GOING by some of the comments on last night's Lateline Business, Fairfax Media's AGM could be a show worth catching.
It is being webcast and people who enjoy rubbernecking at train crashes can watch the action by going here and registering.
The show starts at 10.30am, so you had better hurry.
The show begins....
... with Roger Corbett finding lots of good things to boast about. Readership up...operating revenues robust...best company making the transition to digital (not much competition there, not when Andrew Bolt can't have weekend moderators)
Shouldn't Corbett be wearing a bicorn hat? Delusions of this magnitude most often accompany the speaker's conviction that he is, in fact, the emperor of France. The wardrobe mistress must have left the company with the last round of layoffs.
AND ON HE DRONES.... He has run the company into the ground, pockets $400,000 a year and thinks "online visual and audio" media will be his company's salvation. The proof? Eighty percent of proxy voters haven't objected to his salary or CEO Hywood's $25,000 a week.
AH-HA, THAT EXPLAINS IT: The news business is just like the horse trade, circa 1900. Will a shareholder suggest it is time to take the company out and shoot it?
HYWOOD'S TURN: What should Fairfax be in the 21st century, he asks? Dunno, a central clearinghouse for warm and fuzzy cliches? A golden spigot for the Chairman, CEO and board? A laughingstock? A waiting room for lefties intent on bagging the next available job at the ABC?
... and the good news just won't stop.... Age, SMH, AFR apps are more common than Indian mynahs, apparently, and even more useful. No mention of the creative bookkeeping that aportions one unit's costs against another when this makes for a better look on the bottom line.
IS THERE a law specifically prohibiting lies at AGM's. The Age and Silly are "the most trusted news sources" in Australia. Prosecute this man, but not in Victoria, where Hywood's cosy connections to Labor landed him an job before his return to Fairfax as the $300,000-a-year head of Tourism Victoria? The bench remains infested with Labor holdovers.
NO MENTION YET of Fairfax's sure-fire strategy to boost readership: Win a Date with Michelle Grattan? Second prize: Two dates with Michelle Grattan.
CORBETT: "When I said $214 million in debt, I actually meant $914 million. Just a few million out...." Why does Generalisimo Grocer keep slipping a hand inside his jacket and muttering about the harshness of the Russian winter?
HE'S NOT entirely stupid, just mostly. The Grover expects quite a few shareholder questions....and here they come....
NO SHOW WITHOUT PUNCH.... Stephen Mayne asks Corbett about the day he told Eric Beecher never again to darken Fairfax's door...Corbett "has no recollection" of Beecher's address, which is probably honest. There are many things Corbett can't get his mind around -- like the fact that allowing children to run his divisions has driven away adult readers.
QUESTIONER CHRIS SCHOTT(?)... Proudly proclaims himself "a member of the AJA" (even though it has been the MEAA for 20 years), describes the board's performance as "appalling" and bags Conrad Black as an indication of his ambient sympathies and politics. All the same, he asks about Gina Rinehart and suggests FXJ's stock price is a consequence of the mining magnate's frequent public criticisms. THE GROCER responds with the assertion is that "we welcome her 14%+ involvement in this company". When Corbett joined Fairfax, he must have raided Woollies' cold storage cabinets beforehand and taken the waffle stock with him.
AN EARLIER QUESTIONER described Gina Rinehart as "the elephant in the room." But there is another one, a bigger one, and someone needs to ask about it:
Mr Corbett, the bias and propagandising that goes on in your papers and on your websites, does it remain your policy to allow employees to set company direction by nobbling accurate and adult coverage of events? Further, are you aware that a large segment of the reading population will no longer buy Fairfax publications because they cannot be trusted?
ANOTHER QUESTION THAT HASN'T BEEN ASKED: When Fairfax editorial employees walked off the job in an illegal strike, why weren't all who left their desks fired on the spot? Instead, they were welcomed back and sent on their way to the ABC with golden handshakes, at great cost to shareholders?
RANALD McDONALD wants to know about the future of the Age and Silly. Corbett handballs the query to Hywood who opens his crap spigot to dribble some noisome piffle about "audiences never being greater". Surely the audience can't tolerate much more of this? The company is doing fine ... our journalism is first-rate ... everything couldn't be more promising ... blah, blah, blah
VIDEO CONTENT: It seems Fairfax's future lies in borrowing/building/contra-dealing video content. Yep, that will do it! Everyone wants annoying hard-to-stop video clips blaring while trying to read about the latest bit of the planet that is burning/melting/being infested with hermaphrodite, climate-bothered sharks.
HYWOOD RAIDING THE GROCER'S waffle stock as he is confronted with actual numbers about his company's dubious figures for digital consumers. "If you look at the Age and Sydney Morning Herald...." he says. Trouble is, you have to stand cheek-by-jowl with the great Greens unwashed to find out what Greens on fairfax's payroll are writing about.
COME ON, SOMEONE....ANYONE: For God's sake ask how Fairfax's political coverage (and environmental coverage etc) is driving away readers? Please!!!!
WHY IS 2UE "A BASKET CASE"? Hywood takes up the challenge. Will he explain his sacking of Michael Smith, the pressure brought to bear by PM Yabby, and his craven willingness to shut down investigation of a corruption story very much in the public interest? How many additional consumers did the Smith sacking alienate?
HYWOOD SLEEP WALKING AGAIN: Defends 3AW's sacking of Derryn Hitch then asserts his replacement, Tom Elliott, "is doing very well". Memo to Hywood: Hinch remains on air and Elliott has yet to take over the microphone.
PETER COX, the sharpest questioner, has nominated for the board, an ascension The Grocer opposes
ANOTHER QUESTION NOT PUT: 3AW dominates Melbourne radio and makes money. The Age smells even before fish are wrapped in it. Why isn't the Age taking its lead from 3AW, which understands a market the newspaper clearly does not
CORBETT APPLIES THE GAG: Wanna ask a question about board members' competence or acumen? The Grocer won't have that.Sit down, shut up or Butch Carlton will write a column about your general loathsomeness.
CORBETT "DELIGHTED" TO HAVE GINA'S PAL ABOARD: If so, his piles must lift him to the heights of ecstasy.
STEPHEN MAYNE is by no means a pin-up boy at the Billagong, but credit where it is due: His questions today have been splendid. "This is a trophy board with the usual members of the corporate directors club and its performance has been disgraceful...."
DISSIDENT PETER COX's board appointment voted down. That's it. Lemmings rule.
IF ONLINE Video is the future, Fairfax hasn't quite grasped it yet. The live feed keeps stalling and now refuses to re-connect.