Andrew Bolt has done it again. Despite Crikey alerting the world of his failure to disclose an association with the pokies lobby after this hysterical September 3 column, News Ltd’s biggest columnist has repeated the effort in today’s paper.

Bolt reckons pokies reform alone is somehow going to cause a swag of extra Labor seats to be lost in 2013, such that 25 MPs are threatening a caucus result. He even talks up the prospect of the mighty AFL machine really cranking up the anti-reform push given most of them are, like the NRL clubs, also addicted to fleecing problems gamblers to overpay their players.

Two of Bolt’s employers — pub owner John Singleton at radio station MTR and casino mogul James Packer at Network Ten — will be delighted again to  see the effectiveness of their campaign against pokies reform being grossly exaggerated right across the News Ltd network.

The tragedy of Bolt’s fawning acquiescence to a powerful sin industry is that today he admitted to supporting action on gambling addiction when he wrote the following:

“There are plenty of people like me who loathe those wallet-hoovering machines, and want more done to persuade the poor and stupid to quit before they blow the family savings.”

This is the problem with News Ltd’s obsessive hatred of the Gillard government. Here is a unique opportunity to deliver an important social reform and the most powerful media player has failed to get behind it — solely because it is trying to install John Hartigan’s mate Tony Abbott as prime minister.

Whilst The Australian did editorialise in favour of Andrew Wilkie’s proposed reforms a few months back, News Ltd has completely failed to get stuck into the Coalition for failing to support measures that will end Australia’s status as the world’s biggest gambling nation.

It’s the same with climate change. If Chris Mitchell is sincere in saying The Australian supports a market-based mechanism to tackle carbon emissions then where has been the campaign of ridicule against Abbott’s pathetic direct action policy?

Mitchell’s former deputy turned editor of The Daily Telegraph, Paul Whittaker, disgraced himself in the pokies debate last week when he commissioned Andrew Clennel to produce an extraordinarily biased beat-up against the reforms. Media Watch duly gave it a serve and even The Australian’s Mike Steketee felt the need to come out and defend pokies reform in his column last Friday.

Bernard Keane first reported the Essential Research poll showing strong support for pokies reform and this is how Steketee described the effectiveness of the “licence to punt” campaign devised by Bolt’s MTR paymaster John Singleton:

“An Essential Research poll this week found 67 per cent support and 25 per cent opposition to requiring poker machine players to commit before they start playing to losing no more than a set amount in a 24-hour period.

“According to the Essential poll, the only effect to date of the strident campaign the clubs have been running has been to increase opposition to the changes by four percentage points since April, while also raising support by two points.”

Given all this, how can Bolt’s three bosses at the Herald Sun — Peter Blunden, Phil Gardner and Simon Pristel — sit back and happily publish Bolt’s inaccurate rubbish again this morning with no disclosure of his Singleton association? This is what appears in News Ltd’s Professional Conduct Policy:

“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.”

After Bolt’s first transgression, I sent a detailed email of complaint to a variety of News Ltd heavyweights, which concluded with the following:

“In my opinion, Bolt breached News Ltd’s Professional Conduct Policy by grossly exaggerating the impact of his radio paymaster’s advertising campaign. His superiors 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.

“I trust this request can be satisfied and there will be no need to pursue this issue through other channels such as the Australian Press Council.”

Unless News Ltd adds a disclosure online under Bolt’s column in the coming days, the only option left will be to lodge a formal complaint with the Press Council and also raise it with two News Corp directors, Sir Rod Eddington and Peter Barnes, when we catch up for lunch in Melbourne next Thursday to discuss various governance issues at News Corp.

Peter Fray

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