Yes, current affairs, just like news, is all about being
relevant. Covering and tackling the issues of the moment. Sunday
morning business shows on Nine, Seven and Two all are on the whole
relevant, Sunday after Sunday. But being relevant also means being on
the ball in each segment, story or interview. So how did they go on
Sunday?

Take market leader Business Sunday. Firstly it’s still
back to the future with Business Sunday trying to arrest the viewer
turnoff at 8.30 after the news and Sunday plug by keeping the better
interviews and feature after 8.30am.

The story on the Affinity
hospital group (the old Mayne hospitals) was relevant, put together
well and on the mark. The piece on Ion, the car parts and other bits
company, was on the ball so far as the problematic car parts, but the
tanker business is also a bit dodgy. That said, it was also a good
piece and asked the right questions.

Terry McCrann was relevant on interest rates, Shell and Coles Myer.

CSIRO
head Catherine Livingstone (also a Telstra director) was a good studio
interview, but she is naturally discreet, which will make it tough for
her if she wants to rise higher at Telstra.

But lacking
completly in relevance was the lifted story (from ITV) from the UK on
the departed chairman of Marks and Spencer, the struggling retailer.
Off the pace, what’s the point and it doesn’t matter here, not when
Coles Myer produced such an interesting set of sales figures this week.
Irrelevant would be the best way to describe it. Relevant would have
been to examine Coles Myer’s sales figures, as McCrann did briefly. A
foreign story just for the sake of being a foreign story!

Then
there was the Adam Shand interview with NAB CEO, John Stewart. Relevant
because of the NAB’s poor result, but too much looking back, it looked
a little jerky and jumpy, and not enough questions that looked forward,
that pinned him down on performance, on parts of the bank that aren’t
doing well, except for the European operations.

In contrast on
the Seven Network’s Sunday Sunrise, stand-in interviewer, Kylie Merritt
from David Koch’s Palamedia, did a better job with John Stewart. More
relevant questions, a closer knowledge of the bank’s problems and lack
of recent performance. She did a good job covering for Michael Pascoe
who must be out of the country or tied up doing the MC gig at yet
another conference. (Speaking of absences, where was Ross Greenwood on
Business Sunday? Surely not in Melbourne at the PBL management
talkfest.)

She almost got Stewart to acknowledge that had
he known how bad the bank was being run and the board ructions that
were to come, then he might have had a thought or two about filling
Cicutto’s job.

And hard as it was to dump on Frank, it would
have been interesting to hear from him some answers from
well-researched questions about the way Cicutto and the board had let
things slip in the past two years. Rising costs, falling margins,
growing problems in Europe. No integration in Europe which was allowed
to exist for years and problems in New Zealand.

They are
the realities of turning the NAB around and it would have tested him
and his ability as a communicator to answer these types of questions.
Unfortunately no one asked, but Kylie Merritt almost got to the $64
question. It was all about the strategic review which is in process.
She asked how could you have a review without a board and chairman to
sign off on them. His answer was less than convincing and had she
thought it through she might have asked if there was a power vaccuum at
the bank which he was rapidly filling and whether that was a good thing.

John
Stewart popped up again on the ABC’s Inside Business. Relevant? Yes,
far more so than the competition. Alan Kohler got Stewart to admit that
in his ‘black moments’ (of only a few seconds) he thought about
quitting, but those feelings were vanquished by a glass or two of red
wine.

Kohler did ask the $64 question by pointing out that not
having a contract meant his power had increased (a question not
considered by Nine or Seven) and that it allowed him to “screw” a good
deal if he wanted it and it would be the absolutely the worst thing
that could happen to the NAB if he left. That puts Stewart in an
unrivalled position of power at the NAB, with a broken board over a
barrel, if he wants to play hardball.

Stewart replied generously
that he hadn’t got around to it because of the events of the past three
months, that he was hopeless at negotiating on behalf of himself and
that the contract would be fixed up in the ‘next ‘few weeks’. He also
said the options would be priced at the time when he arrived, not the
low point of the share price (which could have been last week).

Kohler also got Stewart to confirm that he though all the bad news was out ” I’m not aware of anymore bad news”.
Stewart
telling’y said the bank had de-risked its loan portofilo and overshot
on the conservative side, costing the bank margin and customers and
that that policy would be reversed.

And, most tellingly, he pointed out that the bank had been managed with an overconcentration on process and not on substance.

Elswhere
Kohler’s program had a nice story on Public Private Partnerships in
Victoria, centred on the controversial Spencer Street Station project
and the problems it was causing for Leighton Holdings. And there was a
feature on the budget with Federal Finance Minister Nick Minchin. Nice
and light.

So on balance Inside Business had the better of the
morning with its half hour, with a superior interview with John Stewart
being the key. But next time around all three programs should
concentrate on looking for explanations about results or policy
decisions and not on getting the jolly Scot to talk expansively.

After
hearing Stewart this week and on Sunday morning, he really does seem to
understand the problems of the NAB, unlike the previous CEO and board.

Peter Fray

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