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Murdoch heavyweights are proving themselves to be incredibly thin-skinned as Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden and Media commentator Mark Day have proved in recent weeks.

And Natasha is also dead against changes to the Federal Government’s unfair dismissal laws. Might this be because her mother took successive Adelaide Advertiser editors, Piers Akerman and Peter Blunden, to the industrial tribunal.

We emailed the lads last week to see if they could shed any light on the story and the resulting debate with Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden is an interesting insight into journalistic ethics and egos.

Stephen Mayne wrote:

Hi Piers and Peter, I’m doing a story on Natasha’s mum and her industrial battles with you both at the Tizer.

Can you shed any light on the detail and the timing of what happened.

Cheers, Stephen Mayne

Crikey Media

Peter Blunden wrote:

G’day Stephen,

Yes, I could shed considerable light on the subject. But why would I? My sentiments about Crikey and its adherence to journalistic principles only strengthened after Hugo’s piece last week.

He should have identified himself BEFORE I was nave enough to engage in a friendly conversation.

Good luck with your endeavours, anyway. It’s such a shame you turned on someone who supported you for so long (and you got it SO wrong SO many times).

Regards, Peter B.

Stephen Mayne wrote:

Thanks for at least getting back Peter. There’s not really much I can say without you spelling out your concerns. Be happy to respond if you do that.

I’m not really sure how I would go about being a media critic whilst being a cheer squad for Rupert’s tabloid editors.

Besides, my first criticism of you came after your paper gave, in my view, inadequate coverage to concerns I raised during the Victorian election campaign.

I then published jeffed.com and you went straight on Jon Faine saying you “wasted a few minutes reading it” and rejecting what I was saying.

You then effectively banned the site for the rest of the campaign despite the obvious public interest issues being raised.

As long as the Herald Sun continues to put your personal views of me ahead of standard news judgment, I don’t see how you can reasonably complain when I criticise you.

Cheers, Stephen M

Peter Blunden wrote:

You still haven’t explained why your bloke failed to identify himself at the appropriate time. Pretty unethical, I reckon.

Cheers, peter b.

Stephen Mayne wrote:

Touche Peter. Why didn’t your bloke from the News of the World not explain to Sophie Rhys-Jones that he was actually a reporter dressed up as an Arab Shiek wired up with hidden tape recorders.

Besides, Hugo’s main gig is actually being a contributor to The Age. Before his piece on the Quills (which was not pre-planned), he hadn’t written anything for Crikey in 6 months which hardly makes him a Crikey employee.

Cheers, SM

Peter Blunden wrote:

What the hell has the News of the World got to do with me? Strange logic, Stephen.

Stephen Mayne wrote:

These are the sorts of tactics used by your employer. If you are so het up by my journalistic principles, how can you possibly work for a company that pulls the wired Arab shiek stunt.

Stephen

ends

Now I reckon Peter has done a good job editing the Herald Sun. Its circulation has certainly held up better than his rivals at The Age and much better than its stablemate at The Daily Telegraph in Sydney.

But Peter still has his faults. He was too close to Jeff Kennett and didn’t ask enough tough questions when Jeff’s hubris was taking over. This partly reflected what the Murdochs wanted but that doesn’t mean you run a front page editorial telling the independents to back Jeff as the Herald Sun did on the day the independents formed a minority government with Labor.

The other criticism of Peter is that he, like most journalists, is incredibly thin skinned. He is blindly loyal to the Murdochs and expects blind loyalty from his journalists. He still can’t believe that I would leave News Ltd and then criticise him and other senior editorial executives.

The Murdoch culture of loyalty requires its journalists not to criticise their employer or any of their colleagues. This is why Blunden has told The Australian to “shove it up your arse” and is refusing to co-operate with them. The Australian’s Media section has been bold enough to criticise the Herald Sun and give News Ltd rivals the odd run. But this is not acceptable to Peter Blunden. He would prefer Media to be a News Ltd cheer squad which would be totally lacking in credibility and would also not serve its purpose because 70 per cent of Australia’s newspapers are owned by Murdoch.

Poor old Hugo has managed to annoy both editors in Melbourne with his piece. Age editor Michael Gawenda was miffed that Hugo repeated rumors coming out of Spencer that his health wasn’t too flash and now Blunden is upset because he didn’t confess to being a mate of Crikey’s when having a chat.

For the record, I reckon Hugo’s piece on the Quill awards was excellent and a couple of other readers have said the same as these emails demonstrate.

Hugo,

Great story o’ the Quills with some pertinent points. However I thought I might just point out that it was Ray Kennedy that shot the Aborigines in the phone box. I agree that the judging panels require a complete overhaul … Why do these dinosaurs get the gig when youth is the catchphrase of the workforce today? I would also like to ask what the hell was going on with a barrel girl on stage? Come to think of it, why didn’t any women win awards? Coincidence?

Cheers, Pixie Pictures (alias)

Dear Crikey

The quills started with the best of intentions but have turned into a mutual back slapping affair. And I say that as a former winner (although they were just the lowly Melbourne Press Club awards when I got my prize). What you wrote was spot on.

Cheers, Quentin Quillwinner (alias)

ends

Now, let’s take a look at another thin-skinned Murdoch heavyweight, media commentator Mark Day.

I’ll criticise you but don’t criticise me

By Stephen Mayne

Oh no, the end is nigh for Crikey because Murdoch millionaire Mark Day, who owns a farm with News Ltd CEO John Hartigan, has firstly predicted we’ve made a costly mistake in our fight with Steve Price and now vowed never to co-operate with us again after we put him on a “financial failures” list. Now we reckon Mark generally writes an excellent media column, but for someone who sits in judgment of the rest of the media and largely tends to push the Murdoch line, this is a little thin-skinned. Anyway, the beauty of the web is that you can follow these things through in detail so let’s first throw to that well-known spammer Rash Ash Long to take up the story with an extract from his latest e-letter.

Rash Ash welcomes Mark Day to financial strife club

* MARK DAY, Media columnist for The Australian, copped a slight yet determined bruising from ABC-TV presenter STUART LITTLEMORE this week, when the TV host and producer DAVID SALTER cobbled a 15-minute critique on the national daily newspaper. They featured some early 1960’s tape about RUPERT MURDOCH and the history of the broadsheet. With analysis of the Media section, LITTLEMORE termed DAY as a member of the ‘gutter’ press. Perhaps this is some old score that LITTLEMORE is trying to settle; it was hard to know where LITTLEMORE wanted to go.

* Interestingly, MARK DAY this week issued his CV to online site Crikey, after the Littlemore outburst. DAY traced his career from Copy Boy at The News in Adelaide; Editor of The Sunday Mail, Truth and The Daily Mirror; Publisher at The Australian; his lead roles at Australian Playboy and Australian Penthouse; his radio involvements with 3AW, 3AK/CBC; 2UE; 2GB; 3HA, 3CS, 3SH, 3WM, Bay FM and 2WL.

* MARK DAY, all that aside, returns to high estimation of Media Flash, because of his clear but brief 1991 CV inclusion: ‘Got caught in recession we had to have; went broke 93-4.’ Well done! DAY, in The Australian last July, publicly caned Media Flash Publisher ASH LONG when he volunteered similar admissions. DAY wrote then that LONG had ‘his reputation battered by his own admissions’. Nothing of the sort. DAY’S (and our own) standing is surely bettered by the frank and ready admission of business failures, if accompanied by the desire to make them good.

* MARK DAY could do well to devote one of his exemplary 1000-word Australian columns to trace his own track record: the very, very good and the not-so-good. Yes, admit the larrikinism at Truth. Yes, ‘fess up to the legend of a Truth directorship held by ‘M. DAY’, said to be a teenage nephew. Yes, discuss who lost money – and how much – because of the Truth collapse. Yes, tell the details on how Truth was bought on generous terms from RUPERT MURDOCH. Yes, talk about how the ACE radio stations went into the hands of interests associated with RUPERT MURDOCH-brother-in-law, GEOFF HANDBURY. Tell it all. All deserves the telling, from someone cementing his leadership as an outstanding Australian media commentator. It is also proper that readers be in an informed position to judge those who seek to lead or comment upon popular media issues.

ends

Now for Rash Ash to compare his own misdemeanors with Day’s failure at Truth is a little unfair because Rash Ash did more than go broke once, he admitted to “several collapsed businesses resulting in bankruptcy, returned cheques and unpaid debt; a good behaviour bond in the 1980s over dealings with a money lender; speeding tickets and late tax returns.”

He even had the begging bowl out for his subscribers last year when he got hit with a big Telstra bill.

Rash Ash also has nothing like the impressive media record of Mark Day, having spent most of his career flailing around in suburbans and regionals. Most media people had never heard of Rash Ash until he started spamming them in late 1999.

So while Rash Ash is still smarting about Mark Day’s siding with Crikey in our dispute last year (see column below), it is ironic that Mark Day has just cracked the shits with us at the same time.

After seeing last week’s Littlemore and reading the disclosure on his latest Media column about the number of radio stations he’d worked for, I emailed Day asking for a copy of his CV.

The reply came back as follows:

Mark Day’s CV

Hi Stephen

A COMPLETE CV … sheesh, that’s hard. I attach the one I use, which is truncated. But let’s see now …

1960 – started as copy boy at The News, Adelaide.

1961 – Cadetship – children’s page editor, the Sunday Mail.

66 – political writer The News.

68 – NY correspondent News Ltd Aust; later News of The World and Sun, London.

70 – Editor, Sunday Mail, Adelaide.

72 – Assist Editor News Daily Mirror Sydney

74 – Editor, Truth

75 – Editor, Daily Mirror

76 – Publisher The Australian

77 – Ed in Chief The Aust and Daily Mirror

79 – Founding Editor Aust Playboy (ACP); later ditto Aust Penthouse

81 – Purchased Truth

83 – Drive time 3AW (as well as Truth duties)

84 – purchased 3HA Hamilton; later 3CS Colac, 3SH Swan Hill, 3WM Horsham; Bay FM Geelong, 2WL Wollongong (’88)

85 -86 Day by Day HSV7 (as well as AW – later 3AK/CBC Sydney-Melbourne plus Truth … pretty busy those days)

87 – 2UE Drive (plus Truth responsibilities)

88 – 2UE afternoons.

91 – Quit radio performing; began Daily Telegraph column; commuted to Melbourne; got caught in recession we had to have; went broke 93-4.

96 – 2GB Drive.

97 – went walkabout – wrote book Pulse of the Nation, published 99

99 – started Oz Media column, which enables me to draw on all of the above.

Cheers, Mark Day

Crikey’s list of prominent people who have experienced financial difficulties

Coincidentally, Crikey was putting together a list prominent Australians who have suffered a business failure at some point so when we saw the disclosure on Mark’s CV, we put him on the list and sent it around to subscribers. This is that list and with the exception of Alan Bond, most people on it are back doing what they do best today.

Jimmy Barnes: Had a Part X agreement with creditors.

Max Beck: Twice went broke in the 1970s. Now on the BRW Rich List.

Alan Bond: Went broke owing about $1 billion and settled for less than 1c in the dollar.

Mike Brady: The man who wrote Up Their Cazaly went wrong on a Cairns property development.

Darryl Braithwaite: Went under a couple of times.

Mark Day: went broke when The Truth got into strife in 1993-94.

Joe Gutnick: Tricontinental lost about $35 million in his Centaur company.

Doug Moran: The nursing home mogul cost Westpac about $200 million and he’s now worth about $300m.

Bert Newton: Did a deal with creditors in the early 90s after getting front page Herald Sun treatment.

Brian Ray: The developer sent Kerry Packer $235,000 in cash back in 1980 when he paying creditors owed $3 million about 1c in the dollar.

Glenn Wheatley: Went down over an investment in The Ivy which cost Pyramid and therefore Victorian taxpayers a few million.

Lloyd Williams: Dominion Properties hit the wall in the 1970s but he came back strongly and is now firmly on the Rich List.

We sent around his full CV to subscribers in a separate email observing that it left him well placed to comment on the media. Well judging by the following email we received from Mark Day on Thursday, he didn’t like this financial failing being mentioned at all, even though it is accurate. We say good on him for disclosing it in the first place but why then ark up about it being further disclosed.

Email from Mark Day to Crikey

Stephen

Silly me. I took your request at face value. Next thing I see I’m on your going broke list. Terrific. Don’t bother asking me for anything in the future.

Mark Day

Mark seemed very happy last year to be on our “lily white” list of journalists who never sold out to PR. The irony of all this is that Mark Day has predicted Crikey, who has never been broke, will be in financial strife because 3AW’s Steve Price is suing us for defamation and has served a contempt of court summons on us.

We sent a letter to The Australian’s Media section in response to his February column but, surprise, surprise, it did not see the light of day.

Anyway, this is the Mark Day column in question which predicts out imminent demise. I’m not sure if his doomsday scenario might have been influenced by our criticism of him the week before for writing a piece eulogising Tom and Nicole when his wife Wendy Day is Nicole’s Australian manager. (CORRECTION: We earlier published that Mark did not disclose this connection when in fact he did so we apologise fulsomely for this mistake.)

Mark Day column on Crikey vs Steve Price

‘AUSTRALIA needs a really good debate about defamation and free speech and this is shaping up to be an excellent trigger.’

Stephen Mayne, Crikey,

February 16, 2001

AS entertainment goes, the legal stoush between Stephen Mayne and Stephen Price is a ripper. It has a plot made for a telemovie; a couple of colourful media characters locking horns over principles, charges of hypocrisy, public exhortations to ridicule, personal venom involving lawyers as wedding guests, and the odd moment of debate about the rights and wrongs of defamation law and free speech.

Mayne, who has just celebrated his first anniversary as proprietor of Crikey.com, a website of political, business and media comment, is making the running, while Price, who made his name by making rudeness an art form as the drive time announcer on Melbourne’s 3AW, maintains a lawyer-directed silence.

Mayne is clearly hoping his battle with Price will be elevated to a proper debate about defamation and free speech, and along the way he’ll get enough publicity to drive his website towards break-even, or even profit. It’s a canny, if not noble, thought, but it is unlikely to happen.

Because these matters are before the courts, I’ll refrain from predicting any outcomes. But one of the grim lessons I learned in my time as a proprietor is that legal stoushes are to be avoided at all cost. This can be galling, particularly when you think matters of principle are involved, but win, lose or draw it’s going to cost more to have the fight than settle it. The only winners are the lawyers.

Mayne is the unguided missile of the Australian media. That means he attracts attention, and in this action with Price, many journalist correspondents to his site are sooling him on with encouraging messages. It helps that Price has fostered a love-him-or-hate-him on-air persona. Those who dislike him are cheering loudly from the sidelines.

The current action sprang from last year’s by-election in Frankston East, south of Melbourne, which saw the end of the Kennett government. On 3AW Price challenged a candidate who had failed to mention previous criminal convictions. The candidate was unimpressed by this and retaliated by making allegations about Price regarding a radio cash-for-comment deal. These were later investigated by the Australian Broadcasting Authority and found to be baseless.

The allegations were published in the industry journal AdNews

, and Price sued. The matter was settled out of court.

Mayne also published the allegations, but took them down from his site immediately after he was informed of their inaccuracy. He replaced the offending article with an apology to Price, but commented that, inter alia, Price was a radio bovver-boy who could dish it out but not take it, and why would he bother to sue a $2 company such as Crikey Media?

Price did sue and over the next weeks Mayne kept subscribers informed of the legal manoeuvres on Price’s behalf, including naming the solicitor handling the case and encouraging his readers to email him with the message that he (Price) should cease and desist in the action.

Price, meantime, went on air during his regular spot with John Stanley (2UE, Sydney) and bemoaned the trend in Australia for people to sue over inconsequential matters; in this case, a girl who was allegedly scalded by hot water at a children’s party at a McDonald’s outlet.

Now, Mayne reasoned, he had Price on a charge of hypocrisy. His website commentary became more colourful and he invited his readers to join him at a 3AW outside broadcast to protest against Price.

Price saw this as a campaign of intimidation, and his lawyers served papers alleging contempt of court. In a 41-page statement of claim, they said: “The publications both individually and cumulatively were likely to, or had a tendency to, or were intended to, interfere with or obstruct the due administration of justice in that they contained threats directed to both the plaintiff and his legal representatives designed, calculated or intended to dissuade the plaintiff from continuing his proceedings; they contained warnings directed to the plaintiff that unless he discontinue or withdraw his proceeding he would suffer . . . adverse publicity and public condemnation . . .”

At this point Mayne discovered the legal team lined up against him included barristers Gina Schoff and Will Houghton, QC, who he said were friends of his wife, Paula, and had attended his wedding last year. “Thanks for the nice throw rug, Gina,” he wrote.

Throughout, Price has said nothing. But he has stuck to his belief that any media outlet; whether it has an audience of millions or a few hundred, such as Crikey; has a responsibility to get its facts right or face the consequences. He is of the view that he has to get it right on his radio program, so there shouldn’t be different rules for web publishers.

This is a valid point, and it shows our protagonists are talking about two different things. Price wants the existing rules enforced. He is using laws that most journalists think are restrictive, outdated and perilously difficult in their lack of uniformity between the states, to protect his reputation.

No matter what we might think of that course of action, he has that right.

Mayne, clearly, would like a national debate on what the rules of defamation and free speech should be. He has provided a sideshow of commentary and activism which might have entertained his customers, and has, according to his claims, resulted in a surge of 200 new subscriptions and $6000 in revenues. He even suggests making Price his marketing manager.

There is a benefit in characters like Mayne, wild cards pricking the pompous and having a larrikin go at the status quo. The world would be dull without them. But I am afraid, if my experience with defamations and contempts is any guide, Mayne will discover to his considerable consternation that the law tends to look only at the matters before it, and resists any entreaty to debate wider issues.

That could be a very costly misjudgment.

[email protected]

ends

And this is his earlier column about our fight with Rash Ash.

Mark Day on fight with Spammer Rash Ash

Crikey! It’s a stuff-up!

Mark Day

The Australian

Media Section July 13 2000.

Stephen Mayne, co-proprietor and frontman of Crikey.com describes himself as “extremely tall and, many argue, extremely mad”. Ash Long, proprietor and compiler of Media Flash speaks of his own “sometimes over-active larrikin gland”. In the past week the madman and the larrikin, who had been sharing their media e-mag turf, faced off in a bitter battle over a finger error.

Its been a fascinating skirmish, because it has involved old-fashioned journalistic principles entwined with new notions of internet etiquette, with consumers – readers- at the forefront, putting in their two bobs worth. In a nutshell, Long published and was damned.

Until this week, these two unlikely lads and their very different publications have been walking in a mutually beneficial two-step. Media Flash has been incorporated into Crikey. From Long’s point of view, the arrangement has extended his reach; from Mayne’s perspective, Long’s newsletter has added substance to his site.

Crikey has been off the boil in recent weeks. This is because Mayne has been hands off, touring the world’s bright spots on what he describes as a two month pre-nuptial honeymoon.

Mayne’s absence has meant that Crikey’s techno, partner Con (Gadget) Christov, has been in charge. Christov normally manages the site and sends out the weekly email to $30-a-year subscribers which contains pointers to the week’s edition and any “sealed section” items, which are made available to subscribers before they are published (free) on the website.

With Mayne away, Christov has been working doubly hard. “I was tired and had a raging headache,” he recalls of events early last week. “I sat down to send out the emails – I’d like to go back to this moment and whisper in my ear ‘Change the recipient type to BBC’, (but) I pasted in the subscriber list, pasted in the message body, and pressed send.” Then he went to bed.

What Christov had done was send out the email to 278 subscribers with the normally hidden the list of recipients available for all to see. The temptation was too great for some, and soon Crikey subscribers were receiving emails from others with something to sell – an online media sponsor, a self-publisher, and a weekly automotive newsletter publisher.

This is called spamming, and it is the biggest no-no in netiquette. It is electronic junk mail.

“The first I knew of my mistake was midday Tuesday,” Christov wrote on the Crikey site. ” I checked my mail and there were quite a few irate messages, like ‘Are you out of your fking mind.’

” Oh, shit! What have I done?” he asked himself. He promptly dispatched an email of apology.

But it got worse. Ash Long picked up on Christov’s finger error and reported it in Media Flash. He wrote: “There are just 278 names listed as Crikey subscribers. This low number could be regarded as disappointing given the $80,000 investment of business partners earlier this year.”

Then he added: ” Here are the types of people who receive Crikey,” and published the complete list of addresses. Then the fur really started to fly. Solicitors letters zapped back and forth (“We reserve our rights”) and subscribers lambasted Long (“one day you might get to met my Russian friend Kalishnikov”; “You are a low scumbag”; ” I believe in an eye for an eye and one of my missions in life is to make yours a little bit less pleasant.”)

Long was copping heaps, and clearly figured disclosure was best method of defence. This week he described Media Flash as “a weekly e-newspaper about the successes, failures and foibles of Australian media people.

“Just sometimes, some of these media people become alarmingly sensitive when the microscope with which they examine others, is briefly shone across them,” he wrote. “It is appropriate to register on the public record that I have had my own good measure of business successes, failures and foibles. The successes of which I am proud include a career including ownership of my own award-winning newspaper group for 10 years, my own TV production company’s programs, and some benchmark media work over more than 25 years.

“The failures that I profoundly regret and am sorry about include several collapsed businesses resulting in bankruptcy, returned cheques and unpaid debt; a good behaviour bond in the 1980s over dealings with a money lender; speeding tickets and late tax returns.”

Long defends his action in publishing Crikey being measured by its own standards is fair, but he didn’t have to publish the addresses to make that point. He argues that it is of interest to see who is reading Crikey – a point which, if valid, could have made by identifying the users’ names, not their addresses.

Long dismisses the spamming potential of his action as “a side issue”. He says: “I suspect the Crikey people are more angry at me for revealing the small subscriber numbers.”

But Christov, in his first apologetic message to Crikey subscribers, said only a “partial” list was revealed by his mistake. He has not responded to my request for the total number of subscribers.

The lessons of this saga seem to me to be: one, errors do happen, even in the best regulated circles, but are mainly forgiven ( this column was dropped in some editions a couple of weeks ago by a printing stuff-up!); two, spamming is an activity which drives some people virtually berserk, while others don’t give a damn, and; three, editorial judgements are the bottom line of any publication.

Ash Long’s editorial judgement was wrong. It was a cheap shot at what he saw as a subscriber list of 278 against his own 6000. The result has led him being banished from Crikey with his reputation battered by his own admission and the anger of his own as well as Crikey’s readers.

ends

So if you put Rash Ash, Crikey and Mark Day in a room together at the moment, it would be interesting to see who would speak to who.

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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