Death of the worm? Malcolm Turnbull has declined an invitation for a fourth election debate issued by Bill Shorten. Which means for the first time, none of the election debates have been carried by a free-to-air commercial TV network.

Last election, both Nine and Seven carried a Sunday night debate at the Press Club live to viewers. Both carried some form of live audience feedback mechanism — Seven let viewers download an app, while Nine’s airing, on GEM, aggregated the views of 100 undecided voters to display “the worm”.

But the TV networks stayed away this time. Seven news director Craig McPherson told Crikey this morning the network wasn’t sure the viewer interest was there.

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“We certainly thought long and hard about the mainstream appetite for election debates and decided it wasn’t great. Given the length of this campaign there is an over supply of political fare and the demand by the greater public, outside our normal news domains, just isn’t there.

“[We were] more inclined to focus our energies on the extensive campaign coverage and analysis across Sunrise and 6pm news.”

Meanwhile, it’s hard to gauge exactly how many people tuned into Friday night’s “innovative” Facebook debate, hosted by The video feed says it had 801,000 views, which is comparable with how with how many people watch the TV current affairs shows every night. But a Facebook “view” isn’t a viewer — Facebook collates as a view anyone who’s scrolled past its videos on their feed, even if they have the sound turned off. And Facebook views are a cumulative count; TV ratings are an average viewership.

On Sky News, which also aired the debate, it had 33,1000 viewers. — Myriam Robin

Gerard’s lament. The long, slow (but increasingly strident) descent by Gerard Henderson into irrelevance is a wonder to behold. Jettisoned first by The Age, then The Sydney Morning Herald, his bilious blatherings now appear as bottom-page fillers in The Australian.

Of late, Henderson’s pieces read more like exercises in suppressed persecution mania than opinion, but this weekend he joined the neo-con bandwagon with an attack on the ABC for not using the term “radical Islam”. Crikey readers would remember the piece on the ABC staffer who had been “spoken to” after retweeting, with endorsement, the sentiment that there was no need to use the term “radical Islam” over other, more precise alternatives from an official ABC account. Avid to take offence in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre he rubbished Emma Alberici, for what she’d said in personal tweet. Wrote an outraged Henderson:

“The co-presenter of ABC television’s Lateline, Emma Alberici, tweeted: ‘Trump’s anti-Muslim stance is nonsensical. Gunman was born in the US and seems to have been motivated by homophobia’. She seemed unaware that in Islamic State-controlled parts of Iraq and Syria, homosexuals are thrown to their deaths from tall buildings. Alberici also managed to raise the issue of Catholicism. But no homosexuals are thrown from the roof of St Peters. This is false moral equivalence.”

Quite right, Gerard. A far more telling moral equivalence might have been drawn from reference to the misery of the thousands of children and minors sexually abused by Catholic priests and brothers over the past century, and to the ways in which the Church has sought to ignore, deny and cover up the crimes of the paedophiles in their ranks.

Henderson’s piece also published a letter from Henderson to the ABC’s PR man Nick Leys in which Henderson stated: “I can only assume that Andrew West, as presenter of The Religion & Ethics Report, accepts responsibility for the tweet”.

Leys told Henderson not to make assumptions. In today’s Oz, West writes a letter saying that he himself told Henderson he wasn’t the author of the tweet. “Despite being told twice … he published an untruth”.

Henderson was “mischievous, unfair and inaccurate in his columns accusing me of being the author or endorser of a tweet that suggests the term ‘radical Islam’ not be used”, West writes, adding that he uses the phrase on air all the time. As Crikey noted last week, there are other possibilities as to wrote the tweet. The account used to carry a description that it was operated by Scott Stephens, the editor of ABC Religion and Ethics. — David Salter

Failed disclosure. Economist Henry Ergas has long been a critic of the National Broadband Network under the former Labor government. His views on the project were not exactly secret over the years. And today he continues in form in The Australian railing against Labor for failing to provide modelling on their policy.

What The Australian curiously fails to note is that Ergas is in part responsible for the current government’s policy on the NBN, and he was paid to review the policy by the government.

Before the 2013 election, then-shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull often criticised Labor for failing to conduct a cost-benefit analysis into the NBN. When it came to his own policy, he did not get it check by the Parliamentary Budget Office because he didn’t believe they had the skills required. It was widely expected that Infrastructure Australia or the Productivity Commission would do the long-awaited cost-benefit analysis but Turnbull instead opted for a panel of critics of Labor’s policy, suggesting the productivity commission — now chaired by former Comms department secretary Peter Harris — did not have the skills to review broadband.

Ergas’ appointment to the supposed “independent panel” of experts was widely criticised at the time because Ergas was such a big critic of the former Labor government’s project, and when the results came out and endorsed the multi-technology mix, people were not surprised.

Turnbull himself, while defending the qualifications of the other panellists, did not refute claims that he was mates with Ergas.

It is a strange omission — the paper has declared it before, but perhaps in an election these things get overlooked. — Josh Taylor

Eddie imperfect. President of Collingwood football club and Triple M presenter Eddie McGuire is in hot, or should it be cold, water again, this time after making unsavoury comments about Fairfax senior sports journalist Caroline Wilson.

During the Big Freeze event at the MCG last Monday — a fundraiser for motor neuron disease research, which brings together Australian football and media personalities, who slide into a pool of ice — McGuire shared an idea for how to raise extra money for next year: “I reckon we should start the campaign for a one-person slide next year.”

McGuire nominated The Age chief football writer Caroline Wilson.

“I’ll put in 10 grand straight away, make it 20. And if she stays under, 50,” he said, bringing rounds of laughter between fellow commentators James Brayshaw, Danny Frawley and Wayne Carey. writer Damian Barrett was the only one in the box to not join in on the “joke”, stating “I’m on Caro’s side now, Ed.” McGuire claims it was simple banter, though Caroline Wilson isn’t buying it. Fair enough really, considering his comments were about her drowning.

It’s a familiar position for McGuire, who is well known for his controversial comments.

Remember the 2011 discussion with Mick Molloy on Chanel Nine in regards to male ice skating outfits? Molloy said “they don’t leave anything in the locker room, do they?” McGuire replied, “They don’t leave anything in the closet, either,” before describing one of the outfits as “a bit of Brokeback”.

We also can’t forget McGuire’s most recent gaffe about Adam Goodes, when he said the 2014 Australian of the Year should be part of a promotional campaign for the King Kong musical, following a young fan calling him an ape during a Sydney v Collingwood match. Last year Jessica Rowe, who has history with McGuire after he allegedly said she should be “boned” (i.e. sacked) from Channel Nine, said McGuire’s excuses wear wearing thin. 

“To me, Eddie McGuire has form, and I can talk very much from personal experience,” she said on Studio 10. “The way he has allegedly used language against me in the past and the way he has used language to describe Adam Goodes [is] highly, highly inappropriate and then to try and explain it away as ‘oh that was a brain snap or a brain freeze’ — no, that is not on.”

McGuire has now apologised to Wilson. Sort of.

“[I’m] really disappointed that these comments have led to these feelings from people …

“I apologise and retract them in the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve, which is to look after women and children in our community.”

— Crikey intern Tessa Fox

No talking. Free speech has had a “price” put on it by directors of Sky TV as the company moves down the track in its business-boosting NZ$3.4 billion merger with Vodafone NZ. Last week’s deal documentation from Sky for its shareholders reveals that not only will the costs of the merger be around NZ$13 million, but Sky directors have agreed to effectively gag themselves during the deal’s progress towards a shareholder meeting early next month.

Sky said it had agreed to pay Vodafone NZ$21.5 million if the merger did not go ahead “in certain limited circumstances”. And those “limited circumstances” include Vodafone being paid if a Sky director withdrew their support for the merger or spoke out publicly against it before Sky shareholders meet on July 6.

Now while “an independent source” told Fairfax’s NZ media that the “penalty clause was not unusual in such transactions”, it is the first time I have heard of one being reported in 40 years of covering finance. Usually there is a so-called “break clause” in deals where one or both parties in the merger/takeover agree to payments (penalties) if the deal doesn’t go ahead for certain reasons. But there is a further delicious issue raised by this payment provision from Sky and that is the question, do Sky directors trust each other? If they do, why was the payment provision necessary, or is there one or two directors on the Sky board uncomfortable at the deal and/or its current terms? — Glenn Dyer


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