The report screened on the Seven Network’s 6pm News on James Packer last night was billed as an “exclusive”. After looking at the report and the performance of Seven’s Melbourne news host, Jennifer Keyte, it was easy to see why this was an “exclusive”. It was weak, misleading and fluffy.

The report includes several questions and answers with Packer and walk through Crown with the camera crew and Keyte …

Packer was allowed to get away with telling the audience in a sort of aggrieved tone that he paid a lot of money to governments, but he accepted that, “well sort of” was the body language. Keyte didn’t bother to point out that the major recipient of those payments was the Victorian government and that he was bound to pay that, otherwise Crown would not be operating the Melbourne Casino and associated hotel and retail complexes.

Crown willingly agreed to taxes on gaming, poker machines and other parts of the business. Company tax, GST, FBT are paid to the federal government.

But the most misleading part of the report was the it didn’t mention the news.

Yesterday we saw Packer at the Crown AGM criticising the proposed changes to poker machine laws, call on the federal government to do more to stimulate tourism and then cop a vote of 55% against his company’s 2011 remuneration report. All newsworthy events, and of those, the rejection of the remuneration report was the biggest and most embarrassing. But not a whisper of that development from the AGM on Seven News last night.

Instead we got pictures of carpets, rooms and hallways.

No mention of the stinging rebuff to Packer and the Crown board at the AGM where the vote against the report at 55% was greater than the one delivered to Pacific Brands on Monday where the rejection vote was 52.9%. It was a shock rejection, with the level of the negative vote also a big surprise.

Crown joined the likes of News Corporation, GUD Holdings, Pac Brands and Watpac, which have seen votes of 25% or more against remuneration reports at AGMs this year. (Under new company regulations these boards faces a spill motion next year if they receive more than 25% vote against the 2012 remuneration report.)

Of course, Packer’s reaction also went unreported on Seven. He said he would neutralise any shareholder backlash against the Crown remuneration report next year after the sweeping “no” vote by using his 45% stake to re-appoint the same board if there was another vote of more than 25% of the votes cast at next year’s AGM. “If we receive an against vote again next year the board will spill,” he told the annual meeting at Crown Casino in Melbourne, according to AAP reports. “If that happens I will use my votes to ensure all directors are voted back in immediately.”

The “against” votes came from institutional investors which received advice from proxy advisers about inadequacies in the company’s new long-term incentive strategy. The new strategy was based on increases in earnings per share over the next four years.

There was no conciliation from Packer or sign that he would change the method of remuneration to accommodate shareholder concerns. (He can’t vote his shareholding on whether the remuneration report should be accepted). That’s unlike the situation at Transurban, the toll road group, which had seen its remuneration report voted down or receive heavy “against” votes at previous AGMs. After making changes and discussions, Transurban’s remuneration report was approved at the AGM this week, with only an against vote of 9%.

But don’t tell a belligerent Packer. The decision to talk to Seven and Packer’s criticism of the poker machine laws proposed by the federal government were diversions from the embarrassment of the rejection of the remuneration report, which would have been known well to him and the board before yesterday’s AGM.

And a final point should be made: Packer controls Consolidated Media Holdings (which had its AGM yesterday that went off without a problem) with Kerry Stokes, who controls the Seven Network. The interview and report was a cosy bit of fluff that was soft in the extreme, unlike other reports on Seven News, Today Tonight and Sunday Night. Packer made himself fair game for some tough questions yesterday by wading into the poker machine and tourism debates, again at the Crown AGM.

Viewers deserved better from Seven News.

Peter Fray

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