There’s
nothing worse in this game than to make a mistake when sledging the
media for missing a yarn or getting things wrong. That’s why Media Watch has to be as close to mistake-free as possible, because they’ll cop a real hiding if any blunder of their own surfaces.

Another
common media occurrence is the old make-good story where you
essentially correct the record but attempt to dress it up as a separate
news story or a development on what you previously argued. This item is
an example of both these trends.

Firstly, I was wrong on Monday
in saying the Babcock & Brown annual report was out that morning,
when in fact it had been lodged with the ASX at 12.54pm on Friday
afternoon. The square-up item yesterday then went further in attacking
the mainstream media for missing the story of Babcock’s soaring
executive pay packets for three days until we ran with it.

However,
this was wrong because all the pay details were actually made public
when Babcock released its 190-page full financial report on 30 March.
The press and analysts were invited to briefings when the full-year
result was released on 23 February and it generated plenty of
excitement, but there was no fanfare surrounding the 30 March release
and the pay detail was duly missed by all the mainstream media,
although The AFR did manage a six sentence brief on page ten which started as follows but covered no other executives:

Babcock & Brown chief executive Phil Green
has entrenched his status as one of the country’s highest-paid
executives, earning more than $12 million last year for steering the
fast-growing investment house through its first year as a listed
company. Mr Green enjoyed an 18% pay rise after the investment
house posted a near doubling of annual profit to $251.6 million.

This process is highly unusual because most companies simply announce
their profit result and then the pay details are released in the annual
report a few weeks later along with the notice of meeting for the AGM,
which reveals any new equity issues and pay rises for non-executive
directors. The Babcock strategy of introducing a third disclosure date
certainly worked a treat if the idea was to minimise press comment on
their record pay packets. Presumably hacks who saw the 30 March release
just assumed it was a repeat of the profit information, when in fact it
contained some great stories on executive pay.

Therefore,
my attack yesterday still stands in the sense that the media as a whole
failed to report the Babcock pay details in a comparable way to the
treatment Macquarie Bank copped last year, despite the fact that they are comparable companies – we are talking about the
two highest paying listed companies in Australia. However, I’m still a
goose for claiming on Monday that something was fresh news that morning,
when in fact the document I was relying on was made public three days
earlier and the information that I claimed was newsworthy in that document
had actually been released seven weeks before.

The fact that The Australian, The Age and The SMH
all produced follow-ups to our Monday story is a tacit admission that
it was a good yarn that they’d missed. However, I was slack for missing
it too and it would have been better to simply get all the facts right
from the outset.

But presumably Babcock was happy with how things panned out. The information in the annual report was largely
in place on 30 March yet it wasn’t released in the annual report until
last Friday afternoon – the Friday before the ANZAC Day
long weekend and also the last Friday available in order to have the AGM
on the last Friday available, namely Friday 26 May. We all know that
Friday is the best day to release bad news because newspapers have
early deadlines, the news pages are squeezed by all those supplements
and there are no Saturday shock jocks to beat you around the ears.

It worked a treat for Babcock and it will be interesting to see how the
equally unusual Macquarie strategy of releasing all the pay figures in
the annual profit announcement goes. That will occur on 18 May – the
very day that BRW’s 2006 Rich List goes public. BRW
has never included a Macquarie or Babcock banker but we estimate that
about a dozen of them are worth more than last year’s $110 million
cut-off, so it will be very interesting to see how they go this
year given the soaring pay packets and share prices over the past 12
months.