As
someone contemplating life on the speaker’s circuit, it has became very
obvious that this is an area where transparency and accountability is
sadly lacking. Take powerful Herald Sun
columnist Andrew Bolt as an example. He’s recently signed up with a speaking agency called ICM. Check out his profile here.

We emailed the following to Bolt this morning:

Bolter, congrats on signing up with ICM. Just a quick
query. Do you have a policy about who you’ll accept money from and
whether you will disclose this? There is potential for lobby groups and
the like to pay you thousands of dollars this way in an attempt to buy
your support during a public debate.

Also, what’s your charge out rate?

Cheers, Stephen

You can’t actually get a full list of ICM’s speakers from their website, but some quick searching reveals they also have Indira Naidoo
and Anne Fulwood
on their books. This isn’t so much of an issue because neither is a
powerful commentator who can influence public opinion, policy and
commercial outcomes.

The same can’t be said for someone like Bolt’s Herald Sun
colleague Terry McCann, who is with rival speakers’ agency Saxton. Check out his profile here.

Saxton also lists on its websiteThe Australian’s
Paul Kelly, the SMH
and Justinian’s
Richard Ackland, the SMH
sports writer Peter FitzSimons, The Australian’s
Robert Gottliebsen, Channel Nine’s Ross Greenwood, 2GB’s Alan Jones,
Nine’s Eddie McGuire, the architect of cash for comment Bob Miller (now
boss of 2UE), SMH
columnist Anne Summers, Sky and Seven business commentator Michael Pascoe, The Australian’s
small business commentator Peter Switzer and – glory be – Fairfax CEO Fred Hilmer.

When I worked as Herald Sun
business editor under McCrann for three years in the mid-1990s, he was
regularly flying around the country giving paid speeches. Despite being
a close friend and colleague, McCrann always kept his deals and fees
very quiet. So as the person supposedly editing his hard-hitting and
fearless columns I had no idea who was paying him on top of the
estimated $300,000 a year he was getting from Rupert.

This
is a completely untenable situation. If commercial radio hosts like
Alan Jones and Neil Mitchell have to reveal their sponsors and
side-deals on their websites, surely influential television and
newspaper commentators should do the same.

This also applies to
Crikey. I’m booked in for about 15 speeches over the next few months.
I’ll be receiving $300 from the exclusive Melbourne private school
Scotch College to address their year 12 students at a media forum, and
will also be getting $500 from the Sydney Morning Herald to
speak at a Stock Exchange information day in May. The rest are unpaid,
as my policy is not to ask for a fee but to accept one if it is offered
as standard policy to other speakers.

Today
we’re declaring it is “game over” for secret speakers fees to all
journalists, particularly influential commentators. The Crikey army is
hereby deployed to track and reveal which journalists are getting paid
what to speak. Send your tips to [email protected] and we’ll build
this into a big list whilst also campaigning for the MEAA to update its
code of ethics and and individual media outlets to clean up their act
and develop a clear policy of transparency and disclosure.

Peter Fray

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