News Corporation tabloid The Daily Telegraph has been caught out spinning the details of a poll designed to sledge Labor’s National Broadband Network while failing to acknowledge it was paid for by a million-dollar Coalition donor.

The story, which ran this morning on page four of the mass circulation newspaper, claimed a Galaxy poll of over 400 executives — paid for by listed virtual office company Servcorp — had shown a “significant number” thought the NBN wouldn’t make any difference to their business. In fact, the majority of respondents, 51%, said it would make a significant difference.

More seriously, the story failed to report Servcorp’s cash link to the Liberal and National parties. Official Australian Electoral Commission donation records reveal that Servcorp, related entity Sovori, and Servcorp CEO Alfred Moufarrige have ploughed $1.108 million into Coalition coffers since the 1998 re-election of the Howard government (see below).

Interestingly, a very different interpretation of the results was reported in yesterday’s Australian under the headline “Businesses prefer Labor’s NBN”. Technology reporter Fran Foo accurately included the full context:

“Thirty seven per cent gave it the thumbs-down, while the remaining 12 per cent did not know the impact the network would have on their operations.”

However, the Tele failed to disclose that fact and spun the results as a setback for the Rudd government. It quoted Servcorp chief operating officer Marcus Moufarrige (Alfred’s son) as claiming that while high-speed broadband was a “positive for business”, the “execution” of the plan was the problem, a line identical to that peddled by opposition broadband spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull.

Moufarrige, a dissident member of Labor’s National Standing Committee for Cloud Computing, is on the record as slamming the $36 billion network as “Telstra’s ugly sister”, and has claimed that overseas telcos were “sitting back” waiting for the NBN to fail.

The poll, reported on the Courier-Mail website, also quizzed executives on the federal government’s support for business (62% dissatisfied) and reported that while 45% of respondents said the Coalition would be “better for business”, 37% believed it wouldn’t make a difference who won.

The NBN is becoming a flashpoint between the two major parties with just 10 days to go until September 7. Labor has launched a spoof site in recent days, Abbott’s Internet, which mocks the slower download speeds of the fibre-to-the-node plan, while Turnbull has been on the front foot defending copper wire.

The controversy is also likely to stoke concerns about the use of polls during the election campaign, after publications including The Guardian and the Oz splashed with marginal seat robo-polls indicating swings against the government well in excess of state-based swings. A News spokesperson told Crikey:

“Galaxy is a reputable independent polling company. Its survey of over 400 senior executives clearly showed more than third of respondents did not feel the NBN would not boost their productivity while 51% said it would make a positive difference to their business. In the story we disclosed the poll had been commissioned by Servcorp.”

In 2008, Servcorp, a multinational behemoth which allows small companies to list a physical address, was linked to telephone scams banned by ASIC. The full extent of Servcorp’s Coalition donations are listed below (there are no donations to Labor from either Savori or Servcorp recorded on the AEC website) …

SERVCORP

SOVORI PTY LTD (director: Alfred George Moufarrige)

ALFRED GEORGE MOUFARRIGE

TOTAL: $822,788 + $285,470 = $1,108,258

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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