In terms of rank corporate hypocrisy, today’s effort from the Ten Network is up there with the best.
Everything that is wrong with the Australian media and the way we regulate it, everything that is wrong with corporate regulation and competition law and corporate governance was seen in the few paragraphs confirming Ten’s final capitulation to the advance of the One.Tel lads, James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch.
No mention of viewers, no explanation to other shareholders about why these changes were necessary, when they weren’t before Packer started buying shares. And it has been done in such a way as to hide Packer and Murdoch, and a third nominee, Sydney media lawyer Paul Mallam, from shareholder scrutiny for another year.
No more details, so are we to assume (because that’s all we can do), that Packer and Murdoch will be fenced off from the really delicate discussions about programming, ad rates, the future of One (Ten’s sports channel), and the budget and progress of the news hour, which starts from mid-January?
Last week Ten said in a statement that “The offer of two directorships to Messrs Packer and Murdoch is contingent upon their agreement that the Company put in place appropriate Board protocols.”
That wasn’t amended in this morning’s release, so presumably it is now that Packer and Murdoch will be fenced off like mushrooms (kept in the dark). I can’t imagine James Packer not wanting to get his money’s worth at Ten. Being kept out of some boardroom discussions is not the way he would see his position on the board. He is now the leader, having driven the assault and gotten rid of the man who was right at One.Tel, Ten chairman Nick Falloon, for a second time.
And this protocol or protocols should also be applied to the new board representative nominated by Bruce Gordon, the controller of Ten’s Adelaide and Perth competitor WIN, which owns about 13% of Ten. Gordon’s nominee, Mallam, should be regarded as a nominee for a major shareholder, and not a full independent director. What Ten has also to explain is why it is OK for a nominee of Gordon to be appointed to the board, when it wasn’t OK for Gordon to be appointed last year. It is only a matter of degree.
This is all that is wrong with our media diversity laws — and wrong not just since the 2006 Howard amendments, but for much longer than that. Gordon controls a competitor free-to-air network. Packer owns a quarter of the metro subscription TV provider Foxtel, and half of the key subscription TV sports rights player Fox Sports. Murdoch owns a radio network, and is a director (and heir) of News, another Foxtel owner and the other half of Fox Sports’ owner. Drill down to individual markets and you start to see just how little diversity is left.
In Perth, Kerry Stokes owns the newspaper and a TV outlet. Gordon owns one network and has a major chunk of the other. Lachlan Murdoch owns a radio station and now controls a TV network.
So much for diversity of voices.
But what’s shabbiest of all from the moguls is the fact that all these appointments will happen after the AGM on December 9, meaning they will not have to stand for election until the 2011 AGM. If they had gone onto the board before the AGM, they would have had to stand for election (although its uncertain if the appointments happen after nominations for the board close).
Now shareholders won’t be able to quiz both men (and Mallam) for a year about their intentions, or the campaign to unseat and force the departure of Ten’s executive chairman. That has a whiff of revenge for Falloon being right on One.Tel when he was CEO of the PBL nine years ago (when he was sacked by the Packers). This needs to be explained by Packer and Murdoch.
And finally, the exit payment agreed to by the board for Falloon will be disclosed in the 2011 annual report, which is again too late. Why not at the AGM, or would that be too sensitive?
Will any of these points be raised in the Lachlan Murdoch related Australian newspapers, such as The Australian or the tabloids?
Presumably Ten will continue to be monstered by the News hacks over the perceived failure of One and the planned news hour from 6pm until Ten either rolls over, again, or the ratings and viewer figures plus the revenue prove the network was right. Stand by for the News Ltd PR machine to tell us that Ten programming is fabo and Seven and Nine are showing rubbish and doing badly.