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Nov 6, 2006

Christopher Pearson: this was not a big error

In his Weekend Oz column, Christopher Pearson incorrectly attributed a large list of books to the ABC's publishing arm. We rang Christopher Pearson for his comments.

In his Weekend Australian column, Christopher Pearson incorrectly attributed a large list of books to the ABC’s publishing arm in an attempt to demonstrate that the ABC is, among other things, “entrenching itself as boutique publisher-in-chief to the Howard haters”. We called Christopher Pearson this morning for his comments on the column.  When he discovered the error, Pearson says he alerted The Oz, asking them to update the story with a correction. And Pearson says he will “probably mention” the mistake in his next column for The Oz, but it “won’t be the entire column”.  As for the comparisons that will inevitably be drawn between Pearson’s mistake and Terry Lane’s error earlier this year, Pearson is unconvinced. “I don’t think it was either an error or a failure on the same scale [as Lane falling for the Macbeth hoax] … I don’t think that there’s very much similarity between the two.”  Pearson partly attributes his mistake to the ABC Books website (actually a sub-section of the ABC Shop website), which doesn’t list all of the books’ individual publishers. It’s “not a perfect defence”, he says, but “the point is that if you were relying on the site, you could very easily make the mistake that I made.”   So should Pearson, a journalist who also describes himself in the article as having a background in publishing — “speaking as a former publisher of the Wakefield Press” —  have investigated further?  “Undoubtedly”, he says. “Not denying that. If you look at the website, you’ll see that it is misleading … I’m a bit puzzled as to why they suppress information about the publishers of books.” Speaking more generally, Pearson says that mistake notwithstanding, his argument holds true. “I asked: does ABC books get free rent, does it get free legal advice, does it in other ways compete at an unfair advantage over other publishers? The answer to those questions is yes.”  “The argument is about whether or not ABC Books are unfairly benefitting from cross-promotion. It’s unfortunate obviously that only one of the examples I chose is actually published by ABC Books. But it doesn’t erode the principle. Either you believe in competitive neutrality, or you have to come up with a good reason why a public sector business is competing on advantageous terms.”

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