The Australian Shareholders Association is a well-meaning bunch which sometimes does good work, but it’s also quite amateur and often not particularly bright in it execution. In that context, it’s just pulled off arguably its dumbest achievement yet – giving companies another excuse not to talk to journalists.

The ASA clods have called on corporations not to hold media briefings after AGMs. As the Smage reported last week:

According to ASA chief executive Stuart Wilson, briefing the media separately was a concern for the organisation.

“Shareholders sit through a few hours of a meeting and at the end of which the CEO will give a private briefing to journalists, and often you’ll see information in the papers the next day that wasn’t divulged at the meeting,” Mr Wilson said.

Duh, Stuart – that would generally be because your mob aren’t bright enough or well-informed enough or simply skilled enough in public speaking to ask the sort of questions that might actually unearth information.

Unless Stephen Mayne is performing, the questioning that occurs at the average AGM is often dull and tedious. Occasionally it’s also boring and boorish when a ratbag gets the microphone. When it’s a difficult or contentious meeting, the ASA volunteer representative often seems out of his or her depth.

What’s worse is that Foster’s seized on the ASA’s stupidity and self-importance as an excuse for not having a media briefing after its AGM.

That would be the Foster’s that’s in a spot of bother on various fronts, losing its well-performed boss of beer, paying too much for a wine company ahead of wine’s great glut, facing a margin squeeze from Australia’s retailing duopoly and the usual rumours of a possible takeover.

Gee, no wonder top management doesn’t relish every opportunity to be quizzed on how the salaries are being justified.

And having made fools of themselves by claiming to go along with the ASA line, Foster’s still finished up with CEO Trev O’Hoy being effectively doorstopped into a media conference after yesterday’s AGM.

Inevitably it was farcical with plenty of “don’t mention the war”, or in this case, “don’t mention the takeover.”

A brighter ASA would realise it needs all the help it can get for retail investors. If anything, they could suggest going in entirely the opposite direction by allowing journalists to ask questions at AGMs.

Stephen Mayne won a Walkley for buying small numbers of shares so that he could do just that. Maybe the ASA should routinely make proxies available for hacks – and stop entertaining such precious and naïve thoughts about their limited abilities and resources.

Peter Fray

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