The relationship between the media and their advertisers is a cosy one. But when interests conflict, it can quickly sour.

Yesterday the ANZ bank showed News Ltd just who’s wearing the pants in their particular relationship.

The banking giant has withdrawn all its advertising from News Ltd, including from News websites, MySpace and Foxtel, and says it is rebooking it with Fairfax. “We have no plan to go back”, ANZ spokesman Paul Edwards told Crikey this morning.

The move is a symbolic and financial blow — the advertising is worth around $4-5 million.

So what enraged ANZ? Company chief John McFarlane was incensed about a story that appeared in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and Courier-Mail in which reporter and chief stirrer Luke McIlveen (famed for his highly-criticised attack of John Brogden) claimed that the bank has call centres in India. The article began:

This is just one of the call centres at which our major banks are paying less than $100 a week for Indians to do the jobs once held by Australians. At the ANZ headquarters in Bangalore, 1300 employees handle the accounts of Australian customers.

While ANZ has Indian offices, “we have no people with a customer facing role in India”, says Edwards. McIlveen was told this “and still went ahead and did us major reputational damage producing something that was knowingly untrue”.

Today, the Herald Sun and Courier-Mail went into damage control, led by The Hez: “The Herald Sun yesterday wrongly described the ANZ’s data processing centre in Bangalore as a call centre — prompting the bank to reassure its customers it has no call centres offshore.”

The Daily Telegraph also ran the story of ANZ’s pledge and editor David Penberthy admitted to Crikey that “we made an error”. He explains:

The kicker and the intro on the page one story was wrong, and we felt we should correct it. We changed the copy here Monday night in the mistaken belief that the ANZ building was a call centre, despite the fact that it was correctly identified in the original copy as a data processing centre.

We did this because of confusion on our part which arose from the accompanying story about language training in Bangalore for call centre workers used by Australian firms. We made an assumption without checking with our reporter on the ground, and felt the error was serious enough to warrant clarification today.

But one person remains unrepentant — McIlveen. He landed this counter-punch in today’s Tele:

ANZ spin doctors went into overdrive yesterday when The Daily Telegraph exposed its Indian operations. The bank likes to call it an IT centre but Ron Masson from the Finance Sector Union says the bank is playing word games to disguise its decision to send jobs offshore.

After yesterday’s story, ANZ had its lawyers fire off a letter to the three newspapers. Today, ANZ is focusing its legal efforts on The Daily Telegraph.

Peter Fray

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