There’s no bigger thrill in journalism
than publishing or broadcasting something which someone rich and
powerful desperately wants to suppress. And the harder someone tries to
stop publication, the greater the public interest when it eventually
sees the light of day.

It’s a lesson that James Packer
confidants Eddie McGuire and Alan Jones have both learnt over the past
week as News Ltd enjoys inflicting damage on them both as part of some
commercial war with PBL. Mike Carlton’s attack on Alan Jones yesterday
was a good Sydney story with which Crikey led yesterday – but did it
really deserve to be above the fold today on the front page of The Australian, supposedly a national newspaper?

I’m
no fan of the Parrot, but the fact that he was rubbing shoulders with
PBL CEO John Alexander at Wimbledon yesterday seems to have dragged him
into the cross-fire of the current Murdoch offensive, which even
extended to the Herald Sun running a photo (below) of James taking a leak at the polo in England yesterday.

While
News Ltd has gone over the top, painful lessons in media management
remain. Trying to stop Mark Llewellyn from defecting to Seven was
always going to end in tears. Surely Nine knew that Llewellyn had
plenty of ammunition and it was blindingly obvious that his contract
had been breached. Nine should have just let him go and hoped it meant
they avoided any payout.

They wisely folded when the affidavit
emerged but then went the legal heavy against Crikey, triggering an
avalanche of media interest and a drip feed of revelations that lasted
a full week.

James Packer spoke to The AFR’s Damon Kitney
on Friday night, but his interview only appeared on Monday, a full week
after we first published the key extracts from Llewellyn’s affidavit.
This was too little, too late. The correct response would have been a
full-on PR offensive straight after Crikey hit 10,000 email inboxes on
that Monday afternoon, denouncing Llewellyn for “self-serving,
one-sided and distorted claims” and assuring Jessica Rowe she was
secure in her position.

PBL would have been far better served
using its normal lawyer Mark O’Brien, but instead it was Deacons who
presided over last week’s disasters at Nine. However, O’Brien hasn’t
been idle, as it was his letter that helped persuade the ABC board to
pull Jonestown, guaranteeing it will now be a bestseller that is plastered all over the nation’s media.

The
best outcome for Jones would have been to intimidate the ABC’s lawyers
into proceeding with a watered down version of the book. Unfortunately
for Jones, he didn’t realise how weak the ABC board had become. When
Jones praised
the appointment of Keith Windschuttle to the ABC board last month,
little did he realise that his favourite historian would soon cause him
a PR disaster by trying to suppress something that will now inevitably
come out and attract far more attention.

When James Packer and
Alan Jones get together for a council of war in London to plot their
revenge, they should at least note this salutary lesson about the
downsides of trying to suppress information – especially when you’ve
become rich and powerful by disclosing information about others.

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW