No Credibility: The Prime Minister, A Misogynist Pig, And A PR Hack

ANY CREDIBILITY Julia Gillard may have retained for her cynical “stand” against misogyny evaporated yesterday; not only did she return, gushing, to Kyle Sandilands and his millions of listeners on 2DayFM, but her spin doctor-in-chief intervened in a bizarre defence of the Sydney shock jock.

We looked at this two months ago, when Gillard first ventured onto Sandilands’ show; at the time I said it was obvious where Gillard is concerned that principles disappear when several million listeners are on offer, even when a misogynistic pig is in charge of the show.

At least then she had a pretext of sorts: she and Sandilands were to support a children’s Easter charity together — even if it was, rather conveniently, in the immediate aftermath of the March Labor leadership non-coup which nonetheless plunged the ALP into turmoil.

This time, her attendance can only be interpreted as an attempt to milk the considerable, youth-skewed 2DayFM audience for votes.

For a leader with such a colossal credibility problem with the electorate, my first thought was to wonder what the hell her advisers were telling Gillard.

After all, the case her “misogyny” rant was built on was flimsy, fooling only the gullible to begin with and next to nobody as even they thought it through; making a beeline for studios presided over by Kyle Sandilands kicks the crutches out from beneath any concept of a crusade against sexism and misogyny with Gillard’s name attached to it at all.

Readers will know all about Sandilands, and for the few who don’t, this will bring you up to speed fairly quickly.

Yet in a bizarre twist — reminiscent of the stereotypical friend trying to help, who makes things worse in so doing — Gillard’s Scottish PR maestro John McTernan intervened this morning, issuing a statement that stoutly defended Sandilands’ character, and berating News Ltd outlets for “a vendetta against Kyle.”

Sandilands, McTernan claimed, “touches the hearts of millions of people.”

Taking aim at a report in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, McTernan said it fell to him to point out some basic rules “of comms” to its publishers.

He went on to defend Sandilands in terms of “well-known work with charity” undertaken by the shock jock, suggesting the Tele  “will reflect on the darts of the pygmies who sneer at success.”

McTernan — a media adviser to the previous Labour government in the UK prior to his secondment to the Prime Minister’s office in Canberra — really should have known better, his talk of basic rules “of comms” notwithstanding.

It goes without saying that what he has done represents a direct intervention — even interference — in political and media issues that would seem well beyond the remit of a media lackey in a political office.

McTernan, of all people, should have known his action would become public.

And he should have known because Gillard is on shaky enough ground as it is with all this “misogyny” rhetoric, by trying to bandy it around subsequent to her speech under privilege, and by appearing on Sandilands’ show in the first place.

This isn’t a case of the rules “of comms,” to use McTernan’s insiderish jargon; it’s a case of principles — or, rather, the complete abrogation of them Gillard seems determined to commit, having made a stand on them based on the flimsiest of pretexts in the first place.

It’s not a case of a vendetta against Sandilands (although this column has called for him to be booted off air in the past, and stands by that call); it’s a case of a misogynistic pig with a huge audience of voters hosting a Prime Minister supposedly committed to stamping out misogyny, yet fawning all over Sandilands to gain the benefit of access to his listeners.

And there is no question of the validity of the charity work Sandilands does; even a pig can render some useful service if he sees fit to do so.

No, this issue reflects, once again, squarely on Gillard.

Voters with any sympathy at all for Gillard’s moral crusading against sexism and misogyny should simply shake their heads, and accept they’ve been swindled; Gillard has no credibility on such issues, and is simply a hypocrite.

And as much as McTernan might be the adviser driving much of what Gillard says or does, the responsibility stops with Gillard; ultimately it is she who is accountable to the Australian public — not McTernan.

Of McTernan, I would simply note that not only was Labour thrown from office in 2010, it suffered its worst defeat in 30 years; and as much as he might plead that he left Number 10 well before that election, the sins of a beaten government lie in its history, and he had the ear of Tony Blair for many, many years at the top levels of British governance.

McTernan should pull his head in, and concentrate on arranging his airfare back to the UK; if he books to fly out on 15 September he is unlikely to be slugged for a change of dates.

In the end, however, this latest episode explodes once and for all the myth of Julia Gillard and her hatred of misogyny; the days’ events show rather that she is driven by expediency and self-interest — and when it comes to self-interest, she certainly stands for that…

2Day FM And Austereo Ignore Smackdown From Uncle Fairfax

As the scandal of 2Day FM’s ill-advised and tragic “stunt” rolls on — unresolved — a new heavyweight voice has been added today to the chorus of opprobrium; irrespective of what people think of Fairfax and its journalistic priorities, dear old Uncle has scored a direct hit.

In this modern era of risk minimisation, shifting blame, denial of liability and distinctly unethical and disreputable business practice, there always remains a glimmer of hope that large companies will take their responsibilities as corporate citizens seriously.

Today I wish to direct readers to a comprehensive list of questions assembled by Fairfax journalist Michael Lallo and posed twice to management at 2Day FM parent company Southern Cross Austereo and its CEO, the unconvincing media performer Rhys Holleran.

My understanding is that no real response was forthcoming initially, and — as readers will see — none is forthcoming now.

My comment is very simply that it beggars belief that a company of the purported standing of Austereo could think it possible to ignore the events which transpired a couple of weeks ago in any meaningful sense.

The stonewalling, obfuscation, orchestrated spin and general “heads up the arse” approach that company appears determined to deploy would be inappropriate enough at the best of times, let alone at a time when an involuntary party to 2Day FM’s antics is now dead in the aftermath of its contemptible “stunt” and subsequent on-air self-congratulation and boasting.

Full marks to Fairfax in this case for its pursuit of Southern Cross Austereo for the answers it must provide, if for no other reason than to substantiate the authenticity of its actual concern for the people it has affected in the course of this ghastly episode.

And a memo to Rhys Holleran: be a man, piss the PR hack off, get the lawyers to back off, and actually do something to salvage something from this situation.

In other words, Rhys, do the right thing — 2Day FM already ranks beneath contempt in the esteem of millions of reasonably-minded people; it’s up to you, and only you, to prove otherwise.

Dead Nurse Scandal: 2Day FM Digs Itself Deeper Into Its Hole

As the fallout from last week’s 2Day FM debacle continues, Southern Cross Austereo is doing itself few favours; its responses thus far amount to little more than an exercise in dodging responsibility and shifting blame, and TV interviews with its presenters last night were a joke.

I’m not going to make any apology for being so blunt about it; having followed this issue since it broke — and following my comments on the subject a few days ago — the actions of Austereo in relation to the matter in that time have been distinctly unimpressive, not to put too fine a point on it.

2Day FM and parent company Southern Cross Austereo seem to be engaged in more of a public relations battle at present, and an exercise in crisis management designed to limit liability on various fronts, than in any meaningful attempt to provide clarity around their conduct or any real sensitivity toward the heartbroken family at the centre of this terrible episode.

If anyone doubts this, I would point them firstly to the press conference given by Austereo’s CEO, Rhys Holleran, immediately after the news of nurse Jacintha Saldanha’s death broke (I apologise for the subtitles — I would have used any other clip of this, but there was no other copy of the same segment on YouTube at the time of writing with a completely clean feed).

Readers should note the formulaic responses given by Holleran; the refusal to directly answer questions; and the evasiveness and refusal to provide transparency in regard to internal procedures at the broadcasting giant — and to the fact that the charade was terminated less than four minutes in by a PR minder asking for further queries to be directed to her.

Austereo has claimed that it made five attempts to contact personnel at the Prince Edward VII Hospital following the recording of the “prank” call, with a view to obtaining clearance to broadcast it — a claim vigorously refuted by the hospital, which is adamant that no attempt at contact was made by Austereo and that consequently, no permission was either sought nor given.

This in itself places Austereo between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Let’s assume the Austereo story — that it made five attempts to get permission to broadcast the “prank” — is correct, and that nobody from the hospital returned any of the calls.

This means that having failed to obtain clearance to proceed, 2Day FM did precisely that, and went ahead to do whatever it liked.

It’s not a good look; and if the attempts were indeed made, I suspect hospital personnel were too busy doing what they were supposed to be doing — running their hospital — to be bothered with what was probably perceived as some trivial “prank” facilitated by a radio station 20,000 kilometres away.

On the flipside of this, of course, is the prospect that the hospital’s story is the correct one, and that no attempt was ever made by Austereo to contact it.

Either way, no permission to use the recorded telephone call was ever provided to Austereo — which is one thing that both sides agree on.

The point is relevant because of a debate that has swirled around this episode, and Austereo’s management of it: did 2Day FM require explicit permission to broadcast the call?

It goes to questions raised in this column on Saturday around fraud, deception, and the acquisition and use of privileged and confidential information by deception that have subsequently also been raised by legal entities associated with the matter, both in Australia and the UK.

And these questions were certainly not answered in any way at all by the farcical interviews given last night to Today Tonight and A Current Affair by the 2Day FM presenters at the epicentre of the scandal, Mel Greig and Michael Christian.

I know that in saying these interviews were part of a cynical and carefully stage-managed public relations effort, conducted for no better purpose than to deflect blame from Southern Cross Austereo, I’m probably not going to be popular; I’ve seen the polls in all of the news sites today, and it seems that everyone is buying the line that Greig and Christian should be held faultless.

Don’t.

Have another look at those interviews through the links provided, and think back to that original press conference by Rhys Holleran, and listen very carefully.

Almost the entire substance of what the duo say — across both interviews — is either a direct rehash of the statements made by Holleran or a plethora of variations on them that all say, effectively, precisely the same thing.

Whose idea was the call? “The whole team talked about it.”

“I don’t think anyone could have expected or foreseen what was going to happen. It was all completely innocent.”

“It was fun and lighthearted and a tragic turn of events that I don’t think anyone could have predicted.”

And in one exchange with Mel Greig, Tracy Grimshaw tried to get to the bottom of “The Process” — the exalted but mysterious means by which all is apparently decided at Austereo — in her interview with the 2Day FM pair on ACA:

TG: “What is the process? Who do you hand (items requiring approval for broadcast) on to? I think a lot of people want to know.”

MG: “I honestly don’t know the process.”

TG: “Presumably it goes to your producer?”

MG: “No, there’s a whole team.”

TG: “Lawyers? Management?”

MG: “People far above us.”

Prior to the interviews being broadcast, Southern Cross Austereo went to great lengths to explain that the presenters themselves had asked to face the media; a lot of noise was made about the fact they wanted to show their faces so they could speak to the family of the nurse who committed suicide in the wake of the “prank” in an attempt to show they were genuinely concerned and upset at their loss.

I will say that having watched both interviews, I do now feel some considerable sympathy for Greig; I believe she showed real emotion, and it was obvious she was deeply and desperately upset that the “prank” phone call to the hospital had backfired with such tragic consequences.

Nonetheless, she still regurgitated the same formulaic non-answers as everyone else at Austereo has done to date.

Christian, for his part, made his way through both interviews almost literally doing nothing but regurgitating the formula — like an automaton — that has clearly been devised by the company’s lawyers and/or PR advisers.

The only time he showed any emotion whatsoever was for a few short seconds during the ACA interview, when he turned away from the camera and appeared to briefly sob.

And rather than offering any solace to the family of the deceased nurse, I would expect that any member of her family that viewed the ghastly spectacle would be even more upset and outraged than they already were.

Yet still, the greasy PR stunts continue to ooze from the Austereo stable; designed to con the public and deflect blame, these steps in the PR campaign it is waging should be recognised for the red herrings they are.

In the latest purported gesture of magnanimity — whilst continuing to deny any liability or responsibility whatsoever — Austereo has now pledged that all profits generated by 2Day FM “for the remainder of the year” will be donated to ”an appropriate memorial fund” that will ”directly benefit the family of Jacintha Saldanha.”

All 18 days’ worth, with at least the first day or two bringing in no revenue owing to a self-imposed suspension of advertising, and with two public holidays included.

There is no elaboration as to what might constitute “an appropriate memorial fund” in the eyes of Austereo management.

Austereo says it will pay a ”minimum contribution of $500,000,” which sounds suspiciously like an awful lot of money over an incident the company is going to every length imaginable to deny any form of liability over.

In fact, it sounds suspiciously like “go-away money.”

And in a mean-spirited gesture that really does stink of the worst act of the charlatan, Austereo has announced that its 2012 Sydney staff Christmas party — replete with a reported $13,000 bar tab for some 250 employees — has been cancelled “out of respect for nurse Jacintha Saldanha and her family.”

There are three points to make here.

One, Austereo says it will donate the money set aside to pay for the party to Beyond Blue and Lifeline; there is no input from Saldanha’s family into a preferred charity.

This leads to…two, which might not be surprising when it is pointed out that by donating the money to Australian charities, Austereo is able to claim a sizeable deduction against its corporate tax bill; frankly, and in the circumstances, I think the money ought to be going to a British charity nominated by the hospital and/or the family of its deceased employee, but that would be too much to ask of the company given its conduct to date.

And three — and this is relevant folks — the decision to cancel the Christmas function means that all of the Austereo staff in sales, administration and production, who have long been on the receiving end of the direct public fallout from a litany of scandals emanating from the on-air antics of 2Day FM’s presenters, won’t even get to have an end of year celebration with their workmates.

Unless they organise and pay for it themselves.

So let’s not be under any delusions that Austereo is doing anyone, apart from itself, a favour by knocking the Christmas party on the head.

In closing, it should be reiterated that there is a lot more to be played out in the 2Day FM “prank” call scandal; there are enquiries underway in both the UK and Australia that will take some time, and there are questions of legalities and misconduct that, too, will be investigated and resolved in due course.

Perhaps Austereo might do more good by abandoning its public relations offensive and its empty words and gestures, and let these more meaningful activities run their course.

Again, I would urge readers not to be hoodwinked by all of this; it has all the hallmarks of a disgustingly cynical attempt to wriggle away from any responsibility whatsoever, and by whatever means — however ruthless — necessary.

After all, to listen to Southern Cross Austereo, nobody is directly liable or responsible for anything: there’s always somewhere else to point the finger, if only in the direction of meaningless and oft-repeated conceptual entities such as “The Process.”

And for those readers who could be forgiven for not remembering how all of this started in the first place, the Duchess of Cambridge has now recovered well enough to be discharged from the King Edward VII Hospital, and is continuing her pregnancy whilst resting at home with her family.