Terry Television reviews the competition on Sunday morning television business coverage.

Sunday morning – March 28

As it should have been it was NAB, NAB and NAB on the Sunday morning
business programs this morning. Nine, Seven and Aunty all covered the
boardroom brawl that’s got Graeme Kraehe and some of his fellow members
of the boofy-headed blokes club that runs corporate Australia, up
against a mild-manned corporate lawyer from Melbourne, Cathy Walter.

Sadly, Mrs Walter hasn’t got much of a PR strategy as she failed to
appear anywhere to talk but was readily available on Friday and
Saturday to be photographed and filmed. There was still plenty of NAB
and APRA and its chairman, a newly aggressive, assertive Dr John Laker.

So who won this Sunday’s bunfight? Business Sunday on Nine has good
coverage with Terry McCrann pushing a predictable line (naughty APRA,
who cares about $360 million), that was seemingly truncated. Likewise
with the interviews – Ali Moore’s chat with Dr Laker and Ross
Greenwood’s interview with Graeme Kraehe. Both could have gone longer
and seem to have been cut to fit the new look on Business Sunday:
shortish, brightish and not too deep.

Hearing more from Laker and Kraehe, and McCrann and Allan Fels’ nice
little tailpiece, would have been preferable to the once-over lightly
StockWatch segment on Repco Ltd and Greenwood’s blokey interchanges
with David Jones CEO Mark McInnes. It was as if Business Sunday
realised the NAB was the issue late in the week and cut from the end to
make it all fit. That said, the interviews with Leigh Clifford of RTZ
and Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer, were worth their length.

On Seven, Michael Pascoe packaged up an interview with Kraehe into a
commentary that was neatly acerbic and then used as a set-up to a
longer interview with APRA’s Laker. Pascoe’s much sharper commentary
made the point and nicely shaped the rest of the segment. But it stood
out in a programme on Seven that was just off the pace: the long boring
political interview with the ACTU’s Greg Combet was, well
sleep-inducing on a morning when we should have been sleeping longer
with the end of daylight saving.

On the ABC, Alan Kohler had the tag team of Kraehe and Laker as well.
After giving the NAB chairman a nice touch over board leaks (making the
point that there was someone leaking against Mrs Walter – ‘not me’ said
Graeme) he didn’t pursue his nice column point exposing the difference
in approach from the NAB to the APRA report.

In its statement on Wednesday, the NAB through Kraehe and CEO John
Stewart, described the many of the APRA requirements as “proposed”
while APRA said they were ” requirements” for action from the NAB. It
would have been a very nice point to put to Kraehe, but Kohler let him
off the hook.

Kohler, like Pascoe wrung more detail from APRA about Charles Allen’s
dereliction of duty in not passing on the APRA letter to the rest of
the board. Laker said he delivered the news personally to the NAB board
last week and APRA was thinking of stepping up its board visits (now
that would be interesting at the Commonwealth Bank where David Murray
rules with an iron fist). But Like Business Sunday, there was an abrupt
end to an interview that had gotten interesting.

As Kohler said ” the days of making excuses at the NAB are over” nicely
put. Were Kraehe and Walter listening? It was good of Inside Business
to look at the ACCC’s move on Telstra on broadband pricing: there’s
another dysfunctional board waiting to implode!

So what did we learn from this coverage? Well, former NAB Chairman,
Charles Allen has been allowed to vanish, unscathed: Dr Laker told
Michael Pascoe on Seven that he still cannot understand how his NAB
counterpart (Allen), didn’t pass on the APRA letter back in early 2003
to the rest of the board and then actively push its follow up and
settlement of the issues. That surely has to be issue for other
authorities as it goes to culpability for the whole sorry disaster.
Frank Cicutto’s departure also demands greater explanation: did he go
because he knew of the letter and knew nothing had been done?

There was no reasonable explanation from Kraehe (or Walter) about why
things have got to this point on the NAB board and I wish Mr Crazy
(sic) would have the manners to pronounce Cathy Walter’s surname as
Walter, not “Walters”.

And nice of Kraehe to anticipate (very accurately) what shareholders
will do to Mrs Walter when he told Kohler than ‘when Mrs Walter goes’
she would be the third director to go over the forex trading issue,
only to be brought up short by Kohler who reminded him that that
wouldn’t be so because Kraehe had said she was in a different position
to Allen and Cicutto.

And, finally, am I hearing things, but do I get the impression from the
APRA report and the interviews with Dr Laker, that the NAB is sort of
in a ‘Clayton’s Administration” situation to coin a poor phrase.

I just get the impression that while it is still independent and
running things and managing itself, APRA is looking so closely over its
shoulder that it is a loose, de-facto form of administration. (Alan
Fels on Business Sunday made the nice point that shouldn’t APRA and
especially the NAB have made a more timely disclosure of this in 2003).

The NAB can’t do much in the trading area: been told to boost capital
requirements until all the reforms are done (which will force it to
lend less to some clients). That to me sounds like some sort external
control. The NAB doesn’t have total control over its future at the
moment!

Certainly Laker, while not commenting directly on the brawl, warned in
his Business Sunday interview that if the division slowed the
implementation of the APRA reforms, then APRA would move “vigorously”
to make sure they were.

Unless she quits early, Cathy Walter will be done like a dinner with
the big gutless instos (and their fee-loving ways) will ensure that.

And quite brutally, if the NAB is anything like the other great
dysfunctional family, Coles Myer, then the recovery will start slowly
and then suddenly blossom, once the divisions (Walter) are put behind
them.

So a draw this Sunday between all three: Business Sunday and Inside
Business for the breadth of coverage, but not for their lack of
confidence in their talent and their viewers. Pascoe managed to
scramble along side for the directness of his commentary and
questioning; and making use of limited resources, compared to the
others.

Sunday morning – March 21

Yet another Sunday morning of television and banks and property were in the sights of our business programs.

Nine’s Business Sunday looked at the NAB’s forex-fiddling fiasco with
an interview with the Federal Labor Opposition’s Stephen Conroy, a
veteran foe of the big end of town. He was harassed, quite nicely, by
Ali Moore, who asked the right questions about the real culprits for
the NAB’s problem (surviving board members such as Cathy Walter and
Graham Kraehe).

Moore also had a chat with a very capable-looking and sounding Michael
Foot, a former big whig at the Bank of England, now a managing director
of the Financial Services Authority in London. This was a good get and
an example of what you can do when on a junket (like last week’s lite
report on Citigroup’s finance conference in London).

In the same vein Moore promoted another of her London interviews, the
elusive Leigh Clifford, the Rio Tinto boss for next Sunday’s program so
she clearly didn’t spent her time in the UK time riding the London Eye.

Ross Greenwood did a packaged interview with Bruce Dick, Australian CEO
of Dutch-owned Rabobank. After some reflection I perused the Business
Sunday website and there was a similar type of report on Rabobank last
year.

Much as Greenwood tried to get Dick to say they were interested in
mainstream banks like St George, he declined (as he did last year),
pointing out that it was a rural-focused institution. And the back
announcement that Rabobank would be playing a part in the consolidation
of the Australian banking industry was not based on the tone of Dick’s
replies to Greenwood’s prodding. Besides, what banking industry
consolidation are we talking about here? The NAB’s debacle has cemented
the four pillars even more firmly in place than ever.

On Seven’s Sunday Sunrise, Michael Pascoe touched up Aristocrat and
former chairman John Ducker’s ambitions to cling on for dear life – and
for $570,000. Earlier he talked to a Commonwealth banker David Murray
who dropped in to the Seven studios at Epping before fleeing to Sydney
Airport and a roadshow in Asia.

A good, slick interview in the usual Pascoe fashion. But Business
Sunday won the morning because of the two Moore items; Michael Foot and
Stephen Conroy.

Business Sunday’s Helen McCombie also carried a nice story on the
growth in Australian cosmetics companies, which naturally mentioned the
Packer-owned Jurlique. This was fair enough given the piece revealed
that local firms have just a 16% share of $1.6 billion in sales each
year.

That’s around $250 million in sales to locals and with Jurlique
revealing annual sales of $100 million this makes it by far the biggest
local operator and a credible interview.

The boss of Jurlique made a very nice point when he told McCombie that
they didn’t need money when Packer came investing and he revealed there
were four other candidates hoping to invest. “We chose them,” the
Jurlique man said, for their connections, not their money. This is an
interesting take on the usual Packer approach to investment. (“It’s MY
money”).

On the ABC, Inside Business with Alan Kohler was property-fixated: as
is Kohler’s obsession these days. Like his mentor, Robert Gottliebsen
(and the mentor of Greenwood), Kohler seems to believes that if you
keep warning about the sky falling, then eventually people will believe
you.

Max Walsh is another offender in this regard but it is important
to be right and the jury is still out on the property crash.
Interestingly, Kohler quit his own property in Melbourne’s Kew last
year for $1.9 million and is now renting waiting for prices to come
down.

After watching the property debate, I had no more idea about where prices were going than when it started.

Inside Business did have some reasonable markets coverage which was
better than Ross Greenwood’s once-over lightly on the performance of
the market over the past year culminating in last week’s new high.

Overall, it was a better performance from Business Sunday. Moore’s
studio item and London interview gave it more ooomph and depth to the
new formula. The cosmetics story was a nice take on an industry most
male journalists ignore: better than that old stand by on Inside
Business ” Corporate re-branding”! Duh!

But Business Sunday is still lacking in bite. Pascoe was his usual
smooth, sharp self and Kohler was worthy, but not as directed as the
previous week.

Property is interesting, but I think coverage is driven by the theory
of ‘we’ll be roooned’ while viewers (and readers of newspapers and
magazines) are driven by ‘it won’t happen to me’ so they tend to
tune-out.

Sunday morning – March 14

Ross Greenwood’s debut as stand-in host of the Nine Network’s Business
Sunday, while Ali Moore was off in London on a Citigroup junket, was a
less than under whelming performance.

In contrast Michael Pascoe’s performance over on the rival Seven
Network’s Sunday Sunrise was smoother, classier and in the end a more
weighty contribution to the national business debate.

Over on the ABC, that old stager, Alan Kohler, who’s been all over the
place as he has grown, was his usual smooth self providing quite a
contrast with Greenwood and his matey ways.

In terms of a performance ranking it was Pascoe 1, Kohler a very narrow
second and then a gap, followed by Greenwood. When Ali Moore returns
from London, she will lift the game for Business Sunday. So, perhaps
it’s a little unfair to Greenwood. After all Business Sunday isn’t the
Today show with its banal chat and light pacy nothings. There were too
many “yeahs”, and a too-colloquial approach to reading an autocue.

Greenwood did have a nice story on the Live animal export trade, Helen
McCombie carried the program with a packaged interview with Ford
Australia CEO, Geoff Polites who is off to Ford Europe, and an
interview with John Fletcher, CEO of Coles, looking very un-Roger
Corbett (the Woolies CEO who seems to have his name tag in every shot
in the press, on TV and on the web). No, Fletcher was tieless and
looking very relaxed: after such a good result its no wonder.

Terry McCrann was his usual elfin self on Business Sunday, looking
sharp in pinstripes. A welcome trend has been the elimination of the
condescending short phrases summarising what Terry was telling us that
used to appear on a graphic behind his right shoulder.

On Seven, Pascoe looked at the NAB’s forex debacle and was his usual
acerbic self: the very approach that Nine sources last year say cost
him his job with John Alexander. JA’s credibility suffered after he
sacked Pascoe, saying that he was a “joke ” and not taken seriously
around town.

Wasn’t it really because he had the hide to be critical of business and
ask tough questions. There were plenty of sour grapes from the various
people Pascoe touched up, especially at Macquarie Bank, the alma Mater
of PBL CEO, Peter Yates.

Anyway the Pascoe commentary on the NAB showed up what is missing on
Business Sunday now that Greenwood had abandoned the Extraordinary
Items column at the end of the program and given the time to the
lightweight StockWatch segment of his underling Oriel Morrison and the
comment piece by Allan Fels. Speaking of which, isn’t there a feeling
of a conflict of interest with Fels bagging Telstra, one of his bete
noirs when he was at the ACCC. There was just a touch of Get Square!

Pascoe’s commentary neatly segued into an interview with the Minister
for Revenue and tall Blonde Hairdos, Senator Helen Coonan, that was
live: something that Business Sunday needs to have more regularly.
Apart from the little newsbreak in super co-payments, Senator Coonan
was off the pace and Pascoe needs to pull better talent for those big
live interviews.

Over at the ABC, it was Kohler talking to Jeff Lucy… now here’s a
test… who is Jeff Lucy? Answer it and you will win a free trip to
Spain!

Anyway Kohler and Lucy was a meeting of minds: A sober, serious
interview with the acting head of ASIC. And although Business Sunday
had John Fletcher of Coles Myer, Lucy was the best get of the week and
one you’d normally expect to see on the Nine Network show, before it
went to light bright and short segments this year.

Is there a changing of the guard in Sunday morning business coverage?
Kohler’s programme also looked at the NAB forex debacle report on
Friday in more depth than the McCrann commentary on Business Sunday and
with about the same weight of the Pascoe piece on Seven. Overall,
Business Sunday looked light on in this area although they did give NAB
a big burst last week.

Sunday was also notable for the debut on Sunday Sunrise of the Seven
network’s new political heavy, Mark Riley, formerly of the SMH. It was
a nervous, somewhat faltering start with a difficult subject in Defence
Minister Robert Hill who always reminds me of a gnome caught napping.
Riley couldn’t prod him any more awake than usual.

Compared to the Laurie Oakes grilling of a hesitant Tony Abbott, it was
no-contest. But compared to Glenn Milne, the previous Seven political
inquisitor, then I reckon Mark Riley can be worked on and moulded into
a more than reasonable performer.

But he has to, very quickly, learn to ask questions and put light and
shades of meaning and emphasis into his voice: In short learn some
acting skills.

Kohler has improved as he has understood that (although he still has a
way to go). Pascoe and Ali Moore are consummate performers and Ross
Greenwood is Mr Monotone.

And finally…. Inside Business on the ABC had the only discrete
segment on the markets. Seven ignores them and Business Sunday appears
to have turned its segment into a series of fleeting graphics at the
end of segments. Curious for a show that claims to be serious about
business.

Perhaps it is the Today show on Sunday after all!

Peter Fray

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