STAR WARS: A Letter from the Publisher of Star Observer

STAR WARS: A Letter from the Publisher of Star Observer

Lawrence Gibbons, the publisher of Star Observer and City Hub, reflects on Star Observer’s 45th anniversary, the masthead’s legacy as a LGBTQI+ disruptor, and the ongoing battles that face queer media in Australia.

News makers don’t usually find themselves in the news, nor do they want to be. But in June, there I was, on the homepage of a popular queer news site.

Ben Grubb, editor and publisher of Gay Sydney News, reported: Rival Australian LGBTQI+ news outlets Star Observer and QNews are involved in a behind-the-scenes stand-off in which legal action has been threatened over QNews registering a trademark and business using the same name as its competitor’s publication.”


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Grubb uses punchy Instagram posts to deliver old fashioned scoops about queer business and politics, and the changing face of Australia’s primary rainbow precinct. Since he launched Gay Sydney News a year and a half ago, his following has grown to tens of thousands, and has broken important stories for our community.  

But unfortunately, along with thousands of other Australian outlets, Gay Sydney News and Star Observer’s social media pages could soon be shut down by Meta. The world’s largest social media company, worth over $2 trillion, owns both Facebook and Instagram. They say they will pull all Australian news content off their platforms if our government requires them to make deals with Aussie publishers under Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code. It’s likely they will block the Australian public from seeing all Australian news stories on Facebook and Instagram within a matter of weeks.

45 years ago, news distribution in Australia was wholly controlled by two of Australia’s most powerful families, the Murdochs and the Packers. In July 1979, our founder Michael Glynn distributed the first edition of the Sydney Star out of a knapsack, free of charge, to LGBTQI+ businesses. 

Glynn was a true queer disruptor, finding a way to bypass corporate control to ensure our community was informed and unified. It’s particularly inspiring, considering the modern version of corporate control that independent queer media now faces with Meta. With such a bleak, dystopian media landscape, more and more titles are shuttering or merging everyday. 

QNews was founded in 2000 by controversial gay business owner, Ray Mackereth, who filed for bankruptcy 15 years later, after being found guilty of contraventions of the Fair Work Act. In 2015, Richard Bakker, the owner of a Brisbane-based carpet cleaning business, took over QNews with the financial backing of long-term LGBTQI+ activist William “Bill” Rutkin. Bakker has made no secret of being open to selling, and has approached Star Observer requesting we purchase his outlet in the past. 

Ben Grubb reported, Gay Sydney News can reveal that Star Observer, which has been publishing news about Australia’s LGBTQI+ community since 1979, unwittingly let its “Star Observer” trademark registration expire during the COVID pandemic. Following this, rival QNews registered “Star Observer” as its own trademark.”

Solicitors assure me that the Star Observer masthead is covered by common law trademark protections., and QNews was sent a letter from our solicitor in late May advising them of this.

Bakker’s solicitors finally sent an explanation: they registered the trademark in light of “particular discussions with a third party (since deceased)” who was considering the possibility of purchasing and combining QNews and Star Observer. It was the mention of the interested buyer recently passing away that gave it away.

On a warm autumn afternoon, I met Geoff Selig for a beer at the Kings Cross Hotel. A gay man, Geoff was Chairman of the Board of the IVE group, Australia’s largest remaining print company. To my surprise, he expressed interest in acquiring both Star Observer and City Hub. I responded that I had no plans to sell either, but that I would be happy to chat further. We agreed to meet again after he returned from an international trip. As fate would tragically have it Geoff never returned, passing away in an accident in Barcelona in May.

This leads me to believe the Star Observer trademark and business name was registered by our competitor in the hope of gaining leverage in potential takeover talks. Unfortunately for Bakker, Selig’s untimely death meant plans to finally divest himself of QNews did not eventuate. And now he faces the prospect of a legal battle with a very disgruntled competitor, who simply wants to protect the Star Observer name and legacy.

Michael Glynn would not be surprised: skullduggery is deeply embedded in the DNA of pink publishing.

Less than 5 years into launching the Sydney Star in 1979, he was forced to sign over the publication that he created from scratch in order to settle a debt, in exchange for a licensing fee. In 1985, Melbourne based publisher Danny Vadasz acquired the title, voiding Glynn’s licensing agreement. Vadasz changed the name to the Sydney Star Observer to ensure Glynn would have no claims over the masthead, and launched the Melbourne Star Observer that same year. 

Chicanery, undercutting and unscrupulous behaviour may be built into the foundations of queer media, but we are now facing a common foe that is bigger, richer, and more ruthless than we’ve ever faced before. The common adage ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ should ring true to all of us – queer and independent media should be banding together so we can rise up to face this adversary, not tearing each other down.

This month marks the Star Observer’s 45th anniversary, and my fifth year as the publisher of this vital masthead. In the face of ongoing challenges, and threats to our name and existence, the Star Observer remains Australia’s oldest and largest LGBTQI+ media outlet. 

We began as the queer disruptor that the Australian media industry desperately needed. I, and the Star Observer team, remain dedicated to continuing on Glynn’s vision – providing indispensable, independent news by queer people, for queer people.

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