In terms of getting newsworthy responses to questions, yesterday’s PBL AGM was the highest yielding affair I’ve had in more than 200 attempts.

I had six detailed questions ready for general business but was only expecting to get through three or four. Eddie McGuire’s pay and performance was always a certainty on the remuneration report item and anything else was a bonus. In the end, there were nine separate and detailed cracks which took up about 30 minutes of the 90 minute meeting.

The opening salvo was quite friendly: Please clear up the Channel Nine sale and buyback myth and also spell out the tax position. James gave a very detailed response and will no doubt come to regret his gloat about the capital gains tax bill being a maximum of $30 million.

The next question was for People Power: why has anti-pokies campaigner Gabriela Byrne been on Channel Seven 20 times in five years and Channel Nine only twice? James said he’s seen loads of anti-gambling stories on Channel Nine and then cited the Sunday program’s profile of me in 2004 as an example of editorial independence.

With no-one else wanting to speak, this opened up an opportunity to bring up PBL’s ban on Crikey — none of our emails can be accessed at PBL properties and nobody working for PBL can access our website — and tie it with the Mark Llewellyn affidavit fiasco: why try to injunct the story after we’d emailed it to 35,000 people? Citizen Kane-style control freakery is not possible in the internet era and this just turned into a PR disaster. James admitted Llewellyn was mishandled and tried to defend the Crikey ban by saying our business model is to not stand behind stories and go bankrupt when sued, which I later told the meeting was complete rubbish.

The next was my personal favourite and couched as “the Murdoch conspiracy theory question”: was Kerry’s smartest move to endorse John Howard given the long line of protection he’s given to Nine over the past decade. The Packers always play the “offensive” line when they don’t like a question, so out it came again — the full detail of the response was reported by AAP.

Next we had the Ron Walker and Fairfax question which generated plenty of coverage, as did the final offering, a tongue in cheek effort on Alan Jones inviting James to publicly defend “a great Australian and a great promoter of our interests in the light of this scurrilous attack by Chris Masters”. Once again, the strong response made headlines.

Despite getting the odd heckle from a pro-Packer audience, I later generated the biggest round of applause on the day by saluting James for not drawing a salary whilst greedy Rupert Murdoch takes $37 million from News Corp and Frank Lowy extracts $14 million from Westfield, something new PBL director David Lowy should reflect on.

There’s not enough room to detail the rest of the exchanges, but it was fun telling the room that “Eddie McGuire will make a great Prime Minister one day but why is he being so insecure in appointing all these Melbourne footy mates to key positions at Nine?”

James went on to defend his pay and performance and, once again, the media lapped it up. All up, it was one of the most enjoyable AGMs I’ve had and James Packer should be congratulated for being so forthcoming with his responses.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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