Well, there’s been a lot written about Sam Chisholm, PBL, Telstra and
Foxtel in the past week. Here’s the bald statement from the telco that
caused so many trees to be slaughtered – here.

Pretty innocent, and pretty silly. And everybody hopped onto it and
many wrote with barely concealed admiration and praise, while others
penned their missives with a deal of determination and criticised
Telstra in particular.

The move to re-call Chisholm to the PBL board was seen as a way of
helping James Packer and David Gyngell handle the
problems at Nine and understanding TV.

Some older hands recall how Kerry Packer personally recruited Bruce
Gyngell from the UK in 1992 or so to return and sit at the head of Nine
while David Leckie learned how to run a TV Network.

Bruce Gyngell had fallen out with the Packers by walking out to join
the Fairfax-owned Seven network and proceeded (at great cost) to push
that past Nine into Number one ranking. He then went to London and
became involved in TV Am ( Remember Roland the Rat? Could that be the
answer to revamping the troubled Today Show?).

Chisholm does understand TV, given his experience at Nine and in the
Murdoch Pay TV business in the UK and other parts of the world. Some
even saw it as a counter balance on the board to John Alexander, the
CEO, who reportedly helped push Peter Yates out of the chair by
trailing his coat at John Fairfax.

There were suggestions that Alexander’s influence would be
counter-balanced by Chisholm. But some older and more cynical heads see
it from another tack.

They think that quite possibly it’s a way of Alexander shoring up the
numbers on the PBL board, not only to protect him but to keep alive any
ambitions Alexander might have for unchecked power at PBL.

The cynical types note that Kerry Packer, while still standing, is
looking worn down with age and illness. That he’s still alert and
decisive is not open to doubt. His decision to become deputy chairman,
effectively underlining son James’ position in the chair, was not a
lightly-taken decision. It was done in the full knowledge of the
increased profile it would bring and the speculation about his health
and well being.

Besides Chisholm, the other new director at PBL is Chris Anderson, the
former Fairfax, Optus, TV New Zealand and ABC boss who is close
to Alexander. Chisholm is closer to Alexander than James Packer, but
closer still to Kerry. Alexander was still around and mates when
Chisholm was on
the outer at Park Street.

Alexander has cultivated Chisholm for 20 years or more at the SMH,
Australian Business and PBL. Likewise, Alexander and Anderson go back a
similar number of years to Fairfax days. It is a relationship that both
have benefited from.

And it is a relationship that’s stronger than any understanding with the Packers.

Although all three know that to cross or fallout with the Packers, is
tantamount to business suicide in Sydney for a while, or forever if
you happen to fall spectacularly. Deals can still be done, but they are
fringe transactions, better suited to social A listers making out as
though they are big A-listers in the pages and gossip sheets of Sydney
media.There are quite a few ‘ friends’ of James Packer in that category.

Kerry Packer’s closest business relationship sometimes looks like Ben
Tilley, a younger Eastern Suburbs neighbour at one stage, now a
harbourside nouveau riche and a person many observers of clan Packer
think Kerry treats like a son. Card playing, deal doing, casino
gambling. Its a male bonding type of friendship that’s quite strong.

Readers will recall Tilly entering Kerry Packer’s hospital room with a property deal to try and help HIH went it was imploding.

Talk about inopportune moments. And yet the friendship survived that silliness.

So the cynics in the Sydney business community note that nothing can be
taken at face value in Packerdom. That’s why there can be multiple
readings from the one event.

But so far as Chisholm at Telstra and Foxtel, that’s just plain stupid on the telco’s part. And Chisholm knows that.

So why is he staying on as chairman of Foxtel? To enrage News Corp and
the Murdochs? To send a message to the Federal Government, or to help
John Howard with a mate on the Telstra board?

The one thing you can say about PBL at the moment is that John
Alexander is the most ambitious person on the board. And that ambition
hasn’t been slaked by the events of the past few months.

He of course has some problems to surmount, such as the strong
position Crown and Burswood boss, Rowen Craigie is in with his
tremendous understanding of PBL’s core business of gaming and gambling,
the preferred area for growth of James Packer.

Alexander has yet to sought out emerging bumps at ACP in the distribution, cost cutting and management areas.

And he has to put an even harsher lid on costs at Nine later this year
than he managed to do when he was in charge in 2002 and 2003 and part
of 2004.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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