Media Watch only scratched the surface of
the Dorothy Dix industry when it lumbered the Australian Financial Review and
Age last night for running PR material as if it
was a genuine interview.

This particular case is made worse by the
nature of the commissioning company: Myer. There’s plenty of doubt around the
place about what the private equiteers are up to and those with long memories
never forget that CEO Bill Wavish was part of the very 80s Chase Corporation
mob before being sanitised by Woolworths.

The AFR‘s Alan Jury was saved from total
embarrassment by following up the PR drop by asking a couple of questions of
his own and thus was defended by Michael Gill. The Age‘s Stephen McMahon wasn’t
saved and wasn’t defended.

The story gets more curious though when you
try to give credit for such successful PR placement – Myer’s corporate affairs
department doesn’t know who sent out the fake interview transcript and Bill
Wavish is busy.

The
effort looks like a slightly chattier version of Anton Whitehead’s Corporate File “open briefing” machine that, with the ASX’s blessing, churns out “interviews” with corporate
bosses. The ASX happily launched the business in 1999:

The service, called “Open
Briefing”, can be used by listed companies to brief the market. It
involves a record of an interview between subscribing company executives and
Corporate File analysts. The “Open Briefing” can be used to explain
company announcements, results or other corporate issues of interest to the
market.

Companies pay Corporate File for the
pleasure of a Dorothy Dix interview which is then posted as part of the
company’s announcement flow through the ASX, as well as on the Corporate File
site and anywhere else that takes their fancy. For example, there’s the AWB’s
explanation of itself yesterday.

Whitehead was an Oz finance reporter before
turning stockbroker and climbing the Deutsche Bank ladder – being managing
director of Corporate File must seem a little part-time by comparison with
being Deutsche’s head of equities.

There are other fledgling outfits trying to do
much the same sort of thing. Yes, folks, a whole industry making up for the
shrinking number of real journalists. And much less likely to be difficult
about it too.

Peter Fray

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