City News

Sydney queer media empire in flames again

Mr Mark Anthony, former owner of now liquidated Evolution Publishing and Evo Media Credit: Serkan Ozturk

BY SERKAN OZTURK

It’s the Sydney queer media empire that’s come crumbling down like … well, a broken vase, in this case.

SX Magazine and SameSame owners, Dean Anthony Bell and Mark Christopher Anthony, are now in hiding after their Evo Media empire fell for the second time in the space of four years, with scores of employees and dozens of creditors after the pair for owing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But this time the stakes are higher with accusations the media group engage in widespread circulation and distribution rorts, while Mr Anthony himself was captured on camera being served by the corporate regulator ASIC mid-last-month over a range of corporate offences.

It’s the second time the couple have left dozens of inner-city workers and businesses out of pocket after their previous media company Evolution Publishing was driven into liquidation in March 2013.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were owed then in superannuation alone, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Tax Office, and a quarter of a million dollars to their printers.

Mr Anthony was the company’s director at the time. Evo Media was borne out of the ashes of Evolution Publishing after Mr Bell – who was the general manager of the previous company and is Mr Anthony’s romantic partner – was named the sole director of the new company. It is alleged the couple engaged in what is known as a “phoenix scam” in a bid to get away from paying creditors but continue running the same company.

Documents provided to City Hub show Mr Anthony was allegedly presenting himself as Evo Media’s company’s director to both employees and suppliers despite regulations preventing him from holding the position following the administration of Evolution Publishing four years ago.

Bill Calder, a former journalist and longtime LGBTIQ media watcher, told City Hub that the repeat failure of Evo Media was perhaps also a tale in a larger story of digitisation and ‘free, easy access’ affecting wide sections of the media.

The only remaining LGBTIQ print media is the Star Observer which now only releases a monthly magazine.

“The internet has smashed the gay print media business model with rapidly declining circulation and advertising revenue,” Mr Calder said.

“People have moved to digital sites such as Grindr for its convenience and enhanced features, but this has meant journalism and news has suffered. Digital news media currently struggles to find a business model that allows it to fund journalism.”
This time the couple at the helm of Evo Media also have kitchen staff and butchers after them for thousands of dollars too, after the couple purchased the Locanda Olivetti café at 140 William Street, Woolloomooloo in early 2016. The café was forced to close barely 12 months later after not being able to pay rent. Workers say they were not paid superannuation and were underpaid. The café was situated on the ground floor of the same building where Evo Media and its previous incarnation Evolution Publishing had its headquarters for almost 15 years. Mr Anthony and Mr Bell are now in a legal dispute with building’s landlords who say they are owed close to $60,000 in rent from the pair for their former media offices.

Ron Hughes, 55, was the longserving editor of Adelaide-based Blaze magazine, a title owned by Evolution Publishing since 2008. Mr Hughes, who is the full-time carer for his elderly and ill father, was made redundant in September 2016 after eight years with Evolution Publishing and then Evo Media.

Mr Hughes told City Hub he is now surviving on Centrelink benefits after being owed tens of thousands of dollars in superannuation as well as his redundancy package which has still not been paid to him after more than six months.

“Most of us employees were there because we wanted to make a difference to our community,” Mr Hughes said, who spent 18 years working in LGBTIQ media.

“But in essence, many of us have wasted years of our lives waiting for Mr Anthony and Mr Bell to do the right thing by employees and the community. They have simply left a trail of destruction.”

One other fed up employee, who is among dozens of employees and contributors left owed thousands of dollars, left a smashed vase from Mr Anthony’s now-closed café on the doorstep of his exclusive apartment block in Potts Point. The employee had tried for over a month to get in contact with Mr Anthony and was left owing thousands to his real estate agent for rent, as he had failed to receive his wages in full or on time going back to September 2016.

“He’s clearly one of the biggest liars and frauds I have ever worked for,” the former Evo Media sales employee said. “He cannot be trusted as he believes his own worthless lies.”

Other employees are considering launching some form of legal action against Mr Anthony and Mr Bell or their companies, with scores said to be owed up to $50,000 or more going back to the days of Evolution Publishing. The couple had been operating SX magazine under Evolution Publishing and then Evo Media for close to 15 years, and over that time added other queer magazine and web titles including Gay News Network and the popular SameSame website.

Throughout the saga, dozens of employees say they feel like they have been let down by corporate regulators and bureaucratic agencies.
Kieran Hunt was a former sales employee with both companies. He told CityHub he was driven to his wit’s end by the lack of any real action taken by any governmental authority.
“I’ve lodged Evolution Publishing with the ATO as they owe me around $19,000 in super. They didn’t do anything about it,” Mr Hunt explained.

“I kept in contact with the liquidators when Evolution was liquidated. They didn’t do anything about it.”

Mr Hunt described Evo Media and its earlier incarnation, Evolution Publishing, as a “sham company”.

“I’ve lodged Evo Media to the ATO. They still haven’t done anything about it. When I lodged my issue about unpaid commissions ASIC were unsure if they could help me,” Mr Hunt said.

“It’s not right. Government departments shouldn’t allow these businesses to continue trading.”
Mr Calder for his part believes the failure of Evo Media as well as the growing difficulties of larger players such as Fairfax will allow for an opportunity for perhaps better quality news to eventually develop.

“There is a growing appetite for edited and verified online information, including journalism, to offset the spread of genuinely ‘fake news’. Developments in the online business model and subsequent competition for ‘eye-balls’ will drive this,” he said.

“Mainstream media, possibly Facebook and Google even, will solve this first and then a myriad of commercially successful special interest publishers will follow.”
Serkan Ozturk is the publisher of TrueCrimeNewsWeekly.com and was a former employee of Evolution Publishing between May 2011-March 2013.