Tuesday, 31 May 2005 Senate—Legislation E 93

ECONOMICS

Senator MURRAY: I
want to address most of my questions tonight to the issue of misleading
and deceptive conduct, which I think is actually one of the areas which
gives you the greatest leeway to exert pressure on the market or, to
use the old saying about the Reserve Bank, moral suasion. In that
regard, in passing I should compliment you or the commission on its
work on matters such as the airlines and the airline pricing issue and
the eBay GST issue and issues like that. I want to deal with newspaper
and magazine circulation rorts, so described. Are you aware of the
claims posted by Crikey.com.au that major newspapers and magazines in
Australia are falsely inflating their audited circulation figures?

Senator CONROY: I thought you had a subscription.

Senator MURRAY: I do.

Senator CONROY: You cannot get two, you know.

Senator MURRAY:
I am hoping to share them around. These inflated circulation figures
are used to deceive and mislead advertisers. By the bye, as you would
have probably picked up, Mr Samuel, they seem to be at least inferring,
if not stating, that the newspaper journalists concerned are not
writing about this issue because it is contrary to the interests of
their employers, which is rather worrying. What can you tell us about
this matter?

Mr Samuel: I am aware of the matters that
have been raised in Crikey.com.au. I mention the name because, as has
been noted, that guarantees me another 12 months subscription. If I
mention it twice, I might get two years subscription for free. But that
just declares my interest on the matter. I am aware of the issues. The
matter has been raised with us in a more specific way than just in the
context of the published web site. I need to check with my colleagues,
but I think the matter is being investigated. No, it is not. Having
been raised with us, I think it is something that we would examine in
due course just to see whether in fact the claims that are made are
inappropriate or misleading.

Senator MURRAY: It
is a fashion in this place to raise a wry smile when Crikey’s name is
mentioned because of its interactions with people around the room,
probably. Nevertheless, they spell this out fairly substantively. It
seemed to be well sourced from within their network. When I read this
stuff, I did not regard it as a passing fancy. I thought at least there
was a prima facie case for an early investigation. In my view, it is
market knowledge and, therefore, should be viewed as such by your
agency.

Mr Samuel: The point, as I think I have
acknowledged, is that we have seen the information on the Crikey.com.au
site. It has been raised with us. It is a matter that will receive our
attention in the appropriate time frame.

Senator MURRAY: In
due course, once you have come to a view on it, I ask that you let the
market know because there is a great deal of speculation and I think it
should be at least put into perspective.

Mr Samuel: Yes.