Last week, ANZ got a lot of credit for two non-decisions. Despite denials, they were applauded for taking a stand against misogyny and in favour of the Tasmanian environment.

The Age, and its Sydney sister publication the SMH, were particularly culpable in promoting the scandalous idea that the ANZ’s marketing department had become a feminist front organisation.

The newspaper’s headlines (e.g. “bank bans ads”) were not supported by the accompanying stories which spoke more modestly of an “apparent” ban imposed “in the light of” an offensive skit Channel Nine’s Footy Show which target The Age‘s football writer Carole Wilson. Journalists can be every bit as good at spin as PR people.

Other Fairfax headlines claimed that the ad ban was “a first”. Professor Catharine Lumby gushed that nothing like this had happened in the 20 years she has been following feminist issues in the Australian media. She praised ANZ for its “social responsibility”.

ANZ, however, was at pains to deny that there was any moral or political motivation at all behind its decision to ask that some of its ads be moved to other shows on the Nine network.

An ANZ spokesperson was quoted as saying: “it was a commercial decision, as The Footy Show in its current format does not allow us to connect well with the customer base.”

Of course, this is marketing speak. It could mean just about anything but clearly ANZ has no desire to adopt the role of feminist champion that its new admirers are thrusting upon it.

Also last week, there was the mystery surrounding the ANZ’s future with the Tasmanian forestry group Gunns and its controversial pulp mill proposal.

In response to a Business Spectator report that it was about to pull the plug on the mill for credit market reasons, ANZ played the old “neither confirm nor deny” card and simply referred journalists to the last statement they issued on Gunns in January and argued that nothing had changed.

No-one believed them, especially not the Finance Sector Union which went wild in its praise of this “new industry standard for corporate responsibility”. FSU’s national policy director Rod Masson said that “Bank workers today applaud ANZ for its move to put environmental and community concerns at the centre of its funding decision.” Just a little hopefully, Masson said that: “ANZ have showed that Australia’s banks can be more than profit-driven companies”.

ANZ’s spin doctors must be wondering what they have to do to fend off the weirder blandishments of these unlikely supporters.

Peter Fray

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