More insight into the story of the worm and how it turned.

The whole Board of the National Press Club – including some of the nation’s most senior journalists – agreed to the conditions for the debate, but at least some of them now think they made a mistake and that it was right and good for Channel Nine to use the worm.

The Vice President of the National Press Club, Sunday Age political correspondent Jason Koutsoukis, told Crikey yesterday that with hindsight he thinks the rules were “ridiculous”.

And Board Member Misha Schubert says “In hindsight have we all learned something? Yes.”

As well as these two, the Board of the Press Club includes luminaries of journalism such as Glenn Milne, Michael Brissenden and David Speers. One wonders where their collective journalistic principles were on the day they agreed to the conditions. Apparently there was very little debate, which just shows how accepted it has become to compromise with power in Canberra.

Indeed, as the board members point out, the rules are similar to those agreed to by television networks in the past in return for exclusive rights. But one would have hoped that the advantage of moving the debate to the Press Club was that journalistic values might prevail.

Koutsoukis told Crikey yesterday: “In hindsight I would say we shouldn’t have agreed to the conditions, but at the time I looked at them and thought ‘here we go, this is how it has been done in the past. This is how it goes’.”

Koutsoukis now thinks Channel Nine showing the worm was good, because “it showed how ridiculous the conditions are”, but he nevertheless thinks it was reasonable for the National Press Club to cut their feed.

Schubert disagrees with the decision to cut the feed, but supports Chief Executive Maurice Reilly, who cut the feed, as a good chief executive.

President Ken Randall says the problem was that the club had not seen such a situation arising, and that Maurice Reilly “understandably saw it as a business decision, and had to make a decision very quickly.” He felt he had to do what he could to honour the agreement.

Koutsoukis and Randall both deny a report in yesterday’s Media section of The Australian that the board split over whether to back Reilly’s actions. There was, they say, “vigorous discussion” over what should have been done in hindsight, but everyone backed the statement that in the circumstances, Reilly had done the right thing.

As for whether or not Channel Nine and the other networks agreed to the conditions, apparently they were put out, and nobody objected – but nor did they sign their agreement. It was just assumed everyone would go along with it.

So is the National Press Club “just another licensed club” with no commitment to journalistic values, as Ray Martin has alleged? Koutsoukis thinks it a cheap shot, when the networks, including Channel Nine, have been doing deals for years for the right to host the debate.

And he puts in a word for Reilly. When he took over, says Koutsoukis, the club was in debt and losing money. Now it has no debt, and is in profit. Yes, the Club hosts weddings and corporate events just like any “venue” but it also has a series of speakers and conferences that matter.

Having said all that, the National Press Council is backing ABC chief Mark Scott’s move for an independent commission to organise future debates.

Surely the wash up is that people should get off Reilly’s back, and look at the real cause of this controversy – the way journalism and power works in Canberra, and has worked for many years. The people who make the decisions to agree to what the politicians want are among the nation’s most senior journalists. And this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

A sobering thought.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.