As someone who has been largely banned by The AFR’s editor-in-chief Michael Gill since September 1999, it is always amusing to receive his form letters inviting me to seminars, offering free diaries or asking for new subscriptions.

This morning I decided to take him up shelling out $125 to attending the first Australian Financial Review and ASX Investment Success Series at Melbourne’s Crown Casino.

The AFR’s economics commentator David Bassanese held court for the opening hour, so when it came to questions I hit him with one based on yesterday’s Crikey item: should Wayne Swan keep ripping dividends out of the Reserve Bank when our foreign reserves have plunged by 70% over the past year and are now smaller than 36 other countries?

“If they make a profit, I’ve got no problem with them paying a dividend,” came the rather blasé reply, seemingly ignoring comparisons with countries like South Korea that have built up foreign reserves from nothing to $280 billion over the past decade while we sit there with a miserable $32 billion.

It was only when going through the glossy seminar flyer that concerns started to mount. The introduction from the head of AFR Education, Rob Thomason, opened with the following:

Welcome to The AFR and ASX Investment Success Series, an exciting new alliance between two of Australia’s most respected names in finance.

So, right at the very time when the AFR should be leading the charge against ASX conflicts and slack supervision, it is out there doing a new commercial joint venture with our monopoly exchange.

Even worse, the two day casino conference is being sponsored by CommSec, which had a flyer in the showbag that was headlined: “Trade ASX CFDs with Australia’s Favourite Online Broker — Commsec CFDs”.

CFDs are the most controversial and dangerous product that the ASX has pushed aggressively into over recent years. How appropriate to market them at a casino that was developed by current Fairfax chairman Ron Walker.

The AFR should be calling for a major review into CFDs and the way the ASX has championed their development and distribution, not offering itself as a vehicle through which they can be further marketed.

Journalists who are funded by advertisers have inherent conflicts, but normally there are strict demarcations. The lines are certainly getting blurred by The AFR when much of the marketing tosh for this conference is coming from Smart Investor Magazine editor, Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon, and several speakers are journalists.

Barrie Dunstan is chairing the CBA-sponsored proceedings all day, which begs the question of whether he’ll stick his neck out and declare that big banks shouldn’t be in funds management.

A clearer example you’ll never get than the stories in today’s press about Sir Rod Eddington, wearing his JP Morgan hat, ringing fellow former airline CEO turned banker Ralph Norris at the CBA to get the Centro debt moratorium over the line.

Did Norris give the green light wearing his banker’s hat with an exposure of almost $2 billion or as a fund manager given that CBA’s Colonial division is the biggest single Centro investors having smoked about $500 million of other people’s money?

Don’t hold your breath to see that discussed in The AFR?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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