Steve Price, the journalist who abuses more people than any other in Melbourne, has sued Crikey over an article downloaded about 200 times. Should people who make their money out of free speech really sue other journos?

The documents were formally served on me at 10am on January 2 and so we have taken immediate steps to publish this formal and grovelling apology to Mr Stephen William Price, one of the great protectors of free speech in Australian journalism.

Steve, we’re terribly sorry for publishing the opinions of a Frankston East candidate, Mr Raymond Hoser, as an addendum to an article we wrote explaining how Labor had made a cash for preferences offer to Crikey during the Burwood by-election in December 1998.

We did point out that Raymond is “a self-proclaimed corruption fighter, taxi driver, reptile collector and spammer who is certainly on the mad side”. No, we didn’t seek a response from you we just said this is one man’s press release. We would be most happy to run your response if it was written journalistically and not legalistically.

Having read through it again and read your expertly drawn up writ (well done Gina), we’ve concluded that you do deserve a genuine and heartfelt apology.

We shouldn’t have allowed about 200 people to download a story carrying an addendum from mad Raymond. We’re sincerely sorry and won’t do it again. We even removed the material from the site within one hour of the email from [email protected]

It is fair to say that Price was the victim of incorrect allegations to the Australian Broadcasting Inquiry by Mad Raymond. and he was cleared by the ABA. The Hoser press release we ran suggested otherwise and we regret running this aspect of it.

Price never got the public apology he demanded from the ABA, moaning on air that: “the ABA didn’t even bother to reply”. He then said that he now knew “how innocent people feel when charged with a crime”.

We were quite flattered to read in the Price writ that we publish a website that has “a wide and extensive readership throughout the states and territories of Australia”. Maybe 3AW should take out some banner ads on the site to increase its exposure. Anyway, we’re extremely sorry and apologise for any hurt or suffering you’ve encountered from those foul and ill-founded Hoser words. Here ends the apology.

So, what happens from here

It is interestingly that 3AW and the brilliant Price have given up on threatening and suing Hoser but have chosen to proceed against a back-yard website. Clearly, some people are taking notice of us but have given up on Hoser.

The Hoser material also claimed that Price had blackballed and verballed him during the Frankston East by-election where he came last in a field of 17 with just 13 votes.

It was a bit over the top but not much different from the defamatory comments made about Crikey on 3AW by Half Price and morning host Neil Mitchell.

Together these lads have called me a “fruit cake”, “idiot”, “dill”, “not a journalist’s bottom” and said I believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden. Is this true? Well, a few weeks later I won the Walkley award for business reporting in 1999 and knocked off the Green candidate to finish third in a five-man field in the Burwood by-election.

And did I sue? No way. There is nothing more odious than journalists suing journalists. We all rely on the principle of free speech for our profession but then guys like Price, who has more goes at people than any other journalist in Melbourne, turn around and sue other journalists.

It is just not cricket in this regard but it is plain stupid in many other regards. To start with it generates more related party transactions for John Dahlsen, the Southern Cross Broadcasting director who founded the company and is still a consultant to legal firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

I asked about these at the last Southern Cross AGM because Dahlsen’s old legal firm picked up more than $500,000 in fees last year. The board explained that defamation actions were part of the reason for the blowout. If they want to get the bill down the board would not allow the company to fund this sort of ridiculous actions against Crikey.

In 1997 Dahlsen’s firm picked up $458,000, falling to $327,000 in 1998, rising again to $453,000 in 1999 and then finishing close to $500,000 in 2000.

The key question to be asked is whether Price is funding this himself or whether the company is taking the action. As someone who has twice held shares in Southern Cross Broadcasting and will probably buy them again ahead of a tilt at the board this year, I need to know who will get the massive payout from Crikey after a two year legal battle over an article downloaded on the web 200 times.

I’ve managed to hang onto the 1971 rally red HG Monaro so far but would be loathe to hand it over to Price personally given that he reportedly gets a free Volvo as part of some sort of sponsorship.

But if it went to the company and was painted up with the 3AW logo and used for marketing purposes then that would be okay. The 350 chevy engine leaves everyone for dead at the lights.

Apart from the heavily geared Monaro, we’ve got no money down here at Crikey Media so suing our battling back-yard operation will generate no cash and lots of bad PR for 3AW and Price.

They took the high ground when Channel Seven launched that ridiculous defamation writ against them after the Olympics and then turn around and launch a ridiculous writ of their own.

I’ve a good mind to run for their board next year on a free speech platform and one that opposes cash for comment given that 3AW has just reinstated Bruce Mansfield to the night line shift despite all his past sins.

The other crazy thing about this provocative writ is that some of the accusations that Hoser made against Price could quite rightly be made by me against Price.

You see 3AW slapped a ban on me after my criticisms of them for being too close to Kennett during the last Victorian election. This ban extended to any mentions of me during the Burwood by-election. I was included in one news story about the Liberal candidate Cherie McLean but then, according to our spy in the 3AW newsroom, Price rang up from home at about 7am and demanded I be removed from the story. I’m not sure what the Australian Broadcasting Authority licence rules say about the need for stations to be fair during elections but this might just be a good issue to test them out on. Anyone fancy drafting the first letter.

There are some other interesting ironies in all this. Price hates Ash Long, the distributor of e-letter Media Flash, because he was the business partner who dished the dirt on Bruce Mansfield in 1998, leading to his sacking.

Rash Ash was a former friend of Crikey’s until he distributed our subscriber list to the 5000 people he largely spams each week.

Mad Hoser then spammed them as well so we terminated his free subscription to Crikey and exchanged unpleasantries by email.

So if you sat Half Price, Mad Hoser, Rash Ash and Crikey in the one room it would be interesting to see who punched who first.

The other irony is that Corrs Chambers Westgarth briefed a barrister called Gina Schoff to draw up the particulars of the writ against us. Gina’s rooms are just a couple down from super star family law barrister Paula Piccinini, who signed up on the Crikey rollercoaster as wife for life last October.

Lastly, Steve Price should be warned of the curse of Crikey. The first people to sue Crikey are a group called Webster Publishing. They were bought for $2.2 million 18 months ago by Michael Schildberger’s Infosentials group and Infosentials have just gone into administration.

The father and son combination of David and Tony Webster were top 10 shareholders in Infosentials and took home $300,000 between them in 1999-2000. Unfortunately for them, the music has stopped playing.

Steve Price would be well advised to withdraw his vexatious writ against Crikey before he is afflicted by the same curse.

Lastly, we’d like to reinforce the following:

Steve is straight. Sorry Steve. Don’t believe Hoser’s half truths about Half Price. Steve is straight. Sorry Steve. Don’t believe Hoser’s half truths about Half Price. Steve is straight. Sorry Steve. Don’t believe Hoser’s half truths about Half Price. Steve is straight. Sorry Steve. Don’t believe Hoser’s half truths about Half Price. Steve is straight. Sorry Steve. Don’t believe Hoser’s half truths about Half Price. Steve is straight. Sorry Steve. Don’t believe Hoser’s half truths about Half Price. Steve is straight. Sorry Steve. Don’t believe Hoser’s half truths about Half Price.

Here ends the grovelling apology to Stephen William Price.