Media Watch last night broadcast a worthwhile examination of business journalism commentary in Australia and the potential for conflicts of interest between television presenters, their private interests, sponsors and advertisers.
It was a classic demonstration of Media Watch’s own independence because it included an examination of Alan Kohler’s role at Aunty and his stake in the burgeoning online newsletter, The Eureka Report.
As is well known, Crikey co-owner Eric Beecher has a 20% stake in The Eureka Report, which is about to be slightly diluted when The Age’s veteran commentator Stephen Bartholomeusz comes on board with an equity interest. Ironically, part of last night’s package was put together by Misha Ketchell, the former editor of Crikey, who is now the Melbourne-based researcher for Media Watch.
I was half expecting to get dragged into last night’s program, having broken the story of Kohler’s resignation from Fairfax to focus on The Eureka Report, during last Tuesday’s regular spot talking business on 702 ABC Sydney.
Having done regular ABC spots for five years as the former owner of Crikey, I can vouch for the fact that it was great publicity and something well worth doing for free. However, having sat in for Jon Faine and Virginia Trioli, I also understand the ABC’s insatiable appetite for constant content, be it interview talent or regular commentators.
It is simply impossible to refuse to mention where somebody works, when you interview them. You can’t not have someone on the Insiders couch from News Ltd each week without saying which paper they work for. However, the ABC sports department still persists with petty bans on sponsors such as Pura for the “interstate cricket competition” and Telstra Stadium, which is still Stadium Australia on your ABC.
Whilst it is not surprising to hear that Commsec pays millions for the rights to deliver branded stockmarkets reports on commercial television, the Kohler situation is different given the ABC’s strict policies. The ABC doesn’t allow Kohler to plug The Eureka Report, but Kohler is clearly relying in part on his ABC position to help build The Eureka Report.
Publishing material in The Eureka Report based on private discussions with CEOs after an Inside Business interview is, I think, going a bridge too far. Similarly, giving Marcus Padley and Tom Elliott air time on Inside Business when both are Eureka Report contributors is also not a good look, although both have other regular media outlets.
Kohler’s business model for Eureka Report is to target self-funded retirees, so it is not surprising that he has run a consistent campaign, albeit with plenty of merit, against financial planners. The message is clear: ditch the planner and manage your own super whilst relying on The Eureka Report for advice.
For mine, Kohler’s TV news spot should remain — it’s too good to close and the conflict is negligible — but making editorial decisions as a program presenter on Inside Business is a situation that might need to be reviewed as The Eureka Report becomes more mainstream.
Misha Ketchell writes: I’d just like to quickly correct Stephen Mayne’s claim that “ironically part of last night’s package was put together by Misha Ketchell, the former editor of Crikey, who is now the Melbourne-based researcher for Media Watch.” I actually didn’t play any part in Monday’s MW story examining potential conflicts between Alan Kohler’s business, The Eureka Report, and his presenting role on the ABC. Having worked pretty closely with Alan and the Eureka Report team when they shared offices with Crikey, I had a conflict of my own and it wasn’t appropriate to be involved.