Have Australian cricket fans been bowled a googly or flipper by that “Master of Spin”, Shane Warne, his manager, the very well connected James Erskine, and the very affable Pom, Michael Parkinson?

Thanks to a diligent cricket writer at Fairfax, Trevor Marshallsea, we now know that the highest rating program in pay TV history in this country — the Michael Parkinson-Shane Warne chat on UKTV a fortnight ago — was riddled with conflicts of interest. The end result should be considered highly suspect. You can find the story here, and it makes for very interesting reading.

Marshallsea has compared what Warne told Parkinson about the biggest blot on the spinner’s reputation, the “John” the bookmaker pitch reports scandal of the early to mid 1990s, with what Warne told the O’Regan Inquiry conducted at the instigation of the Australian Cricket Board.

As you can see when you read the story, the differences between Warne’s recollections now and the unchallenged version Warne told the O’Regan inquiry are quite different. So different that Marshallsea wonders if a bit of “tweaking” of our Warne’s reputation is underway.

But from a TV point of view the most worrying aspect of the 90 minute program came, as Marshallsea pointed out, in the closing credits:

Those who watch until the very end of the credits will learn the executive producers of the show were Parkinson, Warne, and James Erskine of SEL. Erskine, of Sports and Entertainment Ltd, is both Warne’s commercial manager and manages Parkinson’s affairs in Australia.

Executive producers are entitled to the final say over a program’s content. The interview was recorded at the studios of UKTV’s Australian carrier Foxtel on Sunday, January 7, and the edited 90-minute program premiered the following night. Executive producers are also often entitled to at least a share of revenues earned by a program, through areas such as on-selling to other foreign channels.

Regardless of these interests, the program was said by Foxtel to be a full and frank interview. A Foxtel press release previewing the show said Warne “speaks candidly and honestly about life, cricket, relationships and scandals”, and spoke of his “willingness to openly discuss all aspects of his life”.

But as Warne shapes up to make his expected transition from roguish cricket star to respected Channel Nine commentator, in regard to one of the biggest scandals of his career, he either has a bad memory or some image tweaking has begun. On his involvement with John, his version now clashes with that of the inquiry set up by the then Australian Cricket Board in 1998, conducted by Rob O’Regan, QC”.

Parkinson can be said to have dodged the hard questions and dodged the tough ones on the bookmaking scandal. At best he can be accused of not doing his homework, at worst he can be said to have been horribly conflicted, as was Warne and Erskine, the well known sports rights manager.

The trio of executive producers means the interview was not independent in any way. It was a con job of sorts perpetrated on the viewer. Warne’s new commercial manager is Erskine, who is also the manager of Parkinson’s interest in Australia.

So we had Warne talking to his co-executive producer about things that the other co-executive producer and manager had no doubt organised with the interviewer and interviewee before the taping started.

Confused? You should be, because this interview never, ever made clear the conflicts of interests.

There was no way in the world that Warne could have been asked any difficult questions by Parkinson in that interview.

The fix, as they say in bookmaking circles, was on from the start.

The interview was rigged and it reflects badly on Parkinson, Erskine, Foxtel, UKTV (which is 20% owned by the almighty BBC) and maybe Warne.

But then he’s used to circumstances like this. Just find John the bookmaker and ask him about pitch reports received from Warne, not to mention Mark Waugh.

Peter Fray

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