«COMMERCIAL RADIO INQUIRY Report of the Australian Broadcasting Authority Hearing into Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Limited February 2000 Sydney ISBN 0 642 ...»
Mr Aveling subsequently proceeded to promote to the Bankers’ Association Council the idea of sponsoring key media opinion leaders to assist in the improvement of the banks’ image and also of sponsoring a John Laws radio project for the next year.
This was done through a series of letters and proposals of 24 May 1998,151 18 August 1998,152 8 October 1998,153 and 23 October 1998.154 In the 8 October paper Mr Aveling noted:
The objective is to reduce the negative comments about the banks by John Laws from the present average of four a week to nil; concurrently, to receive positive comments from Mr Laws (over and above the paid advertisements); and by doing so, to shift Australians’ perceptions of, and attitudes towards, banks.155 Independently, Mr Bob Miller (Managing Director of the advertising agency Australia Street Consulting Pty Limited; ‘Australia Street Consulting’) had initiated negotiations with Mr Stewart by phoning him on 24 September 1998 and inquiring whether the banks might wish to do some advertising using Mr Laws.156 Mr Miller was seeking to become the agent for the Bankers’ Association in an advertising arrangement on 2UE.157 Negotiations between the Bankers’ Association, Australia Street Consulting and 2UE continued throughout October, November and December158 and Mr Laws was kept informed about their progress by Mr Miller159 (through Mr Laws’ personal assistant, Ms Jodee Borgo).160 During the period in which negotiations were being conducted (22 October 1998) Mr Laws
read out a listener’s fax critical of the Commonwealth Bank and then shortly after said:
You know, I’m sure that Mr Murray is not a bad fellow I just think he could do with some good public relations people around him, that’s what you Commonwealth Bank people need.
You need good PR, that’s that the banks collectively need - they need a good bit of public relations, that’s where you seem to be lacking.161 On 4 November 1998, the idea of using the historical scripts written by Mr Stewart was raised in a meeting between Mr Aveling, Mr Stewart and Mr Miller.162 A further meeting between these three and Mr Laws occurred on 8 December 1998.163 On 23 December 1998, Mr Paul Bowd (2UE Agency Sales Manager, Sydney) met with Mr Stewart and Mr Miller.164 On 5 February 1999, Mr Aveling wrote to the Bankers’ Association Council165 and to nonmember retail banks,166 reporting that negotiations had been completed for a package (split between Mr Laws and 2UE) costing $1.35 million. The Bankers’ Association Council met BANK.0001.0053.
See also Transcript, Mr Aveling p. 56.
Transcript, Mr Stewart, p. 103; Transcript, Mr Miller, p. 580.
Transcript, Mr Miller, p. 569.
Transcript, Mr Aveling p. 65.
JL.0003.0626; JL.0003.0631; BANK.0001.0252; JL.0003.0632; BANK.0001.0254; BANK.0001.0256.
Transcript, 964; Ms Borgo is an employee of Mr Laws not 2UE.
Transcript, Mr Aveling, p. 61; Transcript, Mr Stewart, p. 107; Transcript, Mr Miller, p. 602.
Exhibit 6 para. 25; Transcript, Mr Stewart p. 162, Transcript, Mr Miller, p. 590.
on 10 February 1999 and approved the deal.167 The final terms were agreed to between Mr Stewart, Mr Miller and Mr Laws on 16 February 1999.168 Australia Street Consulting Pty Limited and 2UE A letter from Mr Miller to Mr Bowd on 19 February 1999 confirmed the ‘arrangements’ between Australia Street Consulting and Radio 2UE.169 They included a total of 150 live reads by Mr Laws over 40 weeks, each to be between 9.00 and 10.00 am on weekdays and to be broadcast over the 74 stations in the network. The rate was $4,717 per live read, totalling $707,550. The Bankers’ Association also received complimentary sponsorship on the ‘Best of Laws’ segment.170
Australia Street Consulting and the Bankers’ Association
The final written agreement between the Bankers’ Association and Australia Street Consulting was contained in a letter dated 22 February 1999. Australia Street Consulting was paid on the basis of its procuring and managing the services of Mr Laws. These services
♦ The recording of 150 advertising spots under the name ‘The Whole Story’. ‘The Whole Story’ would involve Mr Laws reading a short story about Australian history with a break in the middle in which Laws would tell listeners that ‘speaking of the whole story he had checked out the whole story on a particular banking issue of the moment and had been very interested to discover the whole story about the issue.’ After a 15-30 second dissertation, Mr Laws would revert to the historical story.171 ♦ The granting to very senior bank and Bankers’ Association executives the opportunity to discuss with him on-air ‘their side of the story’ on particular issues. 172 There was to be a total investment of up to $1.35 million by the Bankers’ Association.
Mr Laws was not, during the course of the agreement, to broadcast any advertisement that denigrated Australian banks or the Australian banking industry, and there was no obligation to pay Australia Street Consulting if the Bankers’ Association considered that Mr Laws had brought the reputation of its members into disrepute during 1999.173
Australia Street Consulting, Smith Smyth & Jones Pty Limited and Mr Laws
The final agreement was set out in a letter dated 25 February 1999. Mr Laws’ obligations included reviewing and making recommendations in respect of radio advertising scripts, and making recommendations to senior bank executives to be interviewed on-air to present ‘their BANK.0002.0323.
Transcript, Mr Stewart, p. 116.
BANK.0001.0008 (Emphasis in original).
side of the story’.174 Australia Street Consulting was to pay Smith Smyth & Jones Pty Limited175 a fee of $500,000 for its services, which were to commence on 1 March 1999.176 The letter noted that the agreement between Australia Street Consulting Pty Limited and the Bankers’ Association could be terminated if the Bankers’ Association believed that Mr Laws brought the reputation of members of the Bankers’ Association into disrepute in 1999.177 Broader Terms to the Agreements between Australia Street Consulting and the Bankers’ Association, and Australia Street Consulting, Smith Smyth & Jones Pty Limited and Mr Laws It seems that the terms of the agreements between Australia Street Consulting and the Bankers’ Association, and Australia Street Consulting, Smith Smyth & Jones Pty Limited and Mr Laws may have been wider than those expressed in the written documents. It appears that the agreements also included a regular practice of referring listener complaints to the Bankers’ Association or individual banks for their response, and Mr Laws, on at least some occasions, putting those responses to air.178 Termination of the Agreements On 19 July 1999 the Bankers’ Association Council decided to terminate its sponsorship agreement with Mr Laws through its contractual arrangements with Australia Street Consulting.179 The Bankers’ Association considered the implementation of the agreement to have been successful.180 The termination of the agreement resulted from the pressure of negative publicity resulting from the allegations raised on the ABC program ‘Media Watch’ on12 July 1999, and not from any dissatisfaction with the performance of Mr Laws.
Mr Laws’ On-Air Conduct On 18 February 1999, Mr Laws said on-air that he and Mr Miller had been discussing the need for Australians to understand more about their history.181 On 19 February 1999, Mr Aveling made a pre-arranged182 (and scripted) telephone call to Mr Laws on-air, referring JL.0003.0663.
Smith Smyth & Jones Pty Limited is a private company owned and controlled by Mr Laws, which is legally entitled to contract to provide the services of Mr Laws to third parties.
JL.0003.0663 BANK.0002.0446; BANK.0002.0499; Transcript, Mr John Laws p. 733; Transcript, Mr Aveling pp. 84, 90Transcript, Mr Miller, p. 585.
Transcript, Mr Aveling, pp. 60 and 85; Transcript, Mr Stewart, p. 119.
See Transcript, pp.605 (Mr Miller), 809 (Mr Mr Laws).
to Mr Laws’ comments on Australian history the previous day, and offering the banks as a sponsor for a history series.183 Between 1 March 1999 and 15 July 1999, Mr Laws performed live reads for the Bankers’ Association four times per week as part of the ‘Whole Story’ campaign. The segment involved Mr Laws reading a script about a historical event or character, written by Mr Stewart.184 Part way through the script, Mr Laws would break from the story and read a script provided by the Bankers’ Association, usually concerning a topical issue in banking.
The start of the Bankers’ Association script would sometimes, but not always, include a comment to the effect that ‘Australia’s banks think the whole story is very important’, ‘Australia’s banks want you to have the Whole Story’ or ‘Australia’s banks bring you The Whole Story’.
Response to Listener Complaints
On 17 February 1999, a caller on Mr Laws program complained about a mistake by Colonial State Bank. At the end of that call, Mr Laws moved straight into a conversation with Mr Simon Morgan, of Colonial State Bank, who apologised for the error and said that Colonial would investigate what had happened.185 On or around 2 March 1999, Mr Laws read on-air a fax from a listener, (‘Ken from Woollahra’). The fax complained about the time taken to do an electronic cash transfer or clear a bank cheque, and was apparently motivated by an incident involving Advance Bank and Westpac.186 A scripted response to the listener’s complaint was sent by Mr Stewart to Mr Laws on 4 March. According to Mr Stewart, the proposed response had been checked by both banks.187 On 8 March, Mr Laws followed up the listener’s complaint on air: the summary of his response indicates that, as proposed in the scripted response, Mr Laws described the banks involved as ‘very cooperative’ and suggested that the listener had not disclosed all the facts about the incident.188 On 7 April 1999, a caller on Mr Laws’ program complained about problems getting his workers’ compensation cheque cleared. The next day Mr Laws followed up this complaint on air, saying that the Commonwealth Bank had been ‘straight on the phone’. He also said that he had received a fax from Mr Brian Fitzgerald, of the Commonwealth Bank, saying that the bank has apologised and refunded the clearance fee.189 Mr Laws’ response on-air on 8 April followed a script prepared for him at 2UE. 190 On 16 April 1999, Ms Sue Curtis (an employee of ‘The John Laws Morning Show’) sent Mr Stewart several listener complaints about banks.191 On 22 and 29 April 1999, Mr Bryan BANK.0002.0321, BANK.0002.0331, BANK.0002.0332, BANK.0002.0333-0334, Transcript, Mr Aveling, p. 69; Transcript, Mr Laws, pp. 741-743. The idea for the call came from Mr Miller and the script was prepared by Mr Stewart (Transcript, Mr Aveling, p. 117, Transcript, Mr Miller, p. 604).
2UE staff were involved in receiving and passing on the scripts to Mr Laws: see BANK.0002.0371, BANK.0002.0396-0400.
Fitzgerald (Executive Manager, Group Corporate Relations, Commonwealth Bank) wrote to Mr Laws responding to several of these complaints.192 On 28 April 1999, Mr Laws either took a call from, or read out a fax by, a listener on-air who had a complaint about EFTPOS and electronic banking. Mr Laws regarded this as ‘the sort of thing I should be putting to the banks’.193 On 29 April, Mr Stewart sent a facsimile to Ms Curtis, indicating that the banks’ response was not ready yet, but enclosing a script in case Mr Laws needed it.194 A scripted response to the listener’s complaint was sent on 30 April.195 It appears that Mr Laws responded to this complaint on-air on 3 May.196 On 4 May 1999 Ms Curtis passed on to Mr Stewart a facsimile from a listener about bank fees and charges, noting that it had been read out on-air by Mr Laws that morning.197 On 4 May 1999 Mr Laws’ office received a script from Mr Stewart responding to the listener’s question.198 On 4 May 1999, Ms Susie Simmons (an employee of Mr Laws) wrote a memorandum to Mr Stewart about a man who had encountered problems getting money from a St George
Automatic Teller Machine.199 She outlined his problem and then wrote:
Can you sort this one out – ASAP please – we’d love to get an answer ‘on air’ as quickly as we can.
Mr Adam Cook (Manager Corporate Relations, St George Bank) wrote to Mr Mike Dalton (a producer of Mr Laws’ program), saying that St George was investigating but meanwhile had provided the man with the funds.200 On 17 June 1999, a caller was put to air on Mr Laws’ program, praising the Commonwealth Bank for its assistance in cashing a cheque.201 This segment was replayed on the ‘Best of Mr Laws’ on 25 June 1999.202 Attitude of the Bankers’ Association to the Performance of the Agreement In a speech to members of the Bankers’ Association, Mr Aveling made the following
For the benefit of the Major and Regional banks who are contributing to this commercial arrangement, may I say that in the three months this has been running, we’ve exceeded our expectations and objectives.
BANK.0002.0414 and BANK.0002.0418-0419; BANK.0002.0437-0438.
BANK.0002.0443-0444 & BANK.0002.0536-0537.
2UE.0033.0012-0014. The date on which it was sent by Mr Stewart is confirmed by the fax imprint.
Another imprint suggests it was sent on by Mr Laws’ office on 5 May.
In the absence of radio station management, let me also say that John is giving us much more time than we are paying for. What you heard was just one of the shorter messages.