Say what you like about Andrew Bolt, Australia’s most read newspaper columnist normally remains true to his socially conservative philosophy.

Whether it’s family values, law and order or cracking down on sinful industries, Bolt is usually good for positions that are supported by the religious Right.

Indeed, given that Australians are the world’s biggest gamblers, you would expect Bolt to side with Family First, the DLP and the Christian Democrats as a supporter of measures to reduce the huge damage caused to families by pokies.

However, consider this from Bolt in his column published in the Saturday Herald Sun:

Last Sunday, independent Andrew Wilkie said he was deadly serious about his threat to vote down the government if it did not honour its promise to him by May to impose mandatory pre-commitment technology on poker machines to limit losses: “If they don’t pull off this reform I will withdraw my support.”

There is no way Labor can agree to Wilkie’s demand. Its MPs in NSW have been stunned by the anger of many Labor-voting punters in the massive leagues clubs, particularly ones in Labor seats, against this “licence to bet”.

This means an election within 10 months is likely, especially with the Liberals unofficially saying Wilkie would get their preferences, almost guaranteeing him his own seat.

Bolt pushed a very similar line at the top of his Network Ten show, The Bolt Report, on Sunday morning:

“But Labor MPs can’t give Wilkie what he wants. MPs in NSW seats know punters at the leagues clubs are fuming about this so-called licence to punt. Many are Labor voters.”

First, Bolt’s use of the phrases “licence to punt” and “mandatory pre-commitment” are highly contentious, as was explained in this Crikey story on June 20.

The Wilkie committee shifted to focusing on introducing low-intensity machines, rather than mandatory pre-commitment of high intensity machines, after the pokies industry had gone off prematurely with its misleading “licence to punt” campaign.

Then you have Bolt’s daft political analysis. If Labor is primarily getting slaughtered by the carbon tax, why on earth would it voluntarily go to an early election before it has even been introduced?

The lower Labor’s vote, the more likely it will implement the Wilkie pokies reforms to delay getting wiped out in an election.

However, Bolt’s worst offence over the weekend was to grossly exaggerate the impact of the NSW pokies backlash while failing to disclose his financial association with those involved in the campaign.

One of the reasons low-rating Melbourne radio station MTR lost $6.3 million last year was Bolt’s hefty six-figure salary to appear in the Richmond studio after 8am every weekday with breakfast presenter Steve Price.

This salary is partly funded by 2GB controlling shareholder John Singleton, the bloke whose ad agency was hired by the pokies industry to come up with the “licence to punt” advertising campaign. Singleton also owns several Sydney hotels with pokies.

Media Watch criticised 2GB breakfast presenter Alan Jones in May this year for only mentioning this Singleton connection twice during his many hysterical raves against the Wilkie reforms.

But at least Jones mentioned it.

Over the weekend, Bolt went on national television and into the pages of our biggest selling daily newspaper, complete with a front-page promotion, without disclosing his financial connection to John Singleton and the pokies campaign.

Bolt’s MTR gig is likely to end shortly given the losses and low ratings, but he is no doubt hoping the rumours are correct and Gina Rinehart has teamed with John Singleton to buy 3AW from Fairfax Media.

It was Rinehart, Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer who got together to take effective control of Network Ten last year, a move that led to Bolt being given his own show.

Singleton is an old friend of the Packer family and James Packer has a clear incentive to head off pokies reform given his interest in Melbourne’s Crown Casino.

When Bolt speaks so definitely about how spooked NSW Labor MPs are about pokies reform, he might be relying on lines being pushed by Karl Bitar, the former federal secretary of the ALP, who is now Crown’s government affairs manager.

Anyone who runs a noisy political campaign likes to talk up the impact it is having in an attempt to frighten the targeted politicians from implementing the proposal.

However, ACMA has codes of practice for these matters and News Ltd also has a  Professional Conduct Policy, which includes the following:

20.4: Contributors must comply with provisions relating to conflicts and must declare any real or potential conflict of interest arising from material submitted for publication and supervisors must do their utmost to ensure no conflict exists.  Any association which may have a bearing, or appear to have a bearing, on a contributor’s view, must be identified with the published material.

In my opinion, Bolt breached this by grossly exaggerating the impact of his radio paymaster’s advertising campaign. Herald Sun editor Simon Pristel should immediately intervene and add a disclosure to the bottom of the online version of Bolt’s Saturday column. Bolt should also voluntarily disclose this pokies campaign connection in his Wednesday Herald Sun column.

Peter Fray

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