The July profile of Crikey in Forbes magazine was headed “Loathed – and loving it” – so just who does hate Crikey the most and why?
Ironically, even with a highly respected international business magazine, this was a picture driven exercise. The journalist first made contact for a story on pan-Asian shareholder activism and Forbes flew a freelance photographer from Sydney to Melbourne to take a few shots of the 7-foot Crikey foam suit on the steps of the Victorian Parliament.
They didn’t use the picture in this piece but the New York-based picture editor liked the picture so much that the word went back to Justin that they wanted a separate story on Crikey so they could run the picture.
Forbes came up with the headline “Loathed – and loving it” which might have reflected some of the responses to Justin’s various questions.
This is one such email I sent him when he asked who could comment on our activities:
“Justin, I know the PR textbook says that in these situations I should deluge you with people saying nice things but I try to take a “they write what they write” approach.
So here’s a list of people who’ll probably give me a good spray:
Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden: [email protected]
Media commentator Mark Day: [email protected]
Former Age editor turned spindoctor Mike Smith: [email protected]
Fin Review editor in chief Micheal Gill: [email protected]
Also, anyone from Westfield, BHP and Murdoch inc would probably have a good go too.
Interestingly, Mark Day was the only one of these quoted in the story and he was almost charitable, albeit with a couple of barbs thrown in.
Hated and inaccurate say the critics
And when the email came back from Justin saying that some people were saying Crikey was inaccurate and had many enemies, this was the email response sent back to Singapore:
The comment I make is “Bridges build bridges burn”. The Australian corporate and media sectors are pretty clubby and they have never had someone taking my approach. Naturally, a lot of people don’t like it and I accept that many people will hate what I do. At this level, I’m in the conflict business.
For instance, I had a good relationship with The Australian’s editor in chief David Armstrong, but then he took offence when I called his China correspondent a plagiarist because she and her partner were filing identical columns to different parts of the world under different by-lines.
I had a good relationship with The Australian’s most senior media commentator in Mark Day but then when I put him on a list of “prominent former bankrupts”, he got very annoyed.
Packer’s offensive comment was simply for asking whether he’d lost money investing in Hoyts. Both he and Murdoch are not used to facing awkward questions at AGMs.
Re accuracy, I’m working from home without a great library or data base and producing 10,000 words a week so readily admit this isn’t a mistake free operation. But we have a policy of correcting as soon as I’m aware of an error.
Have been doing up to 5 radio spots a week also so it’s a big load as you can imagine. Ironically, today was the first time in 18 months we actually had a clarification read out on air (ABC Sydney).
It’s hard to defend accuracy without any specifics. Have you got any details?
Now before getting onto this issue of who hates Crikey the most and why, let’s have a look at the Forbes article.
The Forbes article: Loathed and loving it
By Justin Doebele
Lots of powerful Australians dislike corporate gadfly Stephen Mayne.
Kerry Packer is Australia’s richest man, worth an estimated $2.5 billion. At a meeting in Sydney in October of the shareholders of Packer’s Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd., Stephen Mayne grilled Packer on some bad investments. After several minutes Packer retorted: “Do you basically set out to be offensive, or is it just natural?”
The answer is – both. Stephen Mayne, 31, is Australia’s most outspoken–and disliked–shareholder gadfly, asking impertinent questions of Australia’s high and mighty. Besides Packer, he has taken on Rupert Murdoch, over his personal use of News Corp. assets and the company’s low dividend yield, and Steve Price, a popular radio show host. (Price, who is suing Mayne for defamation, declined to comment.) Mayne shows up at about a hundred shareholder meetings a year, sometimes arriving on a bicycle at meetings in Melbourne, where he is based. He has also stood outside meetings dressed in a lime-green costume.
A self-promoting professional pain-in-the-neck? No doubt. But until September 1999 Mayne was a prominent columnist with the Australian Financial Review, the country’s biggest business newspaper. In 1999 he won Australia’s top journalism prize, the Walkley, in the business category. He left his column to run, unsuccessfully, for public office in the state of Victoria; he turned full-time shareholder activist in February of 2000. “I decided that I should become a part of the [corporate-governance] story.”
Mayne broadcasts his criticisms of Australia’s corporate establishment at shareholder meetings, on radio talk shows and on his two websites, Crikey.com.au and Shareowner.com.au. Together the sites get more than 20,000 hits a week, he claims; he also claims that more than 1,400 Australian political, business and media heavyweights pay to get full access to the sites and a daily e-mail newsletter (A$55 a year; US$29). As Mayne says on Crikey.com, “It is our self-appointed task to take a long, thin spike to the bloated egos of political and corporate Australia.”
To be sure, Mayne has yet to score any landmark victories, such as winning a major lawsuit or getting reforms enacted. Nonetheless, he is hoping to inspire others to become more active.
Gadflies like him don’t arise in vacuums. Australia’s equity culture is growing rapidly. About half the adult population, 7.6 million, own shares directly or indirectly (through the spread of private pension plans since the early 1990s). Membership in the Australian Shareholders Association (ASA), founded in 1960, has shot from fewer than a hundred members in the early 1990s to 7,000 today; according to Tony McLean, its head, it’s growing at a 20% annual clip.
Yet many of Australia’s business elites have failed to keep up with demands from the new shareholder class for transparency and attention to building shareholder value. Boards can be stacked with insiders. There are problems, as elsewhere, of executives’ getting fat paychecks though adding little to the bottom line. There are demands for better oversight in the wake of the prominent collapses recently of the telecom firm One.Tel and the insurance giant HIH.
“Mayne broke an unwritten rule that you don’t challenge corporate boards,” says Sandy Easterbook, head of Corporate Governance International, an investor advisor group in Sydney. “Mayne has had an impact in stirring up excitement about shareholder causes,” says McLean.
Mayne’s critics say he overstates his influence on corporate governance, is too sensational and plays fast and loose with facts. “He is inclined to fire from the lip,”charges Mark Day, the media columnist for The Australian. “He frequently gets his facts wrong. “[Still,] most fair-minded people would say that his heart is in the right place.”
“I’m in the conflict business, [and] many people hate what I do,” Mayne says. But until ordinary Australians stop buying stocks, he’s not going away.
The Crikey Hate List
I often joke to Paula that I haven’t got any friends left after burning all these bridges over the past four years. Friends aside, this is our top 15 names of prominent people who hate Crikey and what it says about them.
Jeff Kennett: No one could possibly hate Crikey more than Jeff although he did say a cheery hello when we bumped into each in Collins Street 12 months ago. There are countless examples of Jeff’s personal abuse against me and having contributed slightly to his downfall and thrown more arrows than anyone else, the blood must still boil.
Steve Price: given that he’s hired a couple of Paula’s friends to throw the book at Crikey for defamation and contempt in the Victorian Supreme Court, it is hard not to put the tub-thumping 3AW program director and Drive host at the top of the hate list. I’ve been the biggest critic of 3AW and annoyed them greatly by pointing out all their links to the Kennett regime and criticising them at the last two Southern Cross Broadcasting AGMs.
Peter Blunden: The Herald Sun editor must be up to about rave number 469 against Crikey now. His line goes that he looked after me at the Herald Sun and then I ratted on him and he says this to anyone who’ll listen at least a couple of times a week. Peter can’t see beyond the fact that just because a Murdoch editor gives you 18-months leave without pay doesn’t mean you ignore his subservience to Jeff Kennett and other public interest issues. And when Blunden then throws a long-standing ban on Crikey in the Herald Sun, he then complains when you write about him taking up with his secretary. Strangely enough, Blunden has just moved in up the road in East Melbourne and we exchanged pleasantries in the street the other day, but so many people keep telling me of his bollockings that he obviously has a passionate hatred running that leaves him only second to Price. I even suspect that he hired Price as a columnist in the Herald Sun recently in part to give me the shits and to help pay Price’s legal fees.
Michael Gill: The editor in chief of the Fin Review sent an email threatening legal action against me when we had a public slanging match over the circumstances of my departure from the Fin Review in September 1999. Gill pulled an article I’d been commissioned to write about Jeff Kennett without even seeing it or talking to me. Ever since all the Fairfax Business Publications that he runs (AFR, Personal Investment, Shares and BRW) have conspicuously under-reported Crikey’s activities as Australia’s leading shareholder activist.
Frank Lowy: Australia’s second richest man and Westfield chairman can barely contain his rage each time Crikey gets up at his AGM and asks the tough questions. Frank thinks money can buy anything and is used to crushing critics with tactics that range from legal avalanches, huge political donations or the running of bogus community groups. He censored my platform when I ran for the Westfield Holdings board last year and regularly resorts to personal abuse in answering questions.
Col Allan: Having become the first News Ltd insider to speak out about his disgusting habits and having made him famous in New York for pissing in his office since, Col Allan must be ruing the day he agreed to let me parachute from the Herald Sun to his Daily Telegraph after the Four Corners story on Kennett’s dodgy share dealings in October 1997. Col even instructed the Tele’s Strictly Confidential gossip column to run a “separated at birth” style item saying I looked just like the psychopath who tried to kill George Harrison. And he even refused to acknowledge in The Telegraph when I won their first Walkley for reporting in years.
James and Kerry Packer: The Packers are used to getting their way without any criticism so they don’t take at all kindly to my habit of asking questions at every shareholder meeting they attend. James called one of my questions “offensive” last year and then Kerry asked if I “deliberately set out to be offensive”.
Natasha Stott Despoja: The Democrats leader has told people Crikey’s criticism of her is tied up with our dislike of the Packers and the fact that she is dating Channel Nine reporter Hugh Riminton. I’ve never actually met Natasha and it is Hillary who has really gone after her but a PR man has tried to broker a meeting recently and her mother even rang up to complain about a story one time so she must take it pretty hard.
Stan Howard: After calling him the worst professional director in Australia at the Arthur Yates AGM last November, the PM’s older brother gave his first ever interview to the Weekend Australian specifically to deny the charge. I then repeated it at another testy exchange at the Cumnock Coal AGM earlier this year and was faced with a legal complaint from Stan sent to ABC Sydney after some on air comments about his role in the GIO disasters (a clarification was read on air). It would be fair to assume that Stan really hates Crikey now but with disasters such as National Textiles, Arthur Yates and GIO under his belt, this is one that we can comfortably live with.
Peter Maher: I’ve only met the boss of Rehame once but his CEO sent a couple of threatening legal letters last year and one can only imagine what he thought of the recent flurry of anti-Rehame material we’ve published.
Graham Richardson: Richo sought legal advice last year over whether he should sue over a piece we carried just before the Olympics which raked over his coals about Gold Coast hookers and other such grubby deeds last year. I sat opposite him at the launch of Glenn Wheatley’s book in November 1999 and we got on just fine back then.
John Singleton: We had some terrific feedback to our piece on the Singleton Group AGM earlier this year which is usually a sign that the subject of the article would be pretty upset. Singo is a shocker of bloke who has 7 kids from 6 wives and has got rich over the years from his mates like Kerry Packer, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. Few people point out that he’s an old white shoe brigade man and after what he did to Eric Beecher with The Eye, we’re proud to be despised by Singo.
John Laws: The Golden Tonsils must hate the fact that I stand for the board of any company that pays him money in an attempt to embarrass them into withdrawing their cash for comment deals. We’ve probably cost Laws almost a million in missed contracts so far and are still waiting to hear if the NRMA have renewed their six-figure deal that expired on June 30, 2001. If they have, we’ll be nominating for their board again on an anti-cash for comment ticket.
Alan Jones: Optus cancelled his $300,000 a year contract with the Parrot just 10 days after we announced plans to run for their board and I’ve been spraying the Parrot at AGMs, on radio and on Crikey for 18 months now. Surprise, surprise, 2UE is one of the few radio stations Crikey has never done an interview with. Jones is a great hater and we can’t be hated enough by this loathsome character.
The list would take forever to detail in full but here is a list of newspapers journalists who we know don’t like Crikey for some reason: Kate Askew, Ian McIlwraith, Mark Day, Geoffrey Barker, Madonna King, Lynne O’Donnell.
And there are a stack of company directors who loath what we do. People such as: Tony Daniels, Mark Rayner, Tim Besley, David Murray, John Uhrig, Stan Howard, Don Argus, David Gonski, Mark Burrows and John Dahlsen.
There are also lots of small fry players with an axe to grind against Crikey. Poor old Rash Ash Long, the former bankrupt and Bruce Mansfield freebies for comment procurer, has regular sprays at Crikey on his spam sheet Media Flash and even made some extraordinary defamation threats last year after spamming his 5000 victims with our accidentally revealed subscription list.
If you hate Crikey and would like to be added to our list then please email us at [email protected]