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Jan 8, 2013

What's in Tony Jones' pay packet, and whether you should know

The ABC is fighting hard to block an FOI request to reveal the salaries of some of its best-known presenters. Crikey asks Aunty insiders whether the public should have the right to know what they're paid.


Tony Jones

Former ABC managing director David Hill has backed calls for the salaries of the broadcaster’s presenters to be made public — a move many staffers oppose as an unnecessary invasion of privacy.

ABC insiders also suspect revealing staffers’ pay packets would pit colleagues against each other, leading to demands for wage rises that could further strain the broadcaster’s already stretched budget.

The Australian yesterday reported the ABC has lost a second appeal in its bid to block a freedom of information application by Melbourne’s Herald Sun for access to the salary levels of presenters and producers on 13 ABC programs. These include Media Watch, Four Corners and ABC Radio presenter Jon Faine.

Hill, ABC chief from 1987 to 1995, says he opposed efforts to make staff members’ salaries public while leading the organisation but has now changed his mind.

“At the end of the day it’s taxpayers’ money and the taxpayers have a right to know where it’s going,” Hill told Crikey. “It’s about the principle of transparency.”

Hill says the ABC should honour all existing confidentiality agreements but make clear in future negotiations that wage levels will be public knowledge. Although Hill believes News Limited is running an agenda against the ABC, he said: “It should just be done and then it wouldn’t have to be this big an issue.”

Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, however, sees no public interest in revealing what ABC staffers get paid. “I think it’s unnecessarily intrusive and I don’t see what it’s trying to prove,” he told Crikey.

“If they have reasonable grounds for suspecting the ABC is absurdly overpaying people then there might be a case for it. Otherwise it’s just a fishing expedition and I don’t see any justification for it … I’m suspicious of News Limited’s motives.”

Holmes says publicising ABC staff salaries could create a misleading perception of extravagant spending given private sector pay packets, which are often larger, would remain confidential.

“… journalists on Four Corners are paid in the range of $140-160,000 a year, while high-profile presenters such as Annabel Crabb can command over $200,000.”

“I negotiated my salary in what I thought were confidential conditions. My colleagues don’t know what I get paid and I don’t see why the public should. It’s up to the ABC to manage its budget as well as it can,” he said.

“If the courts decide this is public information then it will be released and there’s nothing we can do about it, but I’d prefer it to be kept private as I’m sure 98% of Australians would. We will accept it with as good grace as we can and we’ll see what News Limited make of it. My prediction is they’ll make it seem we’re absurdly overpaid and that would make it a less attractive place to work.”

A finding against the ABC could also lead to similar demands at SBS. “There’s no reason why, if people know what Tony Jones gets paid, they wouldn’t want to know what Jenny Brockie gets paid,” Holmes said.

A Four Corners reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, told Crikey they would support salaries being made public as it would show how “erratic” the ABC’s pay scales are at a senior level.

“The problem for the ABC is that people will start to say, ‘why am I getting paid this amount of money when I’m doing better stories [than someone with a higher salary]?'” they said. “There’ll be a lot of pressure on management to justify why someone didn’t get a pay rise when someone else is on a lot more … the petty jealousy it would unleash would be very amusing.”

According to this ABC veteran, journalists on Four Corners are paid in the range of $140-160,000 a year, while high-profile presenters such as Annabel Crabb can command over $200,000. As a rule, however, ABC staffers are paid less than their high-profile counterparts in commercial television, many of whom earn over $500,000 a year.

ABC managing director Mark Scott — who took home an annual salary of $773,787 last year, according to the ABC’s latest annual report — has previously argued the public broadcaster pays significantly less than its commercial rivals and that revealing presenter salaries would place it at a “singular disadvantage” in retaining talent. In 2009, Scott told a Senate estimates committee that “our journalists would be the only journalists and our on-air talent would be the only on-air talent in the country whose remuneration was publicly disclosed, thereby allowing our competitors to come and cherry-pick the talent as they see fit”.

The ABC has a little under a month to lodge an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s latest decision on the Herald Sun’s application.

A spokesman for the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the union was unable to comment on the issue at this time.


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30 thoughts on “What’s in Tony Jones’ pay packet, and whether you should know

  1. klewso

    I reckon it should be as public as the pay of the rest of the media in which they all work.

  2. GF50

    Hell yes make it public. A Crabbe paid anything at all is gobsmacking! Political editor indeed! Not a journalists bootlace. Sycophantic opinionist and cooking show hostess with No insight whatsoever.

  3. GF50

    Forgot to worst offender Mark Scott, the destroyer of an free and fearless media, now we know what he gets paid should be sacked immediately as turned ABC into minnie me Murdoch, dumbing down of public debate and using rubbish lies from LNP without question as to veracity. No media should be allowed present known lies as fact.

  4. drmick

    Pretty standard practice for the right to try and dismantle or destroy anything they don’t like, especially anything that challenges their position; (see T Abbott and the SRC, the bloodnut fishwife and her political party and supporters and just about anything else he touches).
    This fits snugly with wealthy private citizens taking over the remaining 25% of the press they do not already own, and ensuring an unbalanced,unopposed independent view of the opposition while presenting the opposite view of the government.
    The irony here of course is A Jones has surrounded himself with the putrescent fat lady from the circus and howards own “crazy johns” phone salesman to assist in “balanced” intercourse. we are all doomed.

  5. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Maybe the ABC should promise do so if the major parties reveal the salaries for their staffers as well. I’d like to see some of those numbers.

  6. David Hand

    I think requiring the ABC to reveal high profile individual salaries is absurd and destructive. It is a classic example of something we are all interested in, not something in all of our interests.

    This is simply someone taking advantage of the public accountability and freedom of information we have to protect our democracy. The system is being abused.

  7. zut alors

    I don’t see the point of knowing.

    Obviously ABC management believes the talent is worth the negotiated figure on their contract otherwise it wouldn’t have been ratified. Whether the taxpayers approve or not is irrelevant. No good can come from making this information public.

    The more interesting story would be the salaries paid by commercial networks to tie-up talent no longer appearing on air – thereby preventing the opposition snaffling them. High profile talent being paid to stay home – that’s the story I’d prefer to read.

  8. David Allen

    Apart from anything else it would be unconscionable to publish salaries of employees under extant contract and probably illegal. Does an individual’s right to privacy trump the public’s right to know?

    High Court stuff I suspect.

    Has anyone any info on whether Murdoch has tried this on with the BBC – his ultimate bete-noir?

  9. geomac62

    If the argument is disclosure because its taxpayer money then lets find out what MP staffers get . Of course the real question to be asked regarding taxpayers money is government deals with the private sector . Commercial confidence is a furphy once a deal has been signed . Lets take it further and have donations to political parties declared when they are made not months or a year later . We should know before casting our vote not long after .
    As to ABC presenters , well I fail to see what justification there is if its just them that are singled out . Witch hunt ?

  10. Richard Pennycuick

    This is, of course,utter nonsense, but if The Oz gets its grubby way, then it could be argued that the commercial channels are also supported by taxpayers’ money when we pay a small advertising component on most things we buy. The phrase “free to air” is a fiction!

  11. Watson Bob

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander….I really don’t care if you know what I earn, then what I am actually being paid might be something else completely surprising!

  12. Paddlefoot

    Presumably all contributions from their Kremlin paymasters will be included. Naughty old Auntie.

  13. Dion Giles

    Subjecting Tony Jones to disclosures that Alan Jones escapes is an affront to the public interest. Indeed why not go the whole hog and publish what each Jones makes in total from broadcasting, including kickbacks? Either that or leave remuneration a personal matter between each Jones and his employer. Of course, the remuneration of each high flyer in News Ltd. would be interesting reading.
    (Sorry to lump together the two Joneses who don’t even belong on the same planet. One is a gentleman and the other isn’t.)

  14. tonyfunnywalker

    So are we to have a salary cap at the ABC now in line with other entertainers in the AFL, NRL, etc. There is no benchmark salary and it is the Annabell Crabbe and Leigh Sales are rating so well.You pointed out that Bolt was out rating the Insiders but Leigh Sales is tying up the 730 spot and of course this is a pain for the commercial stations as advertising rated are based on audience reach so how dare ABC take our audience on the cheap.

    To attract talent then the ABC has offer competitive salaries.

    The terms of the salary is a different matter and the OZ played up the BBC problems that the BBC presenters have companies and thus pay corporation taxes rather than personal income taxes and /or these companies are registered companies in tax havens so a Public Corporation (Trust)is abetting tax avoidance.

    Often broadcasters have % salaries, ie the work for the ABC or maybe 2 days a week and for Fairfax for 3 and so on so salary declaration is difficult and perhaps confidential to the tax department.

    Then of course there a third party payments such as commercials- does the revenue to to the ABC or to the individual.

    I note that GF50 has a vendetta against Annabelle and Mark Scott, that is misguided, but what I do agree with GF50 I agree that the ABC is increasingly a pawn for News Ltd.

    I want to know what third party payments are made to Piers Akerman for example as he and Gerrard Henderson were the reason for the poor Insiders poor ratings not Cassidy.

    The AWB capitualtion on the 0730 was a disgrace to be hoodwinked and bullied into joining a beatup was inescusable and the producers of 0730 need some counselling on media ethics.

    This is all a part of the Murdock campaign to spook the ABC in an election year – they have done it before here, the US and UK.

    Today a WSJ article reprinted in the Business OZ ( L. Gordon Crovitz) suggesting the al-Jazzeera reflects the Views of the Emir – well doesn’t Fox News reflect the views of Murdoch and the Tea Patry and lacking balance in reporting the Arab Spring?

    The reporting of the recent US election was not what I would call balanced either?

    Berating Gore – its a bit late, he sold Current TV at a nice premium and gave al Jazzera access to cable which is dominated by Fox.

    Perhaps Gore is now glad that Fox started the ” shards “campaign in Florida that saw GW Bush appointed President.

    But America would be a better place today has he been elected. – No wars. no debit,no unwinnable wars…..


    I find it surprising that the ABC presenters, generally considered excellent by so many Australians so grateful for the ABC, are apparently not well or comparably paid in relation to their commercial counterparts.

    Exposure is not the only answer — there may be a role for an internal body to oversee equity within the ABC, and relative to market standards, and reassure the community that the team is fairly paid and not exploited.

  16. AR

    I’ve never understood the reluctance of some to have their remuneration known – the only good reason I can imagine is that they know that they aren’t earning their largesse and don’t want this failure revealed.
    On tuther hand, it would be instructive to know that those urging hairshirts-for-all peons are ensconced in mink & silk.

  17. David Hand

    You answer your own question.
    The reason that people are reluctant to disclose their renumeration is not because they don’t think they earn it but because they would suffer a deluge of ignorant comment screaming that they earn too much.

  18. bluepoppy

    Comparisons with private sector is irrelevant as a benchmark as they are not paid from the public purse. Consumers don’t have a right to know private salaries but they are able to vote with their feet as consumers on products they feel might be dodgy or overpriced.

    ABC is a goverment body and should not be trying to compete with private sector salaries. CEOs get paid more than Departmental secretaries and while occasionally this gets trotted out as an excuse to increase SES salaries it is also irrelevant. It only means private sector salaries are too high at that level and the shareholders have little power to control the largesse of the Senior boys club and networks. Public servants are paid according to the work level standards ie. APS1-APS6, EL1s and EL2s and then the SES levels. This is in the public domain. Why is ABC any different? Mind you trying to find out which public servants got performance bonuses, how much and what KPIs were met is also impossible and shouldn’t be.

  19. stephen Matthews

    if Tony Jones only gets $200K he is seriously underpaid .
    He proved himself in he Lateline role and put to shame in that role so many of the grossly overpaid execs who came into his sights.
    as host of one of the most watched TV shows in Australia he deserves a good salary plus a bonus. I suggest $500K would be more appropriate.

  20. zut alors

    I agree with Stephen Matthews @ 12.10pm.

    Obviously there’s not sufficient news happening on the planet so the Murdoch scribes are being ordered to cobble together a beat-up story about an unimportant and irrelevant matter. The dumbing down process never ceases.

    No doubt several media wannabees imagine they could do an equal or better job than Jones. He makes the Lateline gig look like a cinch, he does it seamlessly – that’s a special skill, it’s worth serious money. Abbott lacks the backbone to front up to Jones across the Lateline desk – or on Q&A – that says plenty.

  21. Ian

    I agree with you geomac. It’s much more important for the public to know the cost of these “commercial in confidence” deals the government makes with their corporate mates.

  22. PhilGC

    Payments from the public purse should be the subject of public scrutiny. This practice at the ABC creates an unwarranted star culture, which rewards popular players in a limited gene pool (established brands) and leaves limited money for the development of unique new talent. Get the information out in the open and deal with clash of egos.

  23. Gavin Moodie

    I presume that the Australian has led the way by publishing its own peoples’ pay.

    All US public officials’ pay is public, which I think is a good practice.

  24. Gavin Moodie

    I also agree with AR.

    If peoples’ high pay is justifiable presumably the recipients are able to justify it.

  25. Edward James

    I was just browsing the comments; Very clever Watson Bob @ 11 To remind us of the difference between what we may be paid and what we earn! I wish Stephen Mayne founder of Crikey, every success with his aim of making Melbourne City Council more transparent when it comes to the sweetheart deals council make with public property. Edward James.

  26. Edward James

    Gavin 24I If my taxes are being used to pay anyones wages I want to know how much and what for! Edward James

  27. GF50

    Thankyou TFW, I was being flippant re A Crabbe but I stand by my opinion that her title as “political editor” does not match her articles. Political “opinionist” maybe. I have no “vendetta” against her personally merely against her so called journalism.
    I do not resile from my comment that Mark Scott is totally responsible for the dumbing down and rise of the “minnie me” fact free News LTD style of the ABC. Call me old fashioned, I want facts not opinion. I fail to see how following a failing MSM model of spin and opinion over fact has enhaced viewer/listener faith for the national”without fear or favour” broadcaster.

  28. Gavin Moodie

    If ‘my’ income is being used to pay anyone’s wages I should be able know how much and what for, whether that is thru taxation or, for example, compulsory superannuation.

    Further, these are society’s resources which society chooses to allocate to people on various conditions. One of those conditions should be to report on their reallocation to others as remuneration.

  29. shepmyster

    I can remember David Parkin being told by a member of the media that it was perfectly ok for him to be asking how much Carlton paid him at the time as he was a public figure, therefore the public interest legitimized his question.
    “So how much do you get paid?” was Parkin’s reply,”well nobody wants to know that” I do says Parkin. Your a public figure and I’m a member of the public, so what do you get paid? Needless to say that Parkin didn’t get an answer and that should be Aunties reply to the Murdoch press.

  30. geomac62

    Going on some comments we can expect to know the wages of private school principals and surgeons getting funds from the government . The 30% private health subsidy or the allocation of monies to schools should ensure accountability but it doesn,t . Good for the goose , good for the gander .

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