Once upon a time you used to be able to distinguish The Australian Financial Review from The Australian because it was only at the latter that its editorial stances infected its journalism; the AFR, for example, is editorially opposed to the NBN, but its coverage was always far more neutral than that to be found in The Oz, which has conducted a mostly fiction-based campaign against it for years. Things however may be changing under the not-so-new régime of Michael Stutchbury.

On Wednesday, David Ramli produced a piece (page 3, but led off page 1) describing how construction companies were abandoning the NBN because of delays caused by “bungled planning”. This would, Ramli declared, lead to increases in construction costs. He “understood” that two of the three winners of NBN’s first round of construction contracts had declined to participate in the second round of contracts. The two companies were Silcar and Transfield; both were said to have declined to comment because of “contractual obligations”, implying the sinister hand of government had silenced the companies.

Only, Silcar and Transfield did comment afterward. Transfield, in a remarkably terse 34-word statement, said the story was “incorrect”. The company “already successfully bid for one major work package and remains committed to the project”. Silcar said the same, issuing a statement saying the report was “untrue”: “Silcar has and will tender for specific components of the NBN offered to it and remains 100% committed to the nation building project …”

What did the AFR do? Yesterday Ramli revisited the issue to couch it in terms of an NBN denial and, while noting the companies had issued “similarly worded statements”, said neither had confirmed they were bidding for contracts. So, a company’s failure to openly declare it is tendering for a contract in competition with other companies is evidence it has walked away in disgust at “bungled planning”. They have some funny ideas about how tender processes work at the AFR