beginning a consultation process with the live music sector that has led to Melbourne being regarded not only as Australia’s music capital but one of the great music cities of the world.

Initially, it was about the government doing “the right thing” to stop fatal overdoses at festivals.

Then it reported that promoters were being forced to work in an increasingly toxic environment and, now, questioning the government’s stance.

It started last December when Good Things in Sydney was forced at the 11th hour to change its all-ages status to over-18s after police expressed concern minors would be exposed to alcohol.

Its promoters complained they received “unprecedented opposition” from authorities.

The steam built up through January when Rabbits Eat Lettuce was forced to relocate to Queensland and why Psyfari and Mountain Sounds had to fold up.

In each case, the promoters took to social media and explained at length the issues they had faced and made warnings of more cancellations and escalating costs resulting in $500 tickets.

The “war on festivals” line was just the right hook to hang the story on.

Some mainstream media coverage is questioning if the state government isn’t over-reacting – and why it hadn’t consulted with the live music industry over such an important issue instead of relying on “experts” who had never run a major event in their lives.

A turning point was Bluesfest director Peter Noble’s open letter in which he suggested he might pull the festival out of Byron Bay and head to Queensland or Victoria, and Peking Duk’s exhortation to fans to vote the government out.

Both have a mainstream media profile, and the story got good front page coverage.

Further, Noble’s accusation of “I charge the government with a systemic failure in fairness here, and implore all politicians from all parties to quickly become involved with what is a serious injustice”, also changed the tone of reporting.

It was followed up by media releases from the Australian Festivals Association, Keep Sydney Open and Live Performance Australia, and today’s Don’t Kill Live Music.

What was important is that these releases were impressively presented, calmly pointing out the economic and cultural impact of the NSW government’s moves and coming up with considered recommendations as to what the government should do to come up with viable options.

This was not such irresponsible rabble turning a blind eye to drugs but a mature economic and cultural force aware of its rights.

The NSW issue also picked up interest globally, mostly through coverage in Pollstar and Billboard.

In Pollstar’s case, Noble’s comments received major coverage as Bluesfest is regarded as one of the Top 10 performing festivals in the world.

It coincided with global live music executives meeting in America for the annual Pollstar Live conference.

Some of the discussion looked at the global challenges facing promoters.

These included the lack of infrastructure in India, the financial squeeze in some European countries, and the political meddling in the Middle East and Africa.

It was inevitable that the future of NSW festivals was also discussed.

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