In the dark days immediately after the October 1987 sharemarket crash, the man sitting in the office alongside mine at the Melbourne Herald was relentless in his determination to use his influence to ensure there was no panic.

Stay calm, he told people around him. Don’t talk down the economic fundamentals or undermine the global financial system, he said. Be responsible and don’t create fear.

Rupert Murdoch even got on the phone to the US president, Ronald Reagan, to reinforce his message and to hear the leader of the free world assure him that the US government was imploring everyone to hold their nerve.

Which makes the reckless reporting of Macquarie Bank in the current financial meltdown by the man’s flagship newspaper, The Australian, somewhat perplexing.

Yesterday in Crikey we drew attention to the The Australian ‘s story earlier in week, which alleged Macquarie had to refinance $45 billion of debt by March next year and would have difficulty raising $5 billion in debt in the next six months. It was a story based on questionable information that was never checked with Macquarie. A story that carried a tone of alarm about Macquarie’s future funding capacity and contained the word “fears” in its headline and opening sentence. The writer didn’t offer Macquarie the opportunity to reply to the hand grenade it was about to lob on its front doorstep during probably the most volatile week in financial markets since 1929.

The Australian has wasted no time in retaliating against Crikey for our criticism. Last night its lawyers sent us a long letter of demand and the wording of a groveling apology it demanded we publish today (we declined the offer). And today it published a news report about our criticism of The Australian, which included the paper’s editor-in-chief’s thoughtful view that “I’m willing to wager that the clowns at Crikey hadn’t actually read Adele Ferguson’s article before they published that rubbish …” (We did read her story, oddly enough.)

We were also subjected to The Australian’s distinctive approach to quality broadsheet journalism last night. When Crikey editor Jonathan Green declined an offer to pose for a photograph for The Australian, the paper posted a photographer outside Crikey’s office to wait until Jonathan emerged, then chased him down the street to snap his picture against his wishes.

And when I told The Australian’s reporter I would prefer not to have my picture taken, he said to me: “Our picture desk wants to stake out your house, but the way of obviating things is for you to agree to pose for a pic”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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