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The MLC ‘scandal’: who cares, and why?

The story about the sacking of a Melbourne private girl’s school principal has made national news, but why? Flickr/mikecogh

For more than a week, I’ve seen numerous articles about an internal fight between the Board and Principal of Melbourne’s Methodist Ladies’ College, a private girls’ school.

Principal Rosa Storelli has been sacked for alleged overpayments of $700,000 over 10 years. It appears to be a dispute over accounting methods, but the police have not been called and everyone is at pains to deny any deliberate wrongdoing.

As outrageous a sum as that may be, why should I care about the shenanigans at a school I know nothing about? I’m not interested in discussing the scandal itself, but I am astonished that such goings on are making national news.

If Storelli had done something really interesting – run through the quadrangle naked, perhaps – that I could understand, particularly if caught on video. But as it stands, why is it making headlines?

I suppose there is some justification for the scandal dominating the headlines of the suburban newspaper in the school’s local area, but can media organisations like The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), Nine MSN and the Australian Financial Review (AFR), to name just a few, justify running it for days and days? Surely not. Almost a week after it broke, the story continues to run, including two pieces in The Age today.

Surely it is only of real interest to a very small number of people; those parents who are forking out as much as $23,000 per year in fees for example. And, yes, noone knows better than I do that taxpayers money has also been involved in the running of this school, but while that is a much bigger (and more newsworthy) issue than the financial accounting anomalies or otherwise of an individual school, with the honourable exception of this article by James Campbell, it hasn’t been noted very much in the coverage I have seen.

I remember becoming increasingly irritated with a regular columnist in the SMH who would occasionally fill his allotted column inches pontificating about the internecine politics of GPS football games. Needless to say, I didn’t read them, but the arrogance of the assumption that the average newspaper reader might be interested in such trivia about schools most could never hope to send their kids to got right up my nose. And so it is with this latest MLC malarkey.

Imagine if a similar story broke about the misbehaviour of the Principal of a public high school in the western suburbs of Sydney (they can only dream of any kind of overpayment, of course, let alone one of $700,000 in allowances on top of their salary). It might warrant a headline or two, depending on how serious the offence, but if it was merely a squabble between the school’s P&C Treasurer and the Principal over the little expenditure they have discretionary control over, it is hard to see it interesting many big-end-of-town journos.

It is difficult not to assume that the reason special interest stories like these get such a run is because the people who write for and edit our major news media both attended and send their own kids to such privileged schools. It is all about the self-interests of members of a particular club or – dare I say – class.

Their assumption that what interests them, must interest the rest of us reveals a great deal about their view of their own importance. Particularly considering that schools like these educate as few as 5% of all Australia’s children. When you look at them that way, their internal goings on really don’t matter very much at all.

There is, however, one reason why it might make sense to run a story or two about the failures and scandals of such self important but largely irrelevant schools like MLC, but it wouldn’t be by pretending they are serious “news”. Let’s accept them for what they actually are – entertainment. Good old reliable schadenfreude – one of my favourite words for one of my favourite emotions – there is no denying it is just good fun watching the once high and mighty with very plebian egg all over their faces.

But after six solid days of it – word to the news desks of our major publications – can you give it a rest?

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