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It looks like the Walkley Foundation, the mob that administer and run Australia’s premier journalism awards, are on the lookout for a new major sponsor following the collapse of one of their present Gold partners, the environmental vandals Linc Energy.

Linc are of course the one-time darlings of the ASX who promised to fuel our future my digging an almighty hole in rural Queensland, pumping it full of oxygen, and then flicking a match and setting it on fire, thus releasing gazillions of liters of coal seam gas that they were going to sell for plenty, and make everybody rich, and all without doing a single little bit of damage to the environment.

Ha, ha, ha.

If you believed in that fairytale then you were either a reporter working for a mainstream media outlet whose awards were sponsored by the con-men, or a resident in a psychiatric institution, although some unkind souls say you could be both without anyone even batting an eyelid.

Of course the blokes who ran Linc Energy have now trousered the millions they paid themselves in Directors Fee, along with the shares they off-loaded before the arse fell out of outfit and the stock price fell like a stone from around the ten dollar a shot all the way down to here, want one for free, take a dozen levels, and have bolted for the hills, leaving the Queensland taxpayer behind to pay for and clean up the mess.

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Linc Energy share price 2014-2016

It’s a bloody cracker isn’t it? That damn mining industry sure is great for the state, or would be if the companies involved paid any royalties or taxes anyway, and perhaps even better if they were required to lodge a large sized cash deposit to fund the environmental repatriation of their furnace sites in the unfortunate event that they poison every piece of dirt and water within 100 miles of the explosion, which of course is exactly what Linc did.

The extraordinary saga raises a a myriad of questions, and some are being asked and explored – but far from all – including pivotal issues about political donations, lobbying and influence, and exactly who was on the share register of Linc Energy and benefited from the company’s rapid share price spike not that many years ago.  The deep financial links between the company and the controversial Indian miner Adani, particularly in relation of the Carmichael coal deposit in Central Queensland, are also a ripe vine waiting to be picked by a ruthless reporter striving to uncover the truth about the real Linc story.

In a world where investigative journalism is alive, vibrant and thriving there would be eager sleuths digging deep into these issues, determinedly following trails and their noses so that they might expose the morass of conflicts and questionable conduct and decisions that allowed this environmental catastrophe to unfold, and the villains of the piece to make many millions of dollars while damaging our sacred Sunshine State soil and water.

In 21st century Australia however, investigative journalism is not alive and well at all, but rather shrunken and withering on the vine as cutback after cutback at the mainstream media companies result in vastly reduced time and resources for increasingly overworked journalists to employ on chasing the big stories, and thus with a few exceptions we end up with a fourth estate full of erstwhile but plodding hacks, who work by the clock and rehash PR spun nonsense as if it’s news.

But what role does corporate sponsorship and purchased influence play in this present sad state of investigative media affairs?

How did Linc Energy’s major sponsorship of organisations like the Walkley Foundation, and the company’s focus on massaging the media, affect the willingness of the mainstream press to report fairly and fearlessly about the environmental risks and dangers inherent in Linc’s practice of Underground Coal Gasification (USG), the scorching of the top strata of the earth in order to release the ancient gases contained within?

Prior to 2015 the public heard little if anything about these issues in the daily news. It was only a determined coterie of smaller and less read media outfits such as Green Left, working in a loose coalition of concern with environmental groups like Lock the Gate that kept the issue alive, and worked to counter the expensive spin spewed out on a daily basis by the well-resourced PR unit ensconsed within the walls of the now failed miner.

In fact it wasn’t until Labor’s Steven Miles, a man who I have been highly critical of in the past, became Queensland’s Environment Minister and embarked on a crusade to prevent Linc Energy from causing any further damage to our fragile rural ecosystem that the mainstream media began paying any attention at all to anything but the seemingly ever-rising share price of the illusionary success story that Linc Energy was touted to be.

Did Linc Energy’s gold-plated sponsorship of the Walkley Foundation – and thus the prestigious media awards – make a difference to the manner in which the media reported on the company? The Foundation’s pitch on its website for corporate partners to come on board financially and join the ‘Walkleys family’ certainly suggests that it may have.

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Positioning your company’s brand? Building relationships with senior journalists and media industry figures? Ongoing opportunities do do both? Call me a cynic, but how does this align with the fearless and free ‘independent, ethical and robust media’ that the Foundation boldly declares is at the root of a robust democracy? It sounds more like a PR doctor’s picnic to this wee writer from Geebung.

And when you throw into the mix effusive praise from a company like Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant who not that long ago were knowingly selling AIDS infected blood products to haemophiliacs, and paid hundreds of millions to settle lawsuits related to the sales – not that you ever heard much about it in the Australian media – then it would be remiss of you not to begin to deeply question not only whether the Foundation has crossed the Rubicon of the ethical divide, but indeed to ask yourself by how far?

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Maybe I’m just a neophyte curmudgeon stuck forever in an imagined age where giants of the profession such as Burchett and Runyon, and Twain and Orwell, and Hemingway and Hunter S. strode the journalistic stage with impunity, eloquence and arrogantly fierce independence; but even today I read Fisk and I read Pilger and I read the courageous Arundhati Roy and from time to time I even read the much loathed and vilified Assange, and I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t the reporting world that’s changed, it’s us.

The price of freedom is widely accepted to be eternal vigilance, but what is the good in seeing if we don’t act? Passive witnesses to the events of the world have no cause to pick up a pen and tell the living, breathing inhabitants of our spinning globe just what they have seen, and what it means to them and us.

And then in a heartbeat – to lend from Orwell but deliberately distort the great man’s words – freedom becomes slavery, and war becomes peace, and ignorance our darkly eternal bliss.