May 18th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: U.S. Farm Bill ends free trade illusion

EDITORIAL: Paid maternity leave: who benefits?

Languishing Labor fills its quota

East Timor becomes independent on May 20

Straws in the Wind: Le System / Apocrypha: Dave's lost column / Ides of March / Sin

LAW: US repudiates International Criminal Court

MEDIA: Jonestown

Refugee response (letter)

Middle East (letter)

Swift solution (letter)

Neighbourly aid (letter)

Quarantine: NZ suspends California grape imports

HEALTH: The politics of AIDS in South Africa

OPINION: Media diversity: should the market decide?

TRADE: Oxfam report shows rigged rules of world trade

ASIA: Taiwan comes in from the cold

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by John Styles

News Weekly, May 18, 2002

In his book Inside Story (A & R, 1992), ABC Four Corners reporter Chris Masters wrote about truth and investigative journalism. In a chapter entitled "Dirty Secrets", he revealed "Masters' law", which states:"The truth varies according to the amount of information accumulated."

From the commotion that followed the airing on 6 May of the much-hyped Four Corners program about Sydney radio 2GB presenter Alan Jones, we may conclude that the sum of the information gathered did not amount to the "truth" the liberal-Left desired.

Jonestown didn't present anything that was really new. It freshened up the old stories - about Alan Jones' earlier years at The King's School and his unsuccessful attempt to enter the NSW parliament as a Liberal. It charted the course of his career from Malcolm Fraser speechwriter to rugby coach and influential radio announcer. It described the perceived influence of Alan Jones in NSW politics and his opposition to former NSW Police Commissioner Peter Ryan. And it provided a pretext for the ABC to revisit the recent "cash-for-comment" controversy.

Jones, who champions conservative social values, is friendly with the Prime Minister, worries the Carr Labor Government, speaks up for the battlers and makes a lot of money while he's doing all that, is the liberal-Left's No. 1 media enemy. But if Jonestown aimed to be a kind of strike at Alan Jones, a "king hit", a knockout punch against an ideological enemy, it failed miserably.

The morning after Jonestown aired, The Australian ran a page three story by media writer Amanda Meade accusing ABC board member and Liberal identity Michael Kroger of lobbying to stop the Jones program.

According to Meade, a staunch defender of the ABC, Masters had accused Kroger of inappropriately trying to influence an ABC employee on behalf of a friend. Meade wrote, Kroger had "repeatedly told Four Corners reporter Chris Masters that the ABC was incapable of doing an unbiased story on Jones and suggested that he do one on broadcaster and writer Phillip Adams instead." That's inappropriate? Obviously, they are very sensitive at the ABC.

Apparently, Masters was so affronted and incensed by Kroger's alleged intervention that he actually recorded an interview with the ABC board member and used a number of grabs from it in the program, including this one in the prologue: "Yeah, sure, I think a show on Alan Jones should be more positive than negative because I think that's what the New South Wales public thinks of him."

The same morning The Australian story appeared, Michael Kroger was invited on to ABC Melbourne radio to respond. According to Kroger, Masters contacted him and, among other things, asked him, by way of background, what would an Alan Jones program look like to him? He asked how Kroger saw him. Michael Kroger said he told Masters that from his perspective, the picture of Jones' life is a very positive one.

Kroger said that later when he came to do the interview with Masters, the ABC reporter suggested on camera that Kroger had tried to pressure the journalist into doing a positive story on Jones and asked Kroger how he felt about that. According to Kroger, "I said how do you figure that? And he [Masters] said, oh well, because off-camera you said to me that you had a very positive view of Alan Jones and a story about Alan Jones would be a very positive one. So that is how I am to have influenced poor old Chris into doing this story about Alan Jones. I responded to a question he asked me about what I thought of Alan."

According to the Amanda Meade story, Michael Kroger had insisted on appearing in Jonestown. Not so, Kroger said. "I certainly didn't insist. I don't particularly want to do programs on the ABC on Four Corners about Alan Jones or anybody. Chris Masters rang ... He then said would I come on and talk about Alan, because he said he was finding great difficulty getting people to come on to his program to say negative things about Alan ... I said to him, 'Well, Chris, you know, I'm sorry about that. People don't necessarily want to go on your program and bag Alan Jones. That's a matter for them if they don't want to.'"

Meade also quoted unnamed sources at the ABC who claimed that Kroger had told the ABC board that he didn't believe Four Corners should be "researching a profile on Jones" at all. "That's also false", Michael Kroger said. "However, the ABC board does discuss programming from time to time. It has discussed the Four Corners programs recently as it discusses a whole range of programming."

The Executive Producer of Four Corners, Bruce Belsham, issued a media release later that day rejecting suggestions by Michael Kroger that Masters had "misrepresented conversations with him". Belsham said that "[Masters] responded honestly to a reporter from The Australian newspaper inquiring about Mr Kroger and a Four Corners program about broadcaster Alan Jones. The newspaper report was initiated by The Australian which had independent information."

Belsham claimed Kroger had repeatedly stated that any program on Jones should be "overwhelmingly positive" and had offered to appear in the program. The offer was initially declined and then later taken up because Masters thought an interview with Michael Kroger "would be useful".

Both Kroger and Belsham appeared to bring into question the accuracy of The Australian report. Pointedly, Belsham avoided any reference to the allegation by The Australian that Kroger lobbied the board.

That same day the results of the first survey taken since Jones moved from 2UE to 2GB were released. Jones had taken his audience with him, elevating his new station to second position in the overall ratings. 2GB owner John Singleton was reported to have described the Four Corners program as "a great ad for Alan Jones". He was right.

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