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In January 2000 Ray Martin was out of
contract and feeling isolated when he endeared himself to the then Nine
Network management by describing them as “third floor carpet
strollers”. It was an apt description coming as it did during a
downturn in the industry that saw Ray Martin pushed from the chair at A Current Affair and replaced by Bovver Boy, Mike Munro.

Martin
was unwanted and he and then CEO David Leckie didn’t see eye to eye.
Fast forward to May 2005 and the Nine Network is trying to settle years
of wrenching change with cost cuts, personnel changes, program switches
and a battle with bitter rival Seven for ratings supremacy. Yesterday,
on to the Sunday Profileprogram
on ABC Radio, Ray told host Monica Attard that many of these changes
had been “mistakes”. His decision to single out the sacking of Jim
Waley from the Sydney 6pm news as a prime example will not endear him
to Gyngell or Sydney news boss, Max Uechtritz.

The past 18 months has been tough for Ray as Today Tonight on Seven creeps up on ACA.
Ray’s comments won’t go down well with Nine Network’s new third floor
carpet strollers or their bosses, the Packers. So what did Ray say?

Monica Attard: Why do you think A Current Affair is being outflanked by Today Tonight?

Ray Martin:
A number of things, I think that Channel 9 for a while and it’s
corrected itself now, but I think television is a comfortable shoe, you
know slipper, in most people’s house, and that is our main form of
entertainment outside of maybe sex. If you lose Jim Waley and Don Burke
and The Midday Show and Hey Hey and a whole range of
things that are pillars of people’s image of a station, well, then you
shake the foundations and I think for a while there people, they don’t,
you know, didn’t like it when I left Midday, they don’t like it
when people leave their favourite programs and so for a while you’ve
got to go back and stroke them and I think that perhaps Channel 9
didn’t realise the impact that was going to have, the sort of seismic
impact and I think now it’s back on track again.

Monica Attard: So there were mistakes?

Ray Martin:
Yes that’s right. I think the audience was saying: “Don’t mess around
with me” and the other thing I think is obviously The Quiz Show. What
precedes the news, what news delivers up The Quiz Show and Channel 7 is
doing much better than the Channel 9 Quiz Show which means news has got
to battle more, which means we have got to battle more and maybe the
other mob have lifted their game.

Monica Attard: Right, do you think that Seven’s success with Today Tonight is effectively dictating formula at A Current Affair at the moment?

Ray Martin: I think we’re as guilty as newspapers, The Sun and Mirror
used to be in Sydney. Of looking over their shoulder and seeing what
the other mob is doing and that’s wrong. When you’re a market leader,
you should just be going and doing it.

Monica Attard: Is it out of control now?

Ray Martin:
It’s a street fight as those two newspapers were, it’s a street fight
and so therefore the sleeves are rolled up and the gloves are off.

All good questions and Ray’s answers are ok within the obvious restraints of being an employee of Nine and the public face of ACA.
The latter constraint was even more apparent early in the interview
when Attard raised the question of quality current affairs, something
Nine and Ray made a big song and dance about when he was rehired to
front ACA in 2003.

Monica Attard: Are you happy with what’s being reported currently on the program that you present on ACA as they call it, A Current Affair?

Ray Martin:
Yes, I guess I’m the piano player. I’m the host but I’m surrounded by
four or five people that have just about as much experience as I have,
many years anyway, they’ve certainly got plenty of experience anyway.
I’m not the fountain of all wisdom. There are things that I would do
very differently but it is a team effort, the same as what you do, has
to be and so I have to accept what the team thinks and I give my two
pennies worth in there and there are things that I would do very
differently…

Monica Attard: Do you have any editorial control beyond the stories that you yourself do?

Ray Martin:
I mean I, obviously I’m not going to do an interview or even introduce
a story that I don’t think is ethical and I would argue loudly as I
have done over 40 years about these things. But editorial control? Yes,
finally I can say I’m not going on, that’s the final editorial control
but I’m a journalist and unless there’s something that’s immoral or
unethical, then I have a responsibility to do it. So I do do it, but I
can’t say that I agree with everything that we do but then again I
don’t…

Monica Attard: Does some of it make you cringe?

Ray Martin:
Not cringe because so often stuff that I would think: “I’m not sure
whether this is one of the best stories in Australia tonight…”
The
point I would make is that, see I can show you is that we didn’t have
ten years, let alone 20 years ago, we didn’t have the minute-by-minute
ratings records. Now you know, as incorrect as they may be, that’s what
people live or die on. I can bring on the prime minister as Kerry
O’Brien had him on Monday night and I can see 100,000 people turn off
in Sydney at the moment he comes on. Not just John Howard, but Paul
Keating beforehand. So the fact of the matter is that maybe Australians
are not as interested in Australian politics as you and I are. That is The 7.30 Report and
I thought and I watched the O’Brien interview with the PM and I thought
it was very good and I was interested. Had I put it on A Current Affair,
I think we’d have halved out audience, not just in Sydney but right
around the country. So there’s a fact of life that what we as
journalists think is important is not always what they think.

CRIKEY: Like him or not, Ray Martin is one of the few people in
Australian TV capable of handling an interview like this. Can you
imagine his rival, Naomi Robson of Today Tonight, being confronted with some of these questions?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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