3AW still has its ridiculous ban on Crikey but the laws of the land can’t stop us attending the Southern Cross Broadcastting AGM and making the directors squirm so we did exactly that last Thursday.

If the Southern Cross Broadcasting directors didn’t like Crikey before they absolutely hate it now because I did a bit of skeleton rattling wrapped up in an editorial independence argument when it came to the re-election of directors.

It has still not been reported in any newspaper that Southern Cross Broadcasting’s new chairman Geoffrey Crawford-Fish was the receiver to the Twin Waters resort near Noosa.

Tricontinental appointed him and taxpayers could have minimised losses at just $25 million if he’d walked away in about 1990 leaving a dirty big hole in the ground.

But instead the Fish chose to finish the resort and us long-suffering Victorian taxpayers still own the damn thing as no buyer has been found.

The question asked was therefore whether there was a policy in place to ensure editorial independence such that 3AW could report this disaster.

Acting chairman Charles Clark said it was 10 years old and not relevent whilst CEO Tony “slasher” Bell said the presenters were free to say what they liked provided it did not endanger their licences.

That’s funny, I’ve never heard 3AW report this disaster once. It is probably the second biggest disasters on the Tricontinental loan book after the $200 million lost to Skase.

Let’s offer 3AW a story lead here. The Fish’s lawyers wrote to RRR claiming Tricontinental missed an opportunity to sell out for a profit. With the losses still pouring in to this day, maybe some intrepid 3AW reporter could ask the Fish who these dills at Tricontinental were.

Who is telling the truth here? A former Tricontinental director told Crikey that the Fish was to blame yet the Fish told RRR Trico could have sold out for a profit but knocked back an offer.

When the saga does eventually close with the sale or closure of the resort, let’s hope 3AW will then acknowledge it even happened.

Making the AG executioner sweat for his sins

> The second curly one we threw in related to Woolworths chairman and SCB director John Dahlsen, the man who led the charge to have the office of Auditor- General in Victoria neutered. Was 3AW free to report this and why hadn’t they done it properly was my question.

Charles Clark again said it was three or four years old and was dealt with at the time. Hang on a minute, didn’t Jeff Kennett get thrown out of office about a year ago in part because of anger over the neutering of the Auditor-General.

And wasn’t restoring the powers of the AG one of the most noteworthy things the Bracks government did in its first year.

Why didn’t 3AW seek comment from the three private sector experts who gave the neutering business credibility for Jeff Kennett’s vicious campaign against Ches? They didn’t because it would have acutely embarrassed one of the men who founded Southern Cross Broadcasting.

Dahlsen should never have agreed to be involved in such a controversial public policy issue because Ches had bollocked a company that he was a director of a few years earlier.

The Fish gave a particularly uninspiring and halting speech and essentially just read his chairman’s address in the annual report. I suggested that he was too old to install as chairman at 67 but Geoff Clark said that was young in the context of the people in the room.

This was in part a reference to retired chairman Peter Nixon, a former National Party federal Industry Minister, who retired at the age of 72 during the year and was sitting one row in front of me and Paula, who came along for the ride because she didn’t have a brief last Thursday.

Nixon also has a rather prominent skeleton in his closet – he was on the board of Bob Ansett’s Budget Corp which went down owing about $70 million.

We did a runner straight after the meeting because Paula had to meet a friend and I had a date with the Meriton of Melbourne, good old Central Equity. Besides, there would have been a decidely uneasy air around the sandwich platter at 3AW after those pointed exchanges.

Let’s hope the Steve “half” Price and his mates at 3AW get the message that their ban on Crikey is undemocratic and irresponsible.

Price rang the station during the Burwood by-election last year and ordered that a news item quoting me be cut. Given that I was a candidate and 3AW gloats it is the most influential station in Melbourne, this was an abuse of power.

If 3AW wants me to stop turning up to their AGM and exposing skeletons, then they should simply treat Crikey on its news merit. If not, then I’ve a good mind to stand for their board next year on a platform of editorial independence and fairness.

We simply ask that you play the game fairly gentlemen and treat genuine news as news.

By the way, well done on this year’s profit boys. Lifting the share price from 70c to $10.50 in eight years has been a mighty fine performance and even 3AW has held onto its ratings in the post-Kennett era.

Just goes to show that SCB has worked its government licences nicely over the years and milked the protection from competition that incumbent television and radio players have been afforded by governments of both persuasions.

We’ll be watching the performance of SCB’s three Perth stations closely during the year to ensure they are not as pro-Liberal during the upcoming state election as 3AW was with Jeff.

Peter Fray

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