Jon Faine, Melbourne’s 774 ABC morning presenter, is an intrepid interviewer, able to spot a conflict of interest at 20 paces.

He’s on extended leave at the moment, on a much-anticipated car trip with his son Jack from Melbourne to London.

And they have a blog up and running, melbournetolondon.com, which has generated a bit of controversy among readers over the last couple of days — but more about that later.

While checking it out, Crikey noticed some interesting things. Like the supporters section, in which they write: “We do not have any commercial tie-ins or benefactors. We have been generously assisted with training and advice from many quarters.” They then note just where this help came from. For example:

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Zoe Warne and her team at August have created this website for us and executed the design of Jack’s idea for the logo…

Telstra conducted a coverage audit for us of mobile telephony in obscure places so that we know where we will be out of range and where the sat phone will kick in…

Gerard Drayton at City Toyota did not sell us a car, but was quite philosophical about it and generous with advice.

No commercial tie-ins but a nonetheless nice spruik on a site bound to get more eyeballs than your average travel blog.

The ABC’s Code of Conduct is stringent on endorsement: “ABC presenters must avoid any endorsement of any commercial organisation, product or service by themselves, their guests or contributors in ABC broadcasts or on ABC Online.”

Of course, Faine is on holidays. He’s not blogging for the ABC or in his capacity as an ABC presenter — in fact the site contains no mention of Faine’s usual day-job — but many will come to the site because they’re ABC listeners. His travels have certainly been discussed at length on his program.

Faine is also guestblogging for Telstra’s nowwearetalking site about his travels.

Indeed, nowwaretalking claims that Faine “will be using a BigPond Wireless Aircard during his travels, to keep in constant communication with his family and listeners back home in Australia.”

Telstra bundles it up neatly to read like an endorsement.

There’s also a video where Faine is interviewed by nowwearetalking’s Martin Barr about the technology he’ll be using on the trip. Faine refers to mobile phones and a “broadband turbo card” though no brands are mentioned.

It’s a fine line. Why shouldn’t someone, on their own time, be able to blog where he likes? We’re really such killjoys.

Perhaps because they can’t control how the other party involved will present the information. Telstra is not exactly drawing the distinction. The bio for Faine reads:

Guest blogger, 774 ABC Melbourne radio presenter Jon Faine and his son Jack have taken off on a six-month cross country road trip from Melbourne to London.

And the nowwearetalking home page button promoting Faine’s blog is neatly juxtaposed between Telstra’s review of its iPhone — gee that’s likely to be unbiased — and a link to its discussion of future broadband technology.

While highly unlikely to affect how Jon Faine interviews Telstra on his show in the future, it may just affect how people perceive his interviewing.

Margaret Simons has written in Crikey previously about the perils of journalists appearing on nowwearetalking:

When is a news site not a news site, and when is it propaganda? In these days of blurry lines, journalists need to be careful.

I was surprised earlier this week to get an e-mail from Telstra’s PR site www.nowwearetalking.com.au urging me to visit and watch a video interview of Sydney Morning Herald journalist Annabel Crabb talking about the impact of YouTube and new media on the election campaign.

Nowwetalking is a propaganda tool of Telstra – clever propaganda, but propaganda nevertheless. The site is mostly devoted to pushing Telstra’s point of view in the continuing stoush with the Government over Broadband regulation.

She also noted that the site’s ultimate goal is ever apparent:

Here is the home page of Nowwearetalking. Its flavour is clear. Follow the links and you will find Telstra describing its competitors as leeches and parasites and launching vehement attacks on ACCC head Graeme Samuel. It is all about getting people to sign up as Telstra Active Supporters…”

As for the other controversy, Jack’s recent post about cock fighting in Dili has got feathers ruffled.

Crikey tried to contact Jon Faine but wasn’t able to reach him before deadline.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

Liz
North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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