A bit of soul searching is needed at Australia’s biggest telco.
Media Watch did another good job on the Telstra arrangements with
messrs Jones and Laws, and then straight after that on Monday night,
Laws himself did another good job on himself and Jones on Andrew
Denton’s Enough Rope.

And now it seems unlikely that Telstra will renew its $1.2
million sponsorship arrangement with Jones and 2GB due to all the
negative publicity, as the SMH reports here: Too much
talk: Telstra may not renew deal

Two good efforts by the ABC and once again highlights the miserable
lack of anyone with any ability on the commercial networks to interview
guests in a long format. It certainly highlights the paucity of
commitment and anyone with talent on Seven and Nine, which purport to
have some interest in news and current affairs.

The commercial TV types would claim that it’s not a first order issue
and people aren’t interested. Yes, but then how many people are really
interested in the tripe and rubbish served up at 6.30 pm on Today
Tonight and A Current Affair. Both have lost viewers in their thousands
in the past three years and barely make it into the top 20-30 shows
national each week.

ACA had two goes at the story with “Stalker” Paul Barry last week, but
Kerry O’Brien did him over with good interviews with David Flint of the
ABA and Alan Jones fan club, and then John Laws. Then Laws appeared on
the Denton programme on Monday night.

But that aside, it has occurred to Crikey that with Telstra now looking
for a new chairman and a new director, that a bit of soul searching is
needed at the telco.

And, it’s also a good opportunity to sort out the conflicts of interest
that bedevil Samuel Hewlings Chisholm’s role on the board.

In the SMH story, Telstra’s head of spinning, Bill Scales, was quoted
as defending the arrangements with Alan Jones and the Macquarie Radio
Network and 2GB. Well, he would say that wouldn’t he?

That’s sad. Crikey can remember when Bill Scales was a senior member of
the economic rationalist set at the Industry Commission and then the
Productivity Commission. There analysis was much more rigorous and less
corporate.

On Telstra’s greasy management pole, the thing is to be ‘on song’ with
the corporate message and it’s disappointing how no one in the company
can see the damage being done. Although as Media Watch reported last
night, Telstra’s Corporate Relations staff did understand the dangers
back in the late 90’s. So perhaps Mr Scales should check the comments
from his department in the archives and start asking ‘what has changed?

But all candidates for the two positions, especially the chairmanship,
should be asked, on the record, about their attitude to the ‘cash for
comment’ arrangements with Jones and Laws and whether these will be a
continuing part of the Telstra they will be leading and or overseeing
from board level.

If necessary that should be done through a Senate Committee with the
ALP showing some backbone, instead of having backroom meetings with
Telstra partners, such as Iron Mike’s quiet dinner a couple of months
ago with the Murdoch mob.

If the board didn’t like Telstra buying Fairax and were worried about a
semi government-owned company owning a media outlet, how then can the
same board not have be worried about paying radio announcers to spruik
views positive to the company. The issue is the same; it’s control.
It’s just the method is different.

Telstra claims the Jones arrangement is not cash for comment and that
they have no editorial control. Certainly with Laws that appears true.
He gave Telstra a touch up about the way they are gouging us on higher
line fees and the rude credit card payment fee.

But as Media Watch has pointed out Telstra controls the content both
men are to use in their on air comments. That’s especially egregious in
the case of 2GB and Jones. Telstra dreams up the content in bullet
points, send it to the radio station, it’s developed into scripts, then
back to Telstra then back to 2GB and Jones. Jones has a definite role
in the whole process, according to Media Watch. That sounds like a lot
of control to us.

With Bob Mansfield now gone, the process could be quite easily ended.

Catherine Livingstone, the shy Sydney-based director who seems to be
everyone’s favourite to replace Optus Bob, should be compelled by the
shareholder to expand on her views on being a director and a chairman.
Her views of Telstra’s future, her views on Telstra’s role in the
community and Telstra’s role in things such as ‘cash for comment’
arrangements.

She and any other candidate shouldn’t be allowed to use their natural
reticence to hide behind and not take a stand. After all the new chair
and board member will have vital roles in rebuilding trust in the
company and the process of privatisation.

And she should also be asked (and this applies to any other person put
up for a directorship or the chairmanship) about whether it’s a good
thing to have on the board a director like Sam Chisholm, who is
chairman of the Macquarie Radio Network, which employs Jones, owns 2GB,
and allows Jones to own a 20 per cent stake in the company.

Macquarie is a direct beneficiary of Telstra’s $1.2 million arrangement
which has been renewed for this year and runs until June 2005. Chisholm
through his chairmanship of that company is a beneficiary. Macquarie is
a more viable business with Jones on board and with Telstra’s million
two.

How that can be tolerated on the Telstra board is beyond Crikey? It’s
certainly more objectionable than anything seen on the NAB board.

But it’s got the ring of ‘a good Sydney’ deal where mates scratch
each other’s backs and pockets with someone else’s money. In this case
just over half the $1.2 million is taxpayer’s money.

On the Andrew Denton program, Laws described himself as ‘annoying’ and
took a few more snipes at Jones, describing him as having “a holier
than thou attitude,” and agreed with Denton who asked if Alan Jones was
a whore, saying “professionally?’

“Certainly in relation to the Liberal Party” and that Jones reminded
him of a Pekinese dog, “a sweet little puppy” “just yaps a little bit
above its size”

Laws went on to say that ” I don’t actually dislike Alan. “He does good
things” He also described Jones and ABA head, professor David Flint as
“both little men.” And forecast in a rather tantalising way that “more
than the truth will be outed” and then went all boyishly coy!

Peter Fray

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