12 NOVEMBER 2010

“Media Watch Dog on Fridays…is a sort of popular read in the Crikey office”

– Crikey’s Andrew Crook on ABC 2 News Breakfast, 24 September 2010.

“Gerard Henderson is big enough to take care of himself, but that doesn’t stop us worrying about him from time to time.  Lately it’s Hendo’s tendency to self-harm that has us losing sleep. For example, peruse the correspondence he’s published in his latest Media Watch Dog blog…..There’s a part of us that just wants to ask: “Hendo, are you OK?”

– James Jeffery’s “Strewth!” column, The Australian, 8 November 2010.

· Mark Scott And The ABC Of Advertising – Including Hugh Lunn’s Book, Alan Rusbridger’s Lecture,The First Tuesday Book Club & HarperCollins

· Nancy’s Five Paws Award: Well Done La Trioli

· Historical Howlers Of The Week: Kellie Lazzaro, Peter Butt & Peter Martin

· Maurice Newman Segment:  Banking On The 7.30 Report

· A Deborah Cameron Moment: Loveless In A Cold Bank-Vault

· Correspondence: Gerard Henderson & Phillip Adams on Backstage Politics



There are two kinds of authors in Australia.  Those whose books are advertised on the public broadcaster – and those who enjoy no such benefit. And there are two kinds of publishers in Australia.  Those who manage to get their products advertised on the public broadcaster – and those who enjoy no such benefit.  There are also two kinds of fund-raising dinners in Australia.  Those whose charity events are advertised in the public broadcaster – and those which have to pay for their own promotions. And so on.

  • Today, at the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, Brisbane based author Hugh Lunn was flogging copies of his latest tome. How does MWD know this? Well, for over a week, the following advertisement has been running on ABC Local Radio 702:

This Friday lunch-time come and meet legendary author Hugh Lunn, signing copies of his latest book Words Fail Me, at the ABC Shop in the Queen Victoria Building this Friday from 12.30 pm.

  • Next Friday is the occasion of the annual black-tie Andrew Olle Media Lecture at the Shangri-la Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney. How does MWD know this? Well, ABC Local Radio has run numerous advertisements flogging this event. [Hang on a minute. Didn’t you receive an invitation? See Issue 73. – Ed].

The ABC is still running that well-worn “seats are selling fast”  canard – day after day after day. [What about night time? – Ed]. This is the advertisement which Local Radio 702 ran at 8.58 am today.

How does quality journalism engage new audiences in the internet age?  Find out at the 2010 Andrew Olle Media Lecture where Alan Rusbridger speaks on November 19.  Editor of The Guardian newspaper in the UK, he transformed that business into one of the top ten global news websites.  Tickets are selling fast but seats are still available….

Nancy would like to attend but has a bone to bury elsewhere.  She would particularly like to learn how much moneyThe Guardian’s website is earning. Nancy also believes that tickets will continue to “sell fast” – since many ABC viewers and listeners expect to receive product from taxpayers for free.  They don’t much like spending money on dinners when such funds could be used to buy, say, ten score of second-hand sandals at an inner-city garage sale.

  • In recent times ABC TV and ABC Radio have carried advertisements flogging A Book to Love. This is how the blurb describes this, wait for it, “gorgeous” publication.

The first publication from First Tuesday Book Club, this book is a collection of specially commissioned writing from selected guests on a book they have loved and treasured. In this gorgeous companion publication to the ABC TV show First Tuesday Book Club, well-known authors share their passion for a particular book they love. The contributors include Ian Rankin, Augusten Burroughs, Christos Tsoilkas, Michael Robotham, Sophie Gee, Peter Corris, Emily Maguire, Matthew Reilly, Di Morrisey, Peter FitzSimons, Catherine Jinks and Malcolm Knox, as well as First Tuesday Book Club host Jennifer Byrne and regular panellists Marieke Hardy and Jason Steger. This is a book that readers will treasure and use to further explore their own reading passions.

What a host of fashionable sandalistas. Watching, and hearing, this advert after a couple of brandy-and-holy-water-products, MWD decided to fire off the following email to ABC managing director Mark Scott.

MWD’s essential query was this. How did it come to pass that this lot of essentially sandal-wearing lefties was happy to be published by ABC Books – in view of the fact that ABC Books is now part of a commercial agreement with HarperCollins and HarperCollins is owned by News Corporation which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch (who has recently been mocked by Mark Scott – See Issue 32).  You get the picture?

So, on 27 October 2010, Nancy’s co-owner sent off this email to Mr Scott, viz:

Dear Mr Scott

I know you are busy but would be grateful if you could get one of your staff to answer the following query.

Last week ABC TV and ABC Radio advertised the edited collection of A Book to Love.  I understand that this is the inaugural publication of ABC TV’s First Tuesday Book Club. As you will be aware, A Book to Love is published by ABC Books. Moreover, ABC Books has a commercial partnership with HarperCollins covering both publishing and distribution.

My query is this.  How does the ABC rationalise the fact that it advertises the publications of one commercial publisher (HarperCollins) but not others? I look forward to a response.

Best wishes

Yours sincerely

Gerard Henderson

On 9 November 2010, Nancy’s co-owner received the following reply from the ABC Communications Director.  Here is it – published, of course, in accordance with the public broadcaster’s well known support for the right to know:

Dear Gerard

Regarding  your email of 27 October to the MD. Response as follows:

The ABC has partnered with many organisations over a long of period time to produce products for distribution and sale, including through ABC Shops. These have often been promoted in the form of announcements on ABC broadcast networks. Examples include DVDs, magazines and books. Partners include the BBC for DVDs and Harper Collins in relation to books.

In relation to books in particular:

1.    Section 29(1) of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act (ABC Act) specifically empowers the Corporation to compile, prepare, issue, circulate and distribute literary material (which is broadly defined in Section 3 to include books, periodicals, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, circulars, manuscripts, musical scores, maps, plans, pictures, photographs and prints).

2.    Section 29(2) of the ABC Act empowers the Corporation to determine charges payable in respect of these matters or activities with a view to raising as much net revenue as practicable, having regard to the proper performance of its functions and to the matter or activity concerned.

3.    Section 25 of the ABC Act provides the ABC with broad powers in relation to its functions including, in particular, Section 25(1)(f) which empowers the ABC to engage persons to perform services for the Corporation and Section 25(5) which enables the ABC to enter into agreements or arrangements with a bona fide publisher of any literary material in relation to the sharing of any expense or risk associated with the production, distribution, sale or presentation of any program, film, recording, concert, entertainment or literary material. Sections 25(1)(f) and 25(5) enable the Corporation to enter into agreements with partners such as Harper Collins in relation to the production, circulation, distribution and sale of books.

The preparation, circulation, distribution and sale of books either by the ABC on its own, or in conjunction a with third party under an agreement as permitted under Section 25, is clearly authorised under Section 29 of the ABC Act and is therefore an activity of the ABC.

As a result, the Corporation is authorised to broadcast announcements relating to those matters under Section 31(2) of the ABC Act, which permits the broadcast of any announcement relating to any activity of the Corporation.

The revenue raised by the sale of publications is then used by the ABC to fund the production of more content.

The ABC is entitled to decide which area or areas of its activities it wishes to highlight by means of announcements and as set out above, the ABC Act clearly contemplates the ABC raising as much net revenue as is practicable.  In relation to books, this is currently achieved through the promotion of ABC Books.


Mick Millett

So there you have it.  On account of Sections 29(1), 29(2), 25, 25(1) (f), 25 (5), 25 (1) (f) and 31 (2) of the Australian Broadcasting Act its quite okay for the ABC to “promote” [Why not just say “advertise”? – Ed] commercial products in association with the likes of the BBC and HarperCollins (proprietor Rupert Murdoch). This in spite of the fact that in recent years Mr Scott has spoken out against advertising on the public broadcaster and has criticised Mr Murdoch. (See Issues 32, 38 and 52).


Virginia Trioli was in fine form on ABC TV News Breakfast this morning discussing the rage-fuelled John Lennon (1940-1980) of Give-Peace-A-Chance (sometimes) fame.

Following a piece on John Lennon’s son Julian, La Trioli got stuck in.   Let’s go to the audio tape:

Virginia Trioli : It’s, ah, what would have been the 70th birthday of John Lennon just a few weeks ago. And I’m afraid I was one of those people who could not join the celebration. I have never liked the man and in particular because of his treatment of his son and the fact that he left him and was encouraged by Yoko Ono to not see his own boy and to cut him out of his life – whereas the new child was preferenced, which I find pretty unsupportable.

Michael Rowland : Yeah. He was very much under Yoko’s spell though –  in John Lennon’s defence – certainly in his last years.

Virginia Trioli : No defence. Not when there’s a child involved.

Michael Rowland : That’s true….

La Trioli: Five Paws.


· Kellie Lazzaro Forgets May 1967

Last Monday Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Labor would hold a constitutional referendum within the next three years in order that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders be recognised in the Constitution. Here’s how Kellie Lazzaro reported the story on the PM program on 8 November:

Kellie Lazzaro : But referenda rarely succeed. Australia last held a referendum in 1999 when voters rejected a move to become a republic. In fact only eight of the 44 referenda since federation have been successful.  The Attorney-General Robert McClelland says there’s hope for this one because one of those that did succeed was the 1967 referendum to give Aboriginal people the vote.

It is not clear that Mr McClelland said this – more likely that this was Ms Lazzaro’s view, which has now been clarified on the ABC’s website.  For the record, here are some facts:

On 27 May 1967 two referendum proposals were put to the Australian electorate.  Question 2, relating to Aborigines, read as follows:

Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled “An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the people of the Aboriginal race in any state so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the population”?

This proposal obtained a majority in all States and an overall majority and the Constitution was altered accordingly.  The amendment to the Constitution gave the Commonwealth Parliament power to make laws with respect to Aboriginal people wherever they lived in Australia – and it made it possible for Aborigines to be included in the national census.  In Australia, the electoral roll is the responsibility of the States.  Before May 1967 Aborigines were enrolled on some State electoral rolls.  In other words, the 1967 referendum had nothing to do with giving Aborigines the vote.  This is one of the myths of Australian politics.

· Peter Butt Forgets Ben Chifley

Reviewing Peter Butt’s documentary I, Spry: The Rise And Fall of a Master Spy – (which aired on ABC 1 on 4 November) – in the Sydney Morning Herald (1 November) and The Age (4 November), Tim Elliott wrote:

A fifth-generation soldier, [Charles] Spry became director of military intelligence in 1946. In 1949, he was made head of ASIO, set up by prime minister [Robert] Menzies under pressure from the US and Britain…

Not so.  ASIO was established in 1949 by the Chifley Labor government.  Charles Spry was appointed ASIO’s second director-general in May 1950.

· Peter Martin Forgets August 2010

Sure, it’s only contemporary history.  However, Peter Martin (economic correspondent for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald) has already misrepresented the result of the Federal election held on 21 August 2010.  Speaking onThe Drum on ABC News 24 last Wednesday, Mr Martin declared:

I think he [ALP national secretary Karl Bitar] was right about “the good government that has lost its way”.  Remember that? [PM laughs]. How can you vote for a good government that has lost its way? [PM laughs].  I suppose you can but it’s not exactly a selling proposition. And yet that was what [Julia] Gillard began saying and that’s what we had all through the election.

So it was – if you like – maybe the people got it right. But it was a case of choosing between unenviable alternatives for many of them. And the Coalition Treasury team, um, I don’t think was that good. Andrew Robb was their details person and an, um, ah Abbott would defer economic questions to Hockey, who would defer them to Robb. The costings were done by a Perth accountancy firm of questionable experience in that field. So it really was an awful choice the voters had. [PM laughs]. And of course we voted informal – so I guess he’s right about that, yeah.

A complete myth, to be sure. According to official figures prepared by the Australian Electoral Commission, some 94.45 per cent of electors who voted on 21 August lodged a formal vote.  The informal, i.e. invalid, vote was a mere 5.55 per cent. Which is a long way short of the universal “we” proclaimed by Peter Martin.



This (increasingly popular) segment is devoted to ABC Chairman Maurice Newman’s suggestion that a certain “group think” might be prevalent at the ABC – and to ABC 1 Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes’ certainty that no such phenomenon is extant within the public broadcaster.   See MWD passim.

On the 7.30 Report last Wednesday, presenter “Red Kerry” O’Brien introduced a story on interest rates by reporter Greg Hoy. The story followed the announcement by the ANZ Bank that it would increase its variable mortgage rate by 39 basis points – following the Reserve Bank’s decision to increase the official rate by 25 basis points.  Earlier, the Commonwealth Bank had initiated controversy by increasing its variable mortgage rate by 45 basis points.

Greg Hoy was on the job.  He interviewed Andrew Inwood, who was described as a banking industry analyst.  Mr Inwood’s position soon became clear when he bagged the decision of the Keating Labor government to privatise the Commonwealth Bank in the early 1990s.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Andrew Inwood : Remember, we owned the Commonwealth Bank, we the people owned the Commonwealth Bank. As soon as we privatised it, it became the object and the artifice of commerce. And commerce has a single goal: and that’s to make money, not to provide social services. They provide social services only in as much as it helps them make a profit.

Next up was Mark Degotardi from Abacus Australia Limited – which is the industry association for 112 credit union and building societies.  In other words, AAL is a competitor of the private banks. Mr Degotardi declared the product of credit unions/building societies was better than that offered by the private banks. Fancy that.

Next up was Nicole Rich of the Consumer Action Law Centre.  Say no more. Greg Hoy also interviewed businessman Martyn Thomas who said that he had closed his account with Westpac and had re-financed with the MECU credit union. Declared Mr Thomas:

I feel like a real person with MECU – and with Westpac, as it turned out, I didn’t feel like a person at all.

That was it. Greg Hoy advised viewers that CBA chief executive officer Ralph Norris had declined to come on the program.  The problem was that 7.30 Report presenter/editor Kerry O’Brien and Greg Hoy could not find one person – not one – in the whole of Australia who might argue, say, that the banks are facing increasing costs in financing their loan book on the international market or that maybe the Reserve Bank’s official rate would be higher if the rates provided by the private banks were lower or that many Australians with money on deposit or funds invested benefit from higher interest rates.

Instead Greg Hoy essentially agreed with Mr Inwood who essentially agreed with Mr Degotardi who essentially agreed with Ms Rich who essentially agreed with Mr Thomas who essentially agreed with Greg Hoy or something like that.  A genuine debate on competition within the Australian banking would have been fine.  But that’s not what took place on Wednesday’s 7.30 Report.

Maurice Newman – 3; Jonathan Holmes – Zip

A DEBORAH CAMERON MOMENT – In Which Ms Cameron Expresses Her Angst At No Longer Being Loved By The Banks and Calls for The Censorship Of (At Least) One Shareholder

While on the topic of the ABC and banks, consider the comment by ABC Local Radio presenter Deborah Cameron during her “Spin Doctors” segment yesterday.  There were two PR specialists on the program.  Spin Doc 1 was going on about the New South Wales Labor government when Ms Cameron suddenly changed the topic by raising the issue of private banks. Yet again. Let’s go to the audio tape.

Deborah Cameron : …We should change subjects to the subject of the banks because it’s irresistible really.  I mean, here we have almost a case in point of a shining beacon of Australian prosperity, completely undermining their, the, the affection that we should all – and trust – that we all have in them, as customers.

Spin Doc 1:   Are we talking about governments or banks?

Deborah Cameron : Well exactly. Substitute which ever you like. But it’s the banks we’re talking about in this example. I mean, um, you know as a customer, you feel like “They don’t really love me anymore, at all”. And the shareholders. I mean, did you have a listen to this shareholder? Have a listen to him:

Shareholder as shown on Channel 7 News on 9 November : I’ve got shares in ANZ and I’ll make more money. That’s what it’s all about. The shareholders.

Reporter: Okay.  But what about families before Christmas?

Shareholder: Well that’s too bad for them. Too bad.

Deborah Cameron : Now that’s just – we are not that sort of society. How is this being allowed to happen?

How about that?  Deborah Cameron feels that the banks don’t really love her any more. Shucks.  And she wonders why one shareholder – out of about 2 million direct shareholders Australia wide plus many million superannuants – is “allowed” to say that he favours higher interest rates.

Truly, a Deborah Cameron Moment.



The Correspondence section is a favourite part of MWD – believe it or not.  Even Jeffrey James – of “Strewth” fame – reads it.  Re which see today’s cover page

In view of this, MWD has decided to publish Gerard Henderson’s email to Phillip Adams – AO, AM, Hon. DUniv (Griffith), Hon. DLitt (ECU), Hon DUniv (SA), DLitt (Syd)  – columnist for The Weekend Australian Magazine and presenter of Late Night Live – following the release of his book Backstage Politics: Fifty years of political memories.

MWD may – or may not – publish more on this topic.   In the meantime, here is the (so far) one-sided correspondence. We’ll let you know if the normally loquacious Mr Adams replies to the criticism of his most recent book of fiction.

Gerard Henderson to Phillip Adams – 11 November 2010

Dear Phillip

I was on my way back from Insiders program on Sunday when I dropped into the bar at the Qantas Terminal at Melbourne Airport – as you do.  And there, lo and behold, I found a copy of Phillip Adams Backstage Politics:  Fifty Years of political memories (Viking, 2010) which had been discarded – as someone did.   And so it came to pass that I glanced at your most recent tome on the flight to Sydney.

Using the index (thanks Penguin Books), I located four references to myself.  You may (or may not) be interested to know that your memories are a product of a distinctly faulty memory – with respect to me, at least.  I note that not one of your assertions about me is supported by any evidence of any kind.

Page 1

On Page 1 you claim that I was a “Howard hugger” and maintain that I and some other columnists supported John Howard by:

…waging what they believed to be winning wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and on history, culture, drugs, refugees, the ABC, the republic, reconciliation and what was left of federal Labor.

And now for some facts. I did support the Howard Government on Afghanistan (so did the Labor Party) and Iraq.  Moreover, my involvement in what were termed the history wars was aimed at what I have always termed the left-wing interpretation of Australian history.  As you should know, the left has opposed both the conservative (i.e. Liberal Party) and social democratic (i.e. Labor) political traditions in Australia.

If you had done any research you would know that:

  • I supported the plight of asylum seekers and wrote that the Howard Government’s administration of mandatory detention (introduced by Paul Keating’s government) was too tough. Anne Henderson and I did not go public on this – but we were successful in obtaining permanent visas for many detainees. This was referred to in Margot O’Neill’s book Blind Conscience (New South, 2008).
  • I advocated a “Yes” vote in the republican referendum. By the way, at the time Anne Henderson was vice-president of the Australian Republican Movement and I was, and remain, an ARM member.
  • I have not commented on whether drug use should be de-criminalised.
  • I criticised aspects of John Howard’s approach to reconciliation – he even wrote a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald criticising one of my columns about indigenous issues.
  • I have never waged war on the Labor Party (see below).

Pages 224-225

At Pages 224-225 you claim that I am an enemy of the Labor Party and that I devote my life “to vilifying the Labor Party”.

This comment is wilfully false. If you had done any research you would know that I have attacked the left and criticised the Greens.  But I have never vilified the Labor Party or the social democrats (I was once part of this tradition).

Moreover, the facts demonstrate that scores of Labor Party figures have addressed The Sydney Institute over the past two decades – including Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan, Carmen Lawrence, Paul Keating, Peter Garrett, Nicola Roxon, Kim Beazley, Jenny Macklin, Mark Latham, Cheryl Kernot, John Faulkner, Anthony Albanese and many more.  The fact is that none of this group would have addressed The Sydney Institute if I was regarded as an enemy of the Labor Party who vilifies ALP members.


I believe that you – and Penguin Books as publisher of the Viking imprint – should take any opportunity to correct the wilfully false comments in Backstage Politics concerning me if there is a re-print.

A Reflection on Jim Cairns v Gough Whitlam

On a humorous side, I refer to that section of Backstage Politics where you seek to rationalise your support for the leftist Jim Cairns when he challenged social democrat Gough Whitlam for the ALP leadership in April 1968 – failing narrowly by 32 votes to 38 votes.

At Page 20 you write:

What wasn’t understood – either by Whitlam at the time or by Gerard Henderson in a recent column – is that neither Jim nor I wanted to win.  Jim knew he was perceived as too radical to lead the party to victory, most of all in those turbulent Cold War years with Vietnam raging. Our purpose was simply to give Gough a kick in the backside.  It was so painful a kick that Gough took years to forgive me (if he ever entirely did), always drawing himself to his full height and snarling down at me , “Jim Cairns’ campaign manager!”

Fancy that.  You are asking your readers to believe that Dr Cairns challenged Whitlam to be leader of the Labor Party even though he did not want to win the ballot.  The late Jim Cairns never said this – nor his various biographers.  What’s more, Mr Whitlam never believed this.

Yours sincerely

Gerard Henderson

PS: By the way, what an oh-so-funny “turd” joke – about me and some others –  at Page 175. My grandsons, aged circa 6, will just love the “sphincter” and “arsehole” references when they grow up.

cc:      Gabrielle Coyne

Managing Director

Penguin Australia

+ + + +

Until next time – before Nancy goes into her kennel for the Festive Season – when the much promised “History Corner” on Alfred Deakin and the very much promised account of “The Best of the (Media) Worst in 2010″ will appear.  Maybe.