ASIC’s rumourtage crackdown is all about getting factual market information through to the public.

However, like with so many media yarns, you don’t get the full story when a newspaper is covering a regulatory issue that involves its own conduct.

And so it was yesterday when The Australian’s business editor Andrew Main produced this page three story revealing that SMH business columnist Elizabeth Knight was the target of an ASIC investigation into alleged rumourtrage against James Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings in this December 17 column.

As events turn out, there are actually two rumourtrage investigations and the more interesting one involves Main’s colleague at The Australian, Adele Ferguson, and her outrageous attack on Macquarie Group in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse last September.

We’re yet to hear from either Adele Ferguson or Elizabeth Knight on the probes and their colleagues aren’t being particularly helpful.

Former SMH business editor Ian Verrender chose to attack Macquarie, ASIC and James Packer today, without dealing with the substance of the issue.

One other fascinating Macquarie connection is the fact that Liz Knight is married to Macquarie’s long-serving media analyst Alex Pollack, who presumably was also hearing this so-called “rampant speculation that Packer is a seller of his interest in Consolidated Media”.

Macquarie CEO Nicholas Moore has long been close to James Packer, yet here was the wife of his media analyst distributing what Packer now claims was a false rumour that he was selling because of financial distress. Then again, if James is so financially strong, why is he currently selling his sprawling pastoral business?

Andrew Main also hopped in again today keeping the focus on his Fairfax rival Knight and describing ASIC’s Adele Ferguson investigation as “a more nuts-and-bolts look into a possible move against Macquarie Bank shares in September.”

Err, yeah, a “nuts and bolts” move that helped send Macquarie shares down 20% in one day.

Anti-Macquarie analyst Brett Le Mesurier has long been Ferguson’s most quoted source and this is what Main wrote about him:

The Australian had quoted a report originally published on July 30 last year by analyst Brett Le Mesurier at Wilson HTM that said Macquarie had $45 billion in funding maturing in one year, or less, from March 31, 2008.

Adele Ferguson did much more than that and when Crikey first criticised her irresponsible Macquarie coverage, News Ltd spindoctor Greg Baxter fired back with this piece claiming it was all true.

Main also quoted disapprovingly from yesterday’s controversial Crikey editorial which essentially gave ASIC a green light to go after journalists.

Whilst the Macquarie rumourtrage definitely deserve a full investigation, let’s hope the plod has read Charlie Aitken’s explanation of the Macquarie rumourtrage strategy which included manipulation of credit spreads.

And what we really need now is some solid investigative journalism into everything from the Macquarie sting to the cesspit of day trading forums like Hotcopper. The superb US business blog shows how to do it with everyone from Jim Cramer to Macquarie critic Bethany McLean getting done over. A good start Down Under would be for the journalistic players in this probe to tell their own.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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