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October 27th 2014 print

Jonathan Holmes writes …

Quadrant Online done him wrong, says the former Media Watch presenter, who has written to protest the observation that his view on the release of ABC salaries and the publication of Professor Barry Spurr's purloined emails represents a terminal case of cognitive dissonance. Here are Holmes' notes of protest and the responses they elicited

media cerebusIt was Friday afternoon when Quadrant Online posted the first of the items below in the Essential Reading blog on the right of our home page. Informed via Twitter of the discordance between the former Media Watch host’s then-unhappiness at the public release of ABC stars’ salaries and his current support for New Matilda’s pillaging of Professor Barry Spurr’s private emails and their subsequent publication, Holmes cried foul. A one-sided exchange of tweets with Quadrant Online editor Roger Franklin followed, with Holmes’ thoughts on the salary matter quoted back to him.

Holmes fell silent and the tweets went unanswered — until Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle received an email complaining that the Essential Reading item was most unfair. That note might have been sent direct to Quadrant Online — a simple request by way of Twitter would have elicited Franklin’s email address and removed all need to distract his boss, Windschuttle, from the business of preparing next month’s magazine. Windschuttle forwarded the gripe to the object of Holmes’ criticism and further exchanges between Holmes and Franklin followed over the next 24 hours.

In the interest of full and fair disclosure, the original Essential Reading item is reproduced below, followed by subsequent correspondence. With the exception of two embedded links, a comma and a single question mark all below is reproduced as sent and received, starting with the original Essential Reading item.

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It Depends Whose Ox is being Gored

Early in 2013, the extraordinary salaries of prominent ABC personalities came to light and Jonathan Holmes wasn’t happy. Soon to step down as the long-serving Widow Twankey in the pantomime of partisan pretense that is the national broadcaster’s Media Watch, Holmes had 187,380 reasons to wish his remuneration had remained private, not least the embarrassment of learning that colleagues even less productive than he were pocketing even more improbable sums.

But vanity had nothing to do with it, going by Holmes’ comment to Crikey!:

“If the courts decide this is public information then it will be released and there’s nothing we can do about it, but I’d prefer it to be kept private as I’m sure 98% of Australians would. We will accept it with as good grace as we can and we’ll see what News Limited make of it. My prediction is they’ll make it seem we’re absurdly overpaid and that would make it a less attractive place to work.”

Notice the nobility of Holmes’ spirit — or is it mere self-serving logic? Letting taxpayers know the ABC pays fantastic, over-market rates is going to stop people applying for jobs. Really? Having drawn his sustenance solely and for so long from the public purse, Holmes must have felt no need to grasp the most fundamental principle of the labour market: good pay attracts many applicants. Then again, why expect coherence from a man who believes 18 years of flat-lining global temperatures are irrefutable proof of runaway global warming?

That was then. Today, Holmes has cause to take a diametrically different view of privacy. Writing in the Fairfax Press (where else?), the retiree defends the New Matilda‘s pillaging of Professor Barry Spurr’s private emails and subsequent publication:

“It seems to me a lay-down case of a breach of privacy justified by the public interest.”

In the same column, after a wan attempt to draw what he evidently believes to be a telling comparison between the violation of Spurr’s privacy and Climategate’s exposure of warmist venality and academic malpractice, Holmes also says:

“See? It all depends where you’re coming from.”

Yes, Jonathan, it does indeed.

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Holmes swears the above item is “BS” and simpers about “context”. He was talking to Crikey! about the ABC’s attitude, not his own, he swears from the lofty heights of a sophist’s stilts.

holmes tweet2

Well, here are his quotes in their original, er, context. That’s a big mob of first-person singular pronouns and opinion for someone who now swears he was simply putting the ABC’s corporate perspective.

But don’t expect to see Crikey! taken to task. When The Age (circulation: 113,000) folds, what other outlet but Crikey! will be left to showcase selective, self-serving piffle? No point in burning bridges.

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Hi Keith
Quadrant has another go at “Widow Twankey” today, and I take it all in good part.  But your accusation of hypocrisy is completely unjustified.

Here’s what I wrote in The Age about the publication in The Australian of the salary I had previously earned at the ABC.:
There’s been a lot of huffing and puffing about ABC salaries this week – mine included (although I don’t earn one any longer).
Naturally, the ABC didn’t want its payroll details broadcast to the world, and naturally I didn’t want my former salary in the national daily. But of course, once the figures were leaked to The Australian’s Sarah Martin, the paper ran them on its front page.
Good luck to it. That’s what news organisations do. Unless there’s a very good reason not to, they publish what other people want to keep secret. And the embarrassment of the ABC’s management and stars is certainly not a good enough reason to bury a cracking yarn.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/spying-on-indonesia–here-is-the-news-a-good-story-gets-told-not-held-20131122-2y11v.html#ixzz3H19J4vIe

You will note the last paragraph. How you can induce from that that I am taking a “dramatically different view of privacy” over the Barry Spurr emails is beyond me.
And by the way, your claim that the ABC pays “fantastic over-market rates” looks a bit weak in the light of the recent revelation (in leaked documents whose publication was bitterly opposed by News Corp Australia) that the AVERAGE salary of journos at The Australian in 2012-13 was $174,000.  Only a wee bit less than what the ABC paid me to write and present a prime time program after 40 years in journalism.
It would be nice to think that you will publish this note but I’m not holding my breath.
Regards
Jonathan Holmes
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Dear Jonathan,

Keith passed your note to me, and I thank you for it.

I’ll be delighted to publish it at Quadrant Online.

Must say, though, what I find incredible is that “after 40 years of journalism” you’ve not yet managed to move beyond subjectivity as your prime vantage point.

Perhaps those decades at government broadcasters, where the like-minded hire the like-minded and only the like-minded, withered your capacity to appreciate that the hothouse monoculture of the ABC is just that, a microclimate insulated from an entire nation’s worth of divergent views by preciousness and presumed infallibility, especially the moral variety.

This blinkered myopia galled when you fronted Media Watch, as your antics were underwritten by the public purse, but now that you’re interrupting retirement only to plop the odd dollop of whatever into the Fairfax greasetrap, well that is for FXJ shareholders to swallow. At next month’s AGM perhaps the ongoing degeneration (and imminent demise) of two once-left-but-sane newspapers will catch in a craw or two and prompt some fruitful changes. It is a sad thing to live in Melbourne and have two sub-standard local papers; it will be much worse when only one remains.

In any case, here is the relevant passage from that Crikey! piece you insist we have misrepresented. I’ve bolded the bits where, quite clearly, you are expressing J. Holmes’ opinion, not that of the ABC, as you were asserting on Twitter:

Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, however, sees no public interest in revealing what ABC staffers get paid. ”I think it’s unnecessarily intrusive and I don’t see what it’s trying to prove,” he told Crikey.

“If they have reasonable grounds for suspecting the ABC is absurdly overpaying people then there might be a case for it. Otherwise it’s just a fishing expedition and I don’t see any justification for it … I’m suspicious of News Limited’s motives.”

Holmes says publicising ABC staff salaries could create a misleading perception of extravagant spending given private sector pay packets, which are often larger, would remain confidential.

“… journalists on Four Corners are paid in the range of $140-160,000 a year, while high-profile presenters such as Annabel Crabb can command over $200,000.”

“I negotiated my salary in what I thought were confidential conditions. My colleagues don’t know what I get paid and I don’t see why the public should. It’s up to the ABC to manage its budget as well as it can,” he said.

“If the courts decide this is public information then it will be released and there’s nothing we can do about it, but I’d prefer it to be kept private as I’m sure 98% of Australians would. We will accept it with as good grace as we can and we’ll see what News Limited make of it. My prediction is they’ll make it seem we’re absurdly overpaid and that would make it a less attractive place to work.”

So just to recap. Going by your column today, it’s OK for Wendy Bacon to publish Spurr’s private and purloined emails, presumably because it is not “unnecessarily intrusive”. But you don’t see “any justification” for the public learning what it paid for your 15 minutes of little-watched weekly insight.

Oh, and one last thing. That $174,000 figure you cite for Oz journos, it’s wrong. That’s for all employees — presumably including the publisher, the ad manager, etc., not just journos, as a quick Google would have established. The median salary for journos in Australia is some $46k. Do you really believe Murdoch slings that sort of largesse about his newsrooms?

– regards,

Roger Franklin,
Editor, Quadrant Online

PS: As I don’t subscribe to Bacon’s standards, have I your permission to publish your note to Keith and my response?

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Roger

I know you dislike the ABC.  But I really do not see the need for you to be so extraordinarily rude.  What’s wrong with civilised communication?
Here are the facts:
In late 2012 while I was still at the ABC, the Herald Sun of Melbourne put in an FOI request for the salaries of various presenters, editors and executives at the ABC.  The ABC resisted the application.  I was asked by Crikey to comment on the issue in January 2013.  You have quoted from the piece that Matthew Knot wrote on that occasion.  I have no quarrel with his piece: he quoted me accurately.  I did not wish my salary to be made public and saw no particular public interest in it being so.  I was not speaking for the ABC, but I was speaking in support of its resistance to the FOI request.
It is not true to say, as you did, that:
Early in 2013, the extraordinary salaries of prominent ABC personalities came to light and Jonathan Holmes wasn’t happy. 
No.  The Crikey piece was written many months BEFORE our salaries “came to light”.   They finally did so in November 2013, when someone in the ABC’s salaries dept in Adelaide carelessly appended a spreadsheet, containing details of a large number of ABC salaries, to a reply to a parliamentary question (if memory serves).  From there the document was leaked – or perhaps one should say simply “passed to” – The Australian.  I had meanwhile retired from the ABC, so I commented in The Age in the piece I sent to Keith.  It’s true I still wasn’t happy.  But quite clearly, I did not question The Australian’s right to publish, and indeed indicated that in their place I would have done so too – it was “a cracking yarn”.
I did not take a “radically different” view of privacy then and now.  Yes, I thought my salary was private, and I did not see any particular public interest was served by releasing it under FOI.  And yes, I acknowledge that in publishing Barry Spurr’s emails, New Matilda was invading his privacy.  That invasion was justified, to my mind, by the extraordinary nature of the emails, and by Professor Spurr’s public position as a consultant on the National School Curriculum.
I accept that not everyone will agree with that judgment. And I accept that there is a respectable argument that ABC salaries should be made public – just as there is a reputable argument that the ABC should be sold, privatised or abolished.  I don’t happen to agree with those arguments.  As I said in my piece in The Age, what is or is not “in the public interest” will always be contestable.  What I don’t accept is that I have been hypocritical.  Resisting an FOI request is one thing:  but it was not I who went to court waving the putative tort of privacy around in an attempt retrospectively to silence the press.  And if I had been the author of emails even remotely as contentious as Barry Spurr’s , and they had found their way into the public domain while I was at Media Watch, I know there would be no question but that they would be published “in the public interest”.
Customarily if one writes to a publication after it has had a go, one is afforded a right of reply – without being subjected to further vitriolic and intemperate attack, at many times the length.  If Quadrant is not prepared to abide by that convention, I cannot stop it.  But I would expect you to publish the entire correspondence, including this.  I doubt your readers will be interested, but that is a matter for you.  Or you could just publish my original response, and leave it at that.
And if you think that the median salary for journos at The Australian is $46,000, or anything like it, you are living in another world.  What on earth must the ad manager and the publisher be paid to drag the average up to $174,000?
Regards
Jonathan Holmes
PS.  Since the word “leaked” seems to have stuck in your craw, I should explain that when I wrote The Age piece it had not become clear how The Australian had acquired its information — that only emerged later.  At the time it was assumed that someone in the ABC had deliberately leaked it.
JH
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Dear Jonathan,

thank you for responding. The idea that I might not have run your response is quite remarkable, so let not that thought trouble you any further.

Two things really need to be addressed.

The first is your “knowing” that I dislike the ABC.While many friends and acquaintances are of the opinion that the state should not be in the broadcasting business, I’m not one of them. There is a place for a national broadcaster — the oft-mentioned “market failure” niche. Do I see this gap being filled? Quite the reverse.

Consider one show, The Collectors, which I doubt any commercial network would pick up; indeed, the fact that it has gone begging since your former employer pulled the plug demonstrates as much. It was interesting, entertaining, immersed in Australiana and, I assume, relatively cheap to produce. Yet it has gone to God, and those Tasmanian production jobs with it. And to what end?

As your (sic) know, money is fungible, so there can be no denying The Collectors‘ budget has flowed through to other ABC projects that management must consider of greater worth. When Judith Lucy dresses as a nun for a bit of pole dancing, when she seizes the chalice and pours consecrated wine down her front in the name of merriment, I ask how such a travesty of good taste could ever have been commissioned. Need I add that Lucy would never, ever have donned a fake beard and taken liberties with the Koran?

When some fey little fellow, an alleged comic whose name escapes me, turns his back to the camera and masturbates during one episode of a purportedly humourous series dealing with religion, I shake my head at such adolescent fare. When a production company for a time much favoured by the ABC — Denton’s — punctuates prime-time with “f**k this” and “f**k that” and a rap song that features the memorable line “sucking d**k in Copenhagen”, I wince at both the gratuitous obscenity and the narrow, isolated, self-congratulatory mindset that put such a dubious entertainment to air. A worthwhile programme, The Collectors, is scrapped and this tosh funded!

Further, I read in the Oz that the ABC has been spending some of the cash re-directed from The Collectors on Google top-of-results paid-ad placements, thereby taking traffic from commercial “rivals” (who would not be rivals in the first place if the ABC were to focus its attention on remedying market failures). I still have friends at The Age, and many more who have been paid to go away by that failing and fading newspaper. How, in all conscience, can the ABC encroachment on commericial turf be justified? Given the line, much repeated on the ABC, that News Corp is far too big and much nastier than it need be, how can the ABC not understand that it is helping to nudge Rupert’s one substantial rival into the hands of the receivers?

The ABC and many of its productions seem to me, and to many others, to represent the fruit of a mindset that can flourish only in protected isolation. I don’t know if you’re familiar with gigantism in isolated populations, but it seems to me instructive: mice marooned on an island lacking natural predators grow larger and larger, generation by generation, simply because they can. Then cats arrive and the population is eliminated.

In its isolation, in the absence of effective and ethical supervision, the ABC has become a rodent of extraordinary size. Around it, the currents of Australian life surge. Some 53% of our countrymen install a purportedly conservative government in Canberra, yet still I wait for the national broadcaster to add a single conservative, classic liberal or free-market libertarian voice to its cast. How much better would your own former show have been had it come with two comperes — you to sneer at News Corp, your counterpart to say “Hang on a tick, Jonathan, that’s a bit unfair….”? Instead, because the format ruled out pitting idea against idea, because its sensibilities were rooted in green-left orthdoxy, Media Watch‘s worth was swallowed by its uncontested arrogance. Offshore, just now visible on the horizon, there is a ship loaded with frustrated critics and their hungry cats. Should the ABC continue to provide reason for setting them ashore, the result might well be the end of the ABC, rather than its reform.

Not so long ago I spent the better part of a year in rural Queensland, where the ABC was my much appreciated companion. I would hate to see these bush stations sold off, but unless the organisation is reformed that result is conceivable, perhaps even likely. No institution immune to review can survive. None. Rome, corrupt and complacent, needed its Luther. Commercial media outfits are critiqued by the market — witness the current woes at poor, addled Fairfax. For a publicly funded broadcaster, that discipline must be imposed by statute. Had the ABC honoured its charter, had it boasted a managing director of greater competence and principle than Mark Scott, the cry that the organisation needs its drastic dose of salts would not be anywhere near so loud.

Oh, and that second point: I wasn’t being rude. Acerbic, certainly. That you should see my comments as rudeness speaks to that narrow mindset I mentioned. If you want rude, tune into The Chaser. How do those people score contract after contract?. Why, it’s almost as if they must have bonza mates in charge of the ABC cheque book!

regards,

Roger

PS: It strikes me that I might be able to help satisfy your request in an earlier column for evidence of anti-Catholic bias. Take a look at Ms Lucy’s promo, especially the defilement of the Eucharist, Sister Striptease, and that surf-side shtupping with a dog-collared priest. All other creeds referenced in the clip are treated with respect. In being gonged, massaged, or given a guided tour of the Dreamtime, the joke was on Lucy. But Catholics cop it three times in a clip of less than a minute.

And just for the record, I’m an atheist.

_________________________________
Roger

Thanks for your extended reflections on the output and ethos of the ABC.  You are of course entitled to your views, and at least they were expressed, this time, with reasonable courtesy.   They have, in any case, very little to do with my alleged hypocrisy over privacy, the issue which caused me to write in the first place.
I think this correspondence has now run its course.
Regards
Jonathan Holmes
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Comments [4]

  1. Doubting Thomas says:

    Game, set and match, Roger Franklin. Thank you linesmen, thank you ball boys.

  2. [email protected] says:

    Roger,
    You are/were too polite. Jonathan was relying on the fact that most conservatives are well mannered and do not generally set out to un-necessarily offend anybody. Your strong but well mannered missive is/was unlike most of the utterings of the sanctimonious leftists of his ilk who often do set out to offend. It reeked of hypocrisy when Jonathan pretended to be insulted with his ‘extra-ordinarily rude’ opening gambit, and following up with your comments as being ‘uncivilised’ and trying to dismiss any criticism of yours as being valid because ‘you dislike the ABC’.
    Could you please forward your exchange to Tim Blair and/or Andrew Bolt so that it can be more widely disseminated. As noted above, game set and match, to you, but unfortunately too few get to celebrate your win.
    Dennis

  3. Wendy Jackson says:

    So Holmes beleives the tax payer has no right to know the gross overinflated salaries that the ABC Lovies pay themselves.
    The arrogance is mind boggling. Just who do they think they are/ Its almost as if the ABC like the Courier Mail think of thenselves as a defact government.

  4. acarroll says:

    Thanks for publishing this exchange Quadrant.

    However I don’t see a clear winner in this argument. Mr Holmes does not concede his hypocrisy and only grudgingly concedes that the “conservative” media also have a say in determining what’s in the public interest, albeit without the moral authority of the left.