Mario D’Orazio FAIM has forged a long and celebrated career in an industry beset by fierce challenges.

The former Channel Seven Perth Managing Director addressed attendees at the Inspirational Leader Series hosted by AIM WA earlier this year and spoke about the values that informed his philosophy of life and leadership.

After 40 years in the media, the former journalist remains an active civic participant, spreading his time across multiple committees in the corporate, philanthropic and not-for-profit sectors.

Disclosing several meaningful interludes in his life, Mr D’Orazio said his approach to leadership centred on being courageous, speaking truth to power and listening to dissenting voices – key premises that underpinned his career and continue to influence him.

Drawing on his experience as a distinguished media executive, he examined the obstacles the industry was faced with today and stressed the need to have quality journalists who delivered honest news and analysis.

Mr D’Orazio said much of the information people read today via online echo-chambers was nonsense.

“It is unfiltered, unprofessionally curated and it is not the process of properly trained journalists,” he said.

In an era of instant communication where politicians can bypass reporters and go straight to social media to get their message across, Mr D’Orazio said the need to listen to dissenting voices was crucial.

He reminded guests of the malpractices by some of the world’s biggest organisations.

“Google is facing fines of billions of Euros for allegedly manipulating markets in Europe,” he said. “Facebook is facing fines of US$5 billion (A$7.3 billion) for alleged misuse of privacy – if that was Channel Seven, there would be people marching in the street!

“Yet people are still posting pictures on Facebook and we still use Google to find the nearest pizza shop.”

Mr D’Orazio said while people had been slow to realise the serious impact of alleged practices of organisations like Google and Facebook, a shift away from these platforms was starting to gain pace.

“There is a much greater need for honest services in the community today,” he said. “This encompasses information distribution and
economic services.”

Mr D’Orazio’s early years did not give much of a hint he would become a key figure in Australia’s media landscape. Born into a “typical” Italian family – “large and sprawling” was how he described it – he couldn’t speak English until he was six years old.

His talent as a writer was recognised and nurtured in high school.

“You can’t overestimate the power of a really good school teacher,” Mr D’Orazio said. “My English teacher was an excellent teacher who told me to become a journalist.”

The teacher’s advice initially went unheeded as Mr D’Orazio pursued another career.

Winning a scholarship to The University of Western Australia, he graduated with a degree in economics and history and a diploma in
education and became a teacher.

“For an Italian kid from Balcatta, university levelled the playing field and opened up a world of opportunities,” Mr D’Orazio said.

“It was there I developed an interest in dissenting voices and in people with the courage to speak up.”

His first job was teaching young children in the Goldfields town of Laverton on the western edge of the Great Victorian Desert.

“This was an enormous moment for me,” Mr D’Orazio said.

“I got there after the Royal Commission into the Skull Creek incident, which investigated discontent between police and local
indigenous people.”

Mr D’Orazio said he learned a salutary lesson from his stint there.

“Before I went to teach in Laverton, I was oblivious to the simmering tensions and challenges facing Australia’s first nations,” he said. “It was confronting and I was completely unprepared for it.

“Meeting the Wongi people from the north eastern Goldfields taught me a lot about the land we walk on today.

“Credited for helping Europeans discover gold in Kalgoorlie, much of WA’s prosperity can be attributed to mining the land of the Wongi.

“I was supposed to be teaching the Wongi children, but they ended up teaching me.”

It was not until 1979 that Mr D’Orazio made the life-changing decision to move into media when he accepted a cadetship at The Daily News.

He said the role was the realisation of a lifelong dream, given his strong interest in politics and knack for writing.

He spent many years covering state politics for the newspaper and eventually joined Channel Seven Perth as a reporter in news and public affairs.

In the course of his work at Channel Seven, Mr D’Orazio helped expose a case of historical childhood sexual abuse involving a group of men who said they had been abused by clergy members at the boarding school they attended.

“These men would not be silenced,” Mr D’Orazio said. “Many of them were in tears when I interviewed them on camera.”

Mr D’Orazio asked whether anyone could corroborate the men’s stories and was given the name of a clergy member who had conducted an internal investigation when the incidents first came to light.

“As you do when you are a journalist, I called the man,” Mr D’Orazio said.

“I asked him if the church had ignored the investigation.”

The man didn’t give a straight answer on the phone. However, Mr D’Orazio received an anonymous package later that day with the full report enclosed.

“That clergyman who I think sent me the report was gutsy,” he said.

“My senses were telling me his obligation to help the victims overcame his desire to protect the church’s reputation.

“Whoever delivered the report had the opportunity to speak truth to power and they did – it was indirect but it was effective.”

Given his appetite for courageous reporting, Mr D’Orazio emphasised the need to support quality journalism by providing greater
protections to whistle-blowers.

“While I don’t think any journalist should be above the law, Australia needs full whistleblower legislation that protects the whole
chain of information,” he said.

“Not just the journalist, but also the person blowing the whistle.”

In addressing the need to heed dissenting voices, Mr D’Orazio reminded guests it was important for leaders to give people the right
to be wrong.

“This applies to people in offices and boardrooms too,” he said.

“How often have we been in meetings where the boss says they want to go one way, and someone else in the room thinks differently
but says nothing?”

While there can be good reasons for selfcensorship, Mr D’Orazio said leaders should remember “dissent is not disloyalty”.

“In a free-ranging democracy, which is the essence of our system, it is important to uphold the right to say what you think,”
he said.

“There is a famous quote people working in the media hold dear – ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your
right to say it’.

“The idea is if you don’t have the right to say what you think is wrong, you will soon lose the right to say what you think is right.”

Bio

Mario D'Orazio FAIM

  • Roles Board Member at Australia Post; Board Member at the Australia Council for the Arts; Director at AIM WA; Trustee of Channel 7 Telethon Trust; Director at the WA Academy of Performing Arts; Chairman of the Perth Public Art Foundation.
  • Studied The University of Western Australia.
  • Worked Managing Director of Channel Seven Perth; Chairman of Co3 Australia; Director of the West Australian Opera.
  • Member since 2012.

Penelope Thomas is a Journalist at Seven West and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.