There was at least one April Fools story floating around yesterday that proved to be a little too convincing. In an article published on Computerworld.com.au, reporter Darren Pauli filed a story stating that Telstra had announced it would split its retail and wholesale arms if it won the $4.7 billion National Broadband Network following secret talks with communications minister Stephen Conroy. Gullible readers swallowed the bait, so much so that the article caused a spike in Telstra shares yesterday. Given ASIC’s mooted crackdown on rumour mongering, could the prank qualify for investigation?
The Computerworld story read:
Internet service providers said the move, announced by the telco Tuesday at the Sydney CommsDay conference, will “liberate the telecommunications industry” from exorbitant wholesale access prices and bring access agreements in line with those in the UK and much of Europe…
…Internode managing director John Lindsay said an operational-separated Telstra NBN will ensure the taxpayer-funded network provides competitive access and availability for consumers.
“Internode welcomes the exciting new era in Australia’s telecommunications industry,” Lindsay said.
“We look forward to fair and equal access to the taxpayer infrastructure.”
Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde said: “It is the best thing that could have happened to the industry and it is fantastic that Telstra has realised cooperation is the only way forward in telecommunications.”
“Seeing Telstra back at the table is something the industry has worked on for many years.”
Computerworld published the story at 11am yesterday, and while most readers’ radars were set to suspicious, given the April 1 date, many people (including Crikey) spotted the article on US site Networkworld.com, where the date of publication was marked March 31st.
The story was also given extra credibility by including quotes from Paul Budde of Budde.com.au, a telecommunications research website, and John Lindsay, a carrier relations manager at the Australian internet provider internode.on.net. Both Budde and Lindsay were in on the joke. As reported in Business Spectator, “Mr Budde told Business Spectator that ‘the idea Telstra would agree to separating its wholesale and retail networks was so preposterous that everyone would realise it was a joke’.”
Not preposterous enough it seems, especially given the last sentence read “more to follow” instead of “more to follow on this on April Fools Day 2009.”
Telstra shares spiked yesterday: “One broker told Businessspecator.com.au that ‘I know people who have bought 1 million shares on this.’”
“Telstra shares started trading in the morning at $3.20 and hit a high during the day of $3.24. But after it became obvious the story was a hoax the price collapsed to close down 3.7 per cent at $3.09,” reported Business Spectator.
The author of the article, Darren Pauli, told Crikey today that he was unaware of the commotion the article caused in the share market but added, “I did run it past them [Budde & Lindsay] to make sure that it would be seen as an April Fools joke, we all thought it would be obvious.”
The article comes not long after the Australian Securities and Investments Commission announced a crackdown on rumour mongering earlier this year. ASIC told The Age that one of the issues that would be examined would be “…the spread of false or misleading information.”
ASIC’s crackdown will investigate “… the spreading of false, negative rumours about companies — dubbed “rumourtrage” — in the wake of last year’s extreme market volatility.”
Pauli was not sure if Computerworld will be issuing a statement but said — “considering the effect [on the share market], it’s possible.” Computerworld said they are not in a position to comment about any action they will take from here.
Crikey contacted ASIC to ask if Computerworld or anyone associated with the story would be investigated but they didn’t get back to us before deadline.