Complaints, complaints, complaints – they are everywhere in this week’s Awful Truth column which we reckon is pretty interesting.

Further to last week’s extended piece about the demise of The Eye, it has come to our attention that Text Media was actually valued at $25 million by John Singleton’s investment. You see Singo piled $2.5 million into the company with the issue of new shares and shelled out an additional $2.5 million for a further 10 per cent he bought from existing shareholders.

And Crikey understands The Age’s new property giveaway is barely denting Text’s major cash cow, The Melbourne Weekly, which had more than 100 pages of property advertising in last week’s issue. It would appear Text has only lost a couple of pages to The Age.

Finally, it will be interesting to see who picks up Pilita Clark, who reputedly did an excellent job as managing editor of The Eye. Cynthia Banham is another expected to be keenly sought along Eye business editor Emiliya Mychasuk who we hear has not taken the closure at all well. Pilita, who lives defacto in a Bondi waterfront with The Australian’s deputy editor (news), Peter Wilson, is taking a well-earned rest in New York at the moment.

John Elliott Cracks The Shits With Aunty

There has been a hell of a stoush at the ABC after footage of a speech given by Carlton coach David Parkin at a dairy farmers’ conference was broadcast on the nightly 7pm news.

Parkin should have been well aware that ABC’s Landline program was filming at the conference when he announced to 100 farmers that he hates Carlton President John Elliott. Don’t we all David? All you did was say what everyone else thinks.

Anyway. both Parkin and Elliott went troppo and there was even talk of legal action. And the farmers got caught up in the middle of all this anger, responding by trying to throw poor old Landline out of the conference.

Good on Aunty, Crikey says. If Parkin is prepared to tell 100 farmers it would have leaked out anyway.

Besides, all those writs and sledges that Elliott and his mates like Jeff Kennett have thrown at Aunty over the years means he is owed no favours.

Now let’s get on with that plan to overthrown Big John from the Carlton board at the AGM later this year. We need Premiership captain and Elliott-hater Mike Fitzpatrick to step forward although a senior former staffer to Kim Beazley told me last week Fitzie would make a great PM one day. A Labor one, of course.

AFR Scribe Complains About Crikey’s Walkley

News just to hand has it that a senior scribe from the Fin Review has written to the people who run the Walkley Awards complaining about Crikey winning the 1999 Business Reporting Walkley for “AGM Season 1998”, which was done for The Daily Telegraph.

It seems this scribe is concerned that it encouraged too much ratbaggery and is not real journalism. When AFR editor Colleen Ryan first offered Crikey the gig as Rear Window editor last year we asked for two things: a three month delay in starting and permission to attend a few more AGMs. This was fine with her, but the man running the AFR business, Michael Gill, said no. However, we still signed up when he came up with an offer of $105,000, a $10,000 rise from the $95,000 being paid to do Australia’s worst newspaper job as chief of staff of The Daily Telegraph under Col Allan.

Naturally, there were no congratulations from Gill in December up in Brisbane when the Walkley was announced and The Daily Telegraph didn’t even report they had won their first Walkley for anything written in living memory.

Crikey is perfectly happy for a debate to be had about doing AGM activism as a journalistic exercise. However, maybe the fine chap involved should have mentioned it in passing when he sat next to me at the ASX EGM a couple of months. He even came up with a couple of the questions. It’s not the sort of thing you would expect from a brother, is it Andrew? Then again, the more debate we have about the media the better, so let’s have an open debate and no hard feelings. Hopefully Andrew Main (no relation) will email us the letter and we can publish it next week.

Fairfax Goes Mad: Packer To Call For Hilmer’s Sacking

The John Fairfax share price last week plunged through $5 – well shy of its recent high of $6.24. There are few shareholders wondering what on earth is happening? First we see Fairfax signing up to take $40 million worth of eisa scrip at $2 a pop to help fund its troubled $350 million purchase of Ozemail’s Australian consumer business. eisa is now trading below $1 and Fairfax has lost half its investment in two weeks if the deal goes ahead. Then we have news of Fairfax setting up afternoon giveaways in Melbourne and Sydney – using the content from its internet updates. This might work in London guys but it’s a commuter town with 10 million people. Sydney and Melbourne are very different and you can expect News Ltd to respond with all the delicacy of a behemoth enjoying a 70 per cent market share in Australian newspapers. It screams red ink to Crikey and might be another lever that Packer uses in his arguments that Fred Hilmer should be sacked. Who knows, it could even be the trigger for Steve Harris to renew his friendship with Bob Muscat as CEO of PMP Communications’ publishing division, a precursor to him eventually replacing the poorly performing Muscat as top banana.

Art A Family Affair At Aunty
By Stephen Feneley

Former Aunty Arts Reporter Turned Beat Columnist

You really know you need to get a life when you find yourself at home on Sunday afternoon watching Sunday Afternoon on the ABC. This program would be a hit in nursing homes, right up there with kerosene baths, if for no other reason than the poor old sods would, more than likely, be denied access to the remote control. And, besides, an afternoon with Andrea would be a wonderful antidote for insomnia. Anyway, loser that I am, I found myself last Sunday tuned to Andrea’s enervating excursion of culture.

If the ABC allowed advertising, Laura Ashley would be an ideal sponsor, although it’d face stiff competition from the makers of incontinence pads. And while the ABC doesn’t allow advertising, it’s not averse to giving back door plugs to commercial outfits. Case in point: one of the programs included in Andrea’s long lazy afternoon was an art lecture organised by Christies auction house. Televising the Christies lectures was the brainchild of Richard Moore, Aunty’s enterprising executive producer for arts and entertainment. It’s an incredible coincidence, but Dicky’s mum, Felicity, works for Christies. Indeed, Felicity is the organiser of the Christies lecture series. This is all completely above board, not a whiff of nepotism, not a puff of conflict of interest. Dicky said so. When you’re strapped for cash, it makes good management sense to call on family connections to provide cheap programming. Dicky didn’t say that, I did. If the ABC’s new managing director, Jonathan Shier, doesn’t know about Dicky’s bold (brazen?) initiative, it’s high time someone told him.

Anglophile Quits Aunty – Yippee
By Rick Feneley Brother Again

Ever wonder why your ABC looks so much like the BBC? A big reason is Hugh McGowan, the all powerful head of programming. The terribly dapper and ever so refined Hugh just loves good solid British drama, and when he runs out of bucks to buy fresh stuff, he happily subjects us to yet more reruns of the old stuff. Hey, it works. The stolid denizens of Toorak, Armadale and Camberwell – whose ABC it really is – just lap it up, delighted to see their white, self satisfied mugs reflected on the tele. Under the ABC’s new supremo, Jonathan Shier, Hugh McGowan was destined for bigger things. Shier wanted to promote him to the new position of creative head of television. Instead, McGowan spat the dummy and resigned when he discovered that his appointment would be subjected to scrutiny by outside management consultants. (Even under Shier, ABC management hasn’t lost its preference for getting outsiders to do work for which management is paid.) McGowan’s exist is no great loss, I say, but given that Shier was so hot for McGowan, it’s likely he will appoint someone with a similar anglocentric bent. Here’s hoping, though, that with Shier’s intention to promote McGowan, he has concluded that there is no room on the executive floor for the ABC’s little loved head of networks, Andy Lloyd James. For an image of Lloyd James, think Sir Humphrey Appleby. With the likes of Andy running the ABC, I sometimes wondered whether Yes Minister and Frontline were meant not as a programs to broadcast but as training videos for management.

From Merchant Wanking To Four Corners

It is good to see there are some people out there with an interest more in society than their own back pocket. Take Linda Larsen, the ABC producer who worked on the Four Corners program that recently did over BHP for its atrocious environmental performance at Ok Tedi in PNG.

Linda is a former merchant banker with CS First Boston in New York and London, followed by a stint with JP Morgan in Melbourne. How ironic that both those firms have worked up some of the recent restructuring proposals for BHP.

Good on you Linda. There should be more people out there interested in the public interest more than making money. As you say, “there is more to life than discounted cash flows”.

Junket Watch By The Ferret 2000

An Anonymous Snail Mail Contributor

Crikey readers may have noticed the profound reluctance that motoring writers, finance writers and IT/computers writers have in disclosing that a large proportion of the inspiration for their writing efforts is actively brought about by the most regular sojourns abroad splendidly catered for by various corporations.

That these writers should be afflicted by serious bouts of convenient amnesia (when it comes to disclosing their their junkets’ sponsors) may be understandable. But what about their editors, chiefs of staff, “in-house ethicists” (Simon Longstaff where are you when we need you?). What about eagle-eyed Professor Hilmer, determined as he is to safeguard the tangible and intangible assets of his shareholders (a publication’s credibility is an asset, isn’t it?)

Don’t Mention The Hidden Spotters Fees By The Ferret 2000

Same as Above

Here is a tale about a story that was suggested to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian by professional contributors and was rejected (your readers can draw their own conclusions).

“Hidden Persuaders” is a story looking at the variety of hidden commissions/spotters fees and the like which are paid to professionals and others to influence the consumers to buy a certain product or service. The consumer is not alerted that his adviser is getting a direct benefit is his advice is taken up by the consumer:

* an accountant suggests a certain insurance company/product.

* a travel agent push for a certain airline (which will pay him/her an overriding commission).

* a hotel concierge suggests a certain city restaurant.

* A financial adviser needs a certain quota of referrals to win the incentive trip to Switzerland offered by the multinational fund manager.

* a real estate agent strongly recommends a certain bank/mortgage originator.

* a wine waiter raves about an average wine because the hotel has a deal (ie Star City with Rosemount)

* a journalist has a persistent “enthusiasm” for a product (butter, olive oil, eggs etc)

Surely our major newspapers are now partaking in such activities themselves and therefore reluctant to blow the whistle. When was the last time you saw a travel story plugging a no frills airline that does not advertise?

We reckon this column was pretty good.


Peter Fray

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