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On captured media: we respond to Nine Entertainment and the AFR’s tepid hit-job

by Michael West | May 30, 2023 | Comment & Analysis, Latest Posts

Nine Entertainment’s media title the AFR has had a crack at Michael West Media. Michael West responds, gently encouraging the Liberal Party and Big Business-led media outlet to expand its activities in journalism. 

On Monday, mingling amid the AFR’s reverential Rich List “how-great-are-billionaires” stories and the usual reworded press releases from the Big End of Town, was a Rear Window item ($) about this reporter, yes yours truly, and Geoff Shannon from Unhappy Banking.

It was a mellow smear as far as media smears go and the reporter, Myriam Robin, got her facts straight, commendably, and contacted yours truly before publication.

“Michael West Media, the scrappy online title founded by ex-Sydney Morning Herald business journalist Michael West, has covered the exceedingly colourful case,” went the story.

We are not sure whether Myriam meant scrappy as in disorganised or scrappy as in pugnacious. Both are probably true and we thank her for presenting this opportunity to point out that the AFR, as well as Nine Entertainment’s other titles, along with Rupert Murdoch’s entire News Ltd stable, entirely missed the story.

How great are billionaires!

This was convenient. Their senior reporters were named in the proceedings Crown vs Shannon, for being in cahoots with Commonwealth Bank and ASIC in a conspiracy to nail the bank victim advocate Shannon. 

Commbank had even paid ASIC’s star witness, who leaked the regulator 16,000 emails from the time she worked with Shannon at Unhappy Banking. 

In any case, amid all this public interest stuff – even an affair with a NAB executive by ASIC’s witness as well as a meeting with CBA chief Matt Comyn whereupon the witness Tasha Keys’ debt was forgiven with a $300k payment made in Keys’ favour on top, and what has been so far a train wreck for the Crown in court – the “hot” angle for the AFR in this saga was about yours truly. 

“We have no doubt the opinions expressed in this coverage are honestly held,” said the story charitably. “Still, given MWM’s supportive coverage, we were intrigued to discover an ASIC record tying West and Shannon together in a company called West Media Corp.

“Founded in 2018, the vehicle was cancelled in 2020, and no further record of its activities exists.

“That’s because there was no activity, Shannon told us. Only a thought bubble, where he figured the many victims of bank bastardry he encountered could do with a media outlet dedicated to their stories. West wasn’t as keen, and the venture never got off the ground.

“West Media Corp, for what it’s worth, is not the publisher of Michael West Media, and Shannon has never been a director of Michael West Media’s parent company.”

Crown vs Shannon: a tangled web of lies and collusion, or a Commbank and ASIC vendetta?

Fair coverage on the whole, fairly pointless, but fair enough (apart from the lingering imputation that this reporter is somehow in Geoff Shannon’s pocket). 

To be more specific, there were never any transactions, Shannon simply registered the vehicle without asking me. I asked him to remove it, he did, and in the meantime we enjoyed a few gags about bidding for Fairfax Media (now Nine) with a scrip takeover offer and encouraging the company to lift its game and do more journalism and less fawning corporate PR.

We did enjoy this line from Myriam: “… leading Brisbane silk Saul Holt [acting for Shannon] has for several days this month worked to undermine the credibility of ASIC’s main witness, Natasha Keys …”.

One would have thought that this is what barristers actually do for work, undermine hostile witnesses, just as journalists are obliged to cover news stories without an agenda.

The challenge for the AFR and its parent company Nine Entertainment is precisely this; for, as the traditional business model of the corporate media has collapsed, the media has become more reliant on its news feed from government and corporate sources, and more reliant on income from both of these.

How much money does the AFR make from Commbank each year? We asked them and they did not respond but the figure is likely to be north of $10m a year. That buys a lot of editorial cooperation, unfortunately.

In any case, Myriam Robin has conducted herself appropriately as a gossip columnist but what of the journalism thing by the broader organisation?

In light of the AFR’s moral grandeur in casting aspersions upon MWM via what is such a highly insignificant story – while missing the actual news story – we feel we now have reasonable licence to point out that Nine’s editorial executives should disclose their principal place of residence as Peter Costello’s Small Intestine.

Troublemakers weeded out

Many of the journalists are good, and they do their job as far as they are permitted. Yet from Nine Entertainment’s chairman down to senior editors though this is an organisation of yes-men and yes-women. The likes of yours truly, Michael Pascoe, Mike Carleton, John Hewson – just to name a few – have been weeded out for failing to cower sufficiently to Nine’s advertisers and assorted corporate and political agendas.

Descending the greasy pole all the way down from Liberal Party heavyweight and fundraiser Peter Costello, we have Editorial Director James Chessell (who is an ex-Liberal staffer for Joe Hockey), his 2IC Tory Maguire (whose husband is a Liberal Party linked lobbyist), Editor in Chief of the AFR Michael Stutchbury, a true believer in the virtue of big business whose ideology is to the right of the Liberal Party.

On the radio front, it’s no accident that Nine owns 2GB and 3AW. On the TV front, it’s no accident Nine Network is now framing The Voice as “The Divisive Voice to Parliament“. This is unambiguous Coalition messaging.

The irony is that the audience for MWM content is higher than for the AFR’s Rear Window. It is also ironic that while having a crack at our independence, and providing this opportunity to point out that AFR is captive to the Coalition and Big Business, this story is a case in point of a large publicly subsidised corporation taking a shot at a small journalism business which is funded by the community on a goodwill basis and which accepts no corporate money and has no political affiliations.

We look forward to their next crack and suggest – it has been asked of them twice now – they pull this ridiculous story by Joe Aston down because it is entirely wrong and, as the apology is not visible, it is highly misleading. Or don’t bother, we can continue to cover it 5 years and counting. It’s quite exotic as far as media apologies go, in that most apologies are based on a mistake or two, this one was based on the entire premise of the story – that we were at school with Alex Malley and knew him for years – being entirely fictitious.

It’s becoming a habit:

Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.

Don't pay so you can read it. Pay so everyone can!

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Pay so everyone can!

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