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Mar 14, 2006

Courier-Mail editor: being interviewed by your wife isn't a conflict of interest

Your correspondent Wayne Sanderson betrays his true attitudes when he refers to the author, journalist and broadcaster, Madonna King, as Mrs David (yesterday, item item 4). The refer

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Your
correspondent Wayne Sanderson betrays his true attitudes when he refers
to the author, journalist and broadcaster, Madonna King, as Mrs David (yesterday, item item 4).
The reference indicates that he can’t get past the fact that Madonna is
my wife, a fact he is using to beat up a conflict-of-interest debate
that just does not exist.

Madonna can and does speak for herself
but I must point out that his story about Madonna’s interview of
me on the ABC Radio morning program yesterday omits an important fact.
The main one is that I was one of a panel of three interviewed about
The Courier-Mail converting from broadsheet to compact format. The
others were Alan Oakley of the Sydney Morning Herald and Max Uetrich,
formerly news and current affairs director of Nine and ABC.

Others
can judge the tone of the interview (read the transcript here) but I found it the toughest I did in a
round of about 15 interviews over recent days on an important event in
the life of Queensland. What would Sanderson have made of it if the ABC
morning program had not interviewed the editor of The Courier-Mail? I
suspect that would have been grounds for the alternative conspiracy
theory along the lines that Madonna had squibbed her responsibility to
scrutinise me.

What would ABC listeners who buy The Courier-Mail
have made of it if I had refused to go on the program because my wife
is the presenter? Some would have been annoyed they couldn’t hear from
the editor of the paper about this very big change. Others would have
rightly tarred and feathered me for having the archaic attitude that my
wife could not do her job because of our relationship.

Last
week, Sanderson wrote an item about separate conversations Madonna and
I had with a lawyer acting for the heroin trafficker Scott Rush and
somehow tried to paint this as an illustration of the conflicts we
face. There was no conflict. I, in fact, didn’t know until after my
conversation that Madonna had been talking to the lawyer about the Bali
trial.

We have two young children, demanding, but enjoyable,
jobs and Madonna has turned around two books in 18 months so our
conversations tend to be more about the bigger and smaller things of
life, rather than about the day-to-day matters that take up most of our
days. We keep our professional lives at arm’s length – as we should. We
each had substantial careers in the media before we married and are
alert to these issues.

Sanderson referred to our running an
extract of the book One-Way Ticket, written by Madonna and Cindy
Wockner. The decision to seek the extract and run it was made by a
section editor dealing directly with the publisher. The Daily Telegraph
and the Adelaide Advertiser also ran extracts, arranged in a similar
way. I let the decision stand on its merit because the extract was a
good read.

Wayne’s world is populated with conspiracy theories
and purported conflicts of interest. I have learnt over time to treat
them with caution and your readers should do the same. This is
not to devalue the importance of conflict of interest as an issue in
public life. It is fruitful ground for journalists but it is well worth
considering how those conflicts are dealt with. They are best limited
by people behaving honestly and openly and there can be nothing more
honest and open than a broadcaster declaring her relationship before
launching into a pretty tough interview on a topical issue.

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