Former Age, Sunday Age and Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie says incoming Melbourne Press Club President Mark Baker has an “enormous task ahead of him” to restore credibility to the media clique following two scandals in the past week that have cast doubt on its raison d’être.

At yesterday’s MPC annual general meeting Baker was duly elected as helmsman to replace Michael Venus, with Herald & Weekly Times spinner Genevieve Brammall snagging one vice presidential slot alongside incumbent lawyer Peter Bartlett.

But Crikey‘s revelations last week that Brammall had leaned on other committee members to deny oxygen to Guthrie’s best-selling book Man Bites Murdoch, and yesterday’s report on outgoing committee member Sushi Das’ angry email alleging misogyny and poor succession planning means the spotlight will be firmly trained on the incoming duo’s performance.

“The admissions by senior office-bearers that they boycotted my book because sponsorship dollars were at risk is, frankly, a disgrace,” Guthrie told Crikey.

“It trashes the basic principles of publish-and-be-damned journalism. The really disappointing part of all this is that it was so predictable.”

Yesterday’s meeting proceeded in an orderly fashion, with no mention of either the Guthrie or Das controversies until the Q&A session began. Luckily Crikey founder and AGM specialist Stephen Mayne was on hand to demand the true truth from Baker and treasurer David Poulton.

Mayne, who famously launched a dual bid with Hamish Fitzsimons ten years ago to cleanse the MPC committee of lawyers and corporates but was nixed by a proxy-wielding Neil Mitchell, asked whether it might have been prudent to discuss the Guthrie book in a low-key fashion at somewhere like Flinders Street’s Waterside Hotel given that Guthrie had edited the city’s two major dailies.

But the impressive Poulton held firm, responding that the club was reluctant to involve itself in intra-industry media wars and was more of a social club.

Throughout the exchange Brammall and the rest of the News crew remained silent until the spinner remarked that Crikey had misquoted her in our story last week reporting Guthrie’s sequence of events. We asked Brammall which parts of the quotes were inaccurate but didn’t hear back before deadline.

This morning, Guthrie provided an exclusive account clarifying the sequence of events, revealing that ex-president Michael Venus had approached him directly to politely ask whether the club could launch his book.

“For the record, outgoing club president Michael Venus approached me directly about this time last year to ask if the MPC could launch Man Bites Murdoch.

“I told him I’d support that, but warned him he would face opposition from club officials with direct links to the Herald & Weekly Times.

“Michael told me he was unconcerned about any such opposition; in fact, he said he’d welcome it. On that basis I urged my publisher, Melbourne University Press, to cooperate with the club on the launch.

“In doing so, I showed a lot of faith in the MPC, believing they had the courage of their convictions. Clearly that faith was misplaced. Within weeks of Michael’s approach the club’s interest waned.”

Man Bites Murdoch has been lauded as the preeminent insider account of the Melbourne media scene’s 80s and 90s ructions — covering News’ takeover of HWT, the demise of the Melbourne Herald, the Sunday newspaper wars, Conrad Black’s brief tenure at Fairfax and the rise of the internet. All topics you might expect would pique the interest of bleak city media watchers.

Guthrie laid the blame firmly at the feet of Brammall for suggesting the first obligation of the MPC was to its sponsors, even when this clashed with its journalistic integrity.

“It now becomes clear the MPC’s boycott of my book — and they can play around with semantics, but that’s what it was — was due in large part to the efforts of HWT spinner Genevieve Brammall who has admitted she believes sponsors should be protected from journalistic criticism.

“The ultimate sin apparently is to sue her employer and win. Now the club rewards Ms Brammall with a vice presidency. Frankly, they deserve each other, but I’m not sure Mark Baker does.”

Guthrie added that the MPC would have less of a problem if it didn’t sit in judgement of other journalists’ work at the prestigious annual Quill Awards. The club’s recent conduct should “disqualify them from that role,” he said, adding that journos thinking of entering their coverage of the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal in this year’s awards should think again.

Mayne urged Guthrie to run for president next year off the back of the blow up:

“I was disappointed Bruce wasn’t available to prosecute his case in person yesterday but I was happy to do it for him,” Mayne told Crikey this morning.

“Bruce would make a terrific committee member or president and with time on his hands he should start his bid for the 2012 presidency now.”

In other appointments yesterday, Channel Nine’s Brett “Duck” McLeod and Age Insight editor Duska Sulicich stepped on to the committee, while Toni Hetherington and Leader Newspapers’ Mark Gardy maintained the Murdoch presence following the resignation of Sylvia Bradshaw and John Trevorrow. Nu Energy and ex-RACV spinner Eric Noel and Das stepped aside as expected.

The MPC remains in reasonable financial health, with a net operating loss of $31,856 soaked up by a solid bank balance of $213,836 at the end of 2010.