The meaning of “engagement”. There was a time when every pronouncement Tony Abbott made was splashed on the front pages of Australia’s newspapers. But his criticisms of the first of several books about him was made in an unusual place this morning — in the letters page of The Australian.

It wasn’t even the top letter. In a response to a review written by Ross Fitzgerald of Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen’s Battleground: Why the Liberal Party Shirtfronted Tony Abbott, Abbott writes the book is “riddled with errors of fact”. But he takes special issue with one:

“On page 213, the authors state: ‘We would like to thank Tony Abbott for engaging with us. He helped shape our arguments in this book even if he may not like the conclusions we reached.’

“I did not ‘engage’ with the ­authors. They requested an interview and emailed questions. These were so obviously a stitch up that I declined to answer other than to deny some of their claims.”

Abbott also dismissed the book as “partisan advocacy rather than disinterested scholarship”.

So what exactly was Abbott’s input to the book? Crikey asked both van Onselen and Errington this morning but didn’t hear back by deadline. But on Twitter, van Onselen, a contributing editor at The Australian, Sky News host and University of Western Australia professor, has been explaining the issue to his critics.

“He answered email questions, but said it was background so I had to be vague,” PVO wrote when asked to outline his exact “engagement” with Abbott. “How’s it not engaging?”

“He just doesn’t like that we found his email answers telling enough to say he helped shape our thinking.”

Peter van Onselen used to work as an adviser for Abbott when he was industrial relations minister, but the two haven’t seen eye-to-eye for some time. Abbott refused to grace PVO’s show while he was PM, a fact the journalist has not been shy in complaining about. — Myriam Robin

And the next managing director is … So an announcement of a new managing director for the ABC is imminent, and those prone to writing about such things have staked their bets on who it will or won’t be.

Firstly, The Australian, with a bold pronouncement that Australian-born British TV exec Jay Hunt was the front-runner (despite the same piece also carrying her denial: “It’s a fantastic job but I love Channel 4 and don’t have any plans to move at present”). Then, Fairfax’s Matthew Knott took the decidedly safer route of pointing out who wasn’t going to get the gig — apparently Kim Williams is out. Today, the Financial Review’s Joe Aston reckons it’ll be Singapore Google exec Michelle Guthrie.

We’ll know who’ll be proven right soon.  — Myriam Robin

Making politicians look good. South Australia’s media is in uproar after Premier Jay Weatherill took a two-person taxpayer-funded video team to Paris with him, leaving local media to pay its own way to accompany him (none did). The footage was supplied to media outlets as well as used on the Premier’s Facebook page (leading the opposition to claim taxpayers were funding political campaigning).

A piece on Channel Seven by Mike Smithson last week explored the premier’s “excessive self-promotion”.


Veteran Seven news director Terry Plane told InDaily that he had no issues with carefully using the supplied footage, given his journalists would still have the power to shape the story around that footage.

“I see the conflict,” he added. “We would always prefer to have our reporter there asking the questions we wanted answered.”

But Weatherill said the “old media” was merely threatened by his use office’s production of high-quality video content, and said the footage was “promoting South Australia”.

“It’s already been used by a number of the news networks and the very same networks that were also running stories criticising us so I found that curious,” Weatherill told ABC 891, adding that it was “a bit of a threat to old media”.

“We’re publishing our own material, bypassing the old media — they don’t like that.”

Weatherill is far from the first political leader to turn to in-house production teams. In New South Wales, some of the most iconic images of Mike Baird have been taken by his in-house team and shared on his social media channels. At a federal level, Tony Abbott had his own photographer, as does Malcolm Turnbull. For politicians, the practice helps them control their image and limit the amount of media they have to take on trips with them. It’s controversial with journalists for much the same reasons. — Myriam Robin

Industrial-scale branded content. The New York Times’ content marketing team employs 50 people, and together, they make up about a fifth of the paper’s revenue. More in Monday Note

Front page of the day. A year since that day at a Martin Place coffee shop …

SMH front page

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey