One of the most appealing things about journalism is the rumours that are passed along. Most turn out to be wrong and those that aren’t often prove impossible to publish for legal reasons. But the tip received by Quadrant Online from a confidential but presumably reliable source within the ABC seemed well worth checking out: According to our informant, Ray Martin, who is charged with investigating how Q&A conducts itself on-camera and off-, will pocket a very hefty six-figure sum for what must surely be the very light lifting of an entirely undemanding chore.
Unlike the ABC, which often seems unnaturally eager to make big splashes with stories that are both improbable and unchecked, especially if they reflect badly on the current government, Quadrant likes to get things right. For instance, had we been informed by “a refugee advocate”, as was the ABC, that RAN sailors were torturing illegal aliens with the hot mufflers of leaky boats, you would not have read about it on this site until and unless supporting evidence had been obtained. Indeed, as there was no evidence worth the name to support the accusation, you wouldn’t have read about it all. Not so at the ABC, as a grudging and belated semi-apology subsequently attested.
So late last week we dashed off an email to the ABC’s chief in-house spinner, Nick Leys. It is reproduced below:
we’re working on a couple of little pieces prompted by the Q&A burlesque of several weeks ago, but there are one or two little things I have been unable to track down.
I wonder, could you let me know
(a) the cost of the review
(b) the fees being paid to each of the two key investigators
(c) the number of support staff working with them
(d) the cost of past and comparable reviews.
The consultancy fee a source tells us will go to Ray Martin seems so large I thought I had better check. I suspect that the figure mentioned is to fund the entire operation, so I would appreciate the numbers requested.
Within 24 hours a note from Leys’ offsider, Sophie Mitchell, was received:
In response to your query, the ABC notes as follows:
Persons engaged by the ABC to conduct editorial reviews are paid market rates in accordance with their skills and experience.
The ABC’s Head of Editorial Policies will consult with the reviewers on the terms of reference and may, where required, provide advice on the ABC’s Editorial Policies.
A part-time ABC editorial policies assistant may provide some administrative research assistance where and if required. No other support staff are provided to reviewers for the purpose of conducting ABC editorial reviews.
As this response left us none the wiser, especially in regard to the market price of Martin’s insight-for-hire, another note was dashed off:
thanks for your response, especially on a miserable Saturday morning, but you have not really satisfied my curiosity.
“Market rates”, you say. Well my query sought a dollar amount for those rates. But now that I think of it, perhaps you could also explain how those market rates are determined. A talent such as Mr Martin, for example, could hardly be expected to settle for, say, the casual day rate approved by the MEAA.
Given that he was on a seven-figure annual screw at 60 Minutes, does this mean the ABC will be paying him at the same rate? I am informed — reliably, I suspect, given my source — that Martin will be pocketing in excess of $100,000 for 12 weeks’ work.
I don’t wish to crimp your weekend pleasures any further than needs be, so if you could give me the specific “market rate” the ABC is paying, as I requested, that would be terrific. Also, while you’re at it, the total sum allocated to the review would also be much appreciated.
If you are moved to specifically deny that Martin is bagging $100,000, I’ll be happy to include that in our story.
Ms Mitchell pumped out another response. Alas, not a satisfying one:
The amounts paid to reviewers are commercial-in-confidence.
I can confirm, however, that speculation that Mr Martin’s fee might be in the ballpark of $100,000 is inaccurate.
So, just what sort of “market rate” does Martin command? The ABC offers page after page of guidance to those seeking to do business, but no dollar amounts. And there must be few, if any, job-vacant listings for TV hosts on Centrelink’s books, meaning we can’t look to any sort of gazetted award for guidance. However, his market rate as of February, 2008, when he he quit 60 Minutes, was widely reported as an annual salary of $1.2 million. If that figure represents Martin’s current market rate then Ms Mitchell would be quite correct in saying his remuneration was nowhere near $100,000. Rather, twelve weeks of watching Q&A re-runs would earn him in the neighbourhood of $300,000.
Hard to believe, true. But then there are many things about the ABC that stretch credence to breaking point — like ferrying a weird beard publicity seeker to and from Parramatta, assigning Q&A producers to polish and sharpen his question, and then stage-managing their hand-groomed audience member’s confrontation with a government minister. A brazen managing director who subsequently labelled as enemies of free speech all who decried such a charade further stretches the imagination.
Trouble is, because of this “commercial-in-confidence” business, just how much the ABC is paying its contractor, a favourite former son who was handed the brief and immediately put his sympathy and admiration for Q&A on the record, cannot be known.
That places the question of Martin’s remuneration in marked contrast to the findings of the review he is conducting. We can all guess how that will pan out.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online. He would be happy to review Q&A’s performance free of charge, and to guarantee the process would take nowhere near three months