The original kicker on the Crikey website – “Bringing down governments
since September 1999” – was always a bit of a joke, even though some
people publicly claimed that jeffed.com had helped bring down Jeff
Kennett.

However, the question of
our influence is about to be brought back into focus with a story in a
trade magazine that goes to 7000 executives around the world
claiming that Crikey saved a major Australian company a huge amount of money.

We can’t bring you full details until Monday’s edition but the story
claims some Crikey questions at an AGM generated adverse publicity
which prompted a board to get out of a business just before the whole
industry imploded. An executive from the company is quoted claiming it was a
publicity-generated decision to sell saved shareholders $300 million.
Wow! Where’s the commission?

Crikey has always been a student of media power, but at one level it is
self-indulgent to naval gaze about your own outlet’s power. The
Murdochs and the Packers have long exercised huge power through their
media outlets, but they never gloat about it. Rupert was reportedly
furious when The Sun ran its famous “It was The Sun wot won it” headline after the Tories won an election in the 1990s.

However, I’m not so shy and am happy to publicly debate Crikey’s power – or lack of it. The Age was furiously attacked in the Murdoch press when this
paragraph appeared on the front page the day after shareholders voted
to move News Corp to Delaware:

It was
difficult not to wonder if the News shift to the US was due in some way to the
presence in the past six years of corporate governance warrior Stephen
Mayne.

Now I’m prepared to admit that is probably a touch overblown. It was
institutions voting down the executive options at the previous News
Corp AGM which triggered the move, although the Sun King absolutely
hated me rubbing salt into the wounds telling shareholders we’d all
just witnessed an “historic day” with Rupert being rebuffed by his
shareholders for the first time in more than 50 years.

There are plenty of other interesting and contestable claims about
Crikey’s power. I’ve claimed credit during numerous speeches for
getting Steve Vizard off the Telstra board in 2000 when he resigned a
few days after I nominated on a platform opposing his conflicts of
interest. Others say he was going anyway.

Similarly, I reckon the decision of Qantas, Optus, NRMA and the
Commonwealth Bank to abandon their cash for comment contracts with Alan
Jones or John Laws in 2001 was partly due to board tilts and AGM
criticism. Others say the contracts were all going to be dropped anyway.

The best example of media power is when a story (or threatened
campaign) stops something from happening in the first place – changes
to media ownership laws being a case in point. Fairfax board sources
have claimed our yarns predicting Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson was
about to defect to News Corp stopped this from happening.

Similarly, our stories about Richard Howard’s proposed White House
internship causes the PM to change his mind when we pointed out
candidates had to be US citizens and he risked being labelled a “queue
jumper”.

Crikey is rightly credited with triggering the demise of the Democrats with
all those leaks around the leadership crisis in 2002. However, would
the Dems be a continuing force today if Crikey didn’t exist. Probably
not, as relations were so poisonous that those internal letters would
almost certainly have been leaked elsewhere.

Of course, the vast majority of our stories have no influence and
change nothing, but if we ever get around to writing the Crikey book,
the question of power and influence will make for an interesting
chapter. Stand by for Monday’s big claims which will no doubt be
scoffed at in some quarters.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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