Friday, July 07, 2006

Sparks Fly around Jonestown

Where thee's smoke, there's fire - and I guess where there is flint, there's sparks (or is that the other way round). But we are talking about Flint, David Flint - agent double O double O and his licence to thrill.

Flint, under the heading The ABC never goes after leftie celebrities in the Oz on Thursday, wanted to have his say on the ABC decision not to publish the Chris Masters book Jonestown.

At the start of his opinion piece Flint asked "WHY on earth was the ABC so foolish as to contemplate publishing a book on Alan Jones?". The very short answer is because the ABC some time ago set up a division called Enterprises which primarily makes its money from "re-purposing" ABC production material.

Typically this is audio and video reproductions of aired shows, but it is not unusual for it to run to books related to aired shows. Chris Masters undertook research for a Four Corners episode called Jonestown, and reached the unsurprising view that extending that research to a book was probably a profitable transaction.

For the Board to now take the commercial decision that there is too high a degree of unmanaged risk should not be read by partisans of either the left or the right as being a consequence of a change (in the political sense) of approach by the Board. The left should not read this as interference in editorial decisions - that would have been the case if the original Four Corners episode was not aired - but Enterprises has always been a strictly commercial division. But equally the right is wrong to see this as the Board stopping an attack on a right wing poster child.

But it was Flint's claim, repeated in the headline, that the ABC never goes after "lefties" that struck me. The night before I had been reading Graeme Freudenberg's "Cause for Power" which is the official history of the NSW Branch of the ALP. I had just read the section covering the Four Corners show "The Big League" and the repercussions for Neville Wran of that show. The show did uncover some significant corruption, it was just that the accusation about the Premier was untrue (this was, by the way, Chris Masters first story for Four Corners).

So on a sample of one, and admittedly twenty years ago, the core accusation is wrong.

But Flint has another gripe - that there are plenty of publishers for leftie books but not of the right. He somehow doesn't seem to understand the comment he quotes from a publisher that "only books from the Left sell and a book about them would not." Similarly, in book publishing the ABC is not attempting to be a voice for the otherwise unpublished, but a commercial venture.

But even then I'm not sure the premise is correct. The Freudenberg book is published by Pluto Press, a speciality left house. Flint found a publisher in Freedom Publishing who seems to play a similar role on the right.

Meanwhile, I'm perfectly happy that the ABC seems to be making perfectly sensible decisions, first to commission the book as an extension of the TV program and then to decide that the unmanaged financial risk in publishing was too great. A pity more private sector firms aren't as well managed.


Mick said...

You're perfectly happy? They threw a 100 grand advance at Masters (not recoverable) and then decided at the final hurdle that the manuscript wasn't fit for publication. Against all legal advice I might add. It was a clearcut case of board interference.

Masters is laughing all the way to the bank. The book will sell truckloads and he's nabbed himself two more-than-healthy advances for the same book.

We won't hear a peep from Jones I suspect. The last thing he wants is all his dirty laundry aired in the media. Here's hoping that some "shocking" revelations are revealed about his "alternative" lifestyle.

Calling someone gay these days isn't even considered defamatory. Masters should be safe.

David Havyatt said...

Mick - thanks for the fastest comment ever. I haven't seen the legal advice, and maybe you have, but even then advice is advice and it is still up to a Board or management to decide on the risk. And I've got to admit that in the current circumstances the financial risk may not have all been a consequence of potential legal action.

Further, there is also only speculation about what Flint has called "the filth the lawyers suspect". I doubt it is merely a statement of sexual orientation not only because it wouldn't be actionable, but also because I'd have thought saying Alan Kones is ga wouldn't meet the definition of "news". That is, if there is anything remotely approaching a story he might just have to fight.

An economist would tell you the $100K is already a sunk cost. Was it wrong to commission the book? I still think no - it fit the ABC's intent for enterprises and it would probably sell well. Should they publish merely because they commissioned it? No - it may be that the story isn't as interesting as first thought, or that simply the "facts" are too disputed to be relied on.