The ABC’s Anne Summers advertorial

The ABC’s Anne Summers advertorial

by Tony Thomas

December 18, 2012

Of all the Left Luvvies milling around the ABC, Anne Summers is queen.[i] Really, there should be a postage stamp in her honor.[ii] She has now launched an e-zine (web-exclusive magazine) called Anne Summers Reports, and Radio National Media Report has given her a fawning interview about it.

Good luck to her magazine, I say, since it’s professionally done by quite a team of writers and editorial workers. The magazine is free and so far the staff and writers have done their work gratis.

Radio National appears to think that because this e-zine is free, it’s like the Children’s Hospital or Save the Whales, and can be touted on-air courtesy of taxpayers. Google and my local Moonee Valley Leader newspaper are also free but hardly non-commercial. The Radio National interview turned grubbier by the minute as Summers and presenter Richard Aedy combined to rattle the tin at listeners for donations to her venture. I wonder what controls exist as to how Summers can spend the money presumably pouring in, thanks to the ABC. (Not on long editorial lunches, I hope). Summers also invited advertiser-listeners to rock up with their cheque books.

The transcript spells out the spruik for free money:

Aedy: The key question is how you are going to pay for it. You have said it is always going to be free. You need to have some money coming in or it is going to fall over very quickly.

Summers: … I don’t think anyone’s ability to read it should be dependent on their income. I hope people with income might support it by making donations …The funding model is I want to build up the subscriber base and I will use that base to demonstrate that there is an appetite for this publication. I am not averse to advertising, the right sort of advertising certainly would be willing to entertain that, but essentially I am going to be doing what President Obama did in the political sphere, ask a lot of people for a little bit of money.

Aedy: How urgently do you need it? The first issue is out, the next issue is out at the end of January. Do you need money to come in to put that issue out?

Summers: I certainly do. Money is coming in. I have been absolutely thrilled to the extent people are sending in hundred dollar donations, some even greater than that, and more of that we can get [the] more certain the future of the magazine is. So we hope a person who maybe can afford $100 or $1000 or $10,000 would like to support us going forward.

Aedy: That is ambitious last phrase, $10,000?

Summers: I don’t think so.

Aedy: You think someone will really put a hand in their pocket and say “Here is $10,000, Anne”?

Summers: I am hopeful there will be some high net worth individuals who think it worthwhile to put in much larger sums than that. I am very hopeful of that.

Aedy: And as I have said to everyone starting a new journalistic venture this year, good luck! That is Anne Summers, starting something new. You will find a link to Anne Summers Reports at our website, just go abc.net.au/radionational.

Thus Aedy directs readers to her website, where Summers’ Paypal button awaits.

Aedy and Summers were so persuasive that, as a high net worth individual myself, I emailed Summers, hinting at one of those $10,000-plus personal donations.

I wrote that I had heard her e-zine “advertised” on Radio National and expressed a longing for a spot on her e-zine’s advisory board.

Within minutes Summers was in email touch about my “most welcome offer”. However, pranks have become controversial lately, so I didn’t follow up and will decently draw a veil over her reply.

Aedy’s interview was as soft as the tummy of my puppy spaniel, Natasha. Here’s a sample:

Aedy: Why do this? You are successful author, journalist, you are a well known commentator now.It is going to be difficult. It is going to be stressful and it could well end in failure. Why put yourself through it?

Anne naturally plugs her e-zine accordingly:

I am using my name as I hope my name is associated with good writing, good reporting, good investigative journalism. These are some of the qualities you will see and some of the features of the magazine…I see myself first and foremost as someone who reports and is very good at getting the facts on something…the tag-line of the magazine is “sane factual relevant”, this is a magazine and will not campaign in a hysterical way that some of the daily papers and magazines are doing…”

And so on and so forth. It turns out that she had written a big profile on David Gonski, financial wiz who did the report for Julia Gillard on education funding. Princess Summers then had a “very severe dispute” with the editor who received the piece, over his desired changes. This decided her to self-publish it in a vehicle of her own, Anne Summers Reports.

It’s a good profile of Gonski, but the subject per se is vitiated by Gillard’s vagueness about funding the billion-dollar changes and Gillard’s ludicrous ambition to have Australia’s schools in the world’s “top five by 2025”. (The reality, exposed last week, is that Australia’s Year 4 reading skill has fallen to the world’s 27th, behind places like Croatia and Bulgaria, and not much ahead of Romania).

In both the interview and the e-zine Summers rabbits on about her famous “Newcastle speech”, which details sexist and obscene comments about Gillard that can be found (surprise!) on the internet. The speech is called “Her Rights at Work: the Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister (2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture)”. The essay paints Gillard as besieged by rude bloggers and subject to workplace harassment in her routine job as PM.

Gillard is actually Australia’s most powerful individual (maybe she could legislate for her detractors to be hanged), but this power somehow escaped Summers’ notice. She also forgets that conservative champions are also subjected to R-rated insults from the left blogosphere.

Summers is shocked that anyone should even refer to Gillard as “she”:

“There is a similar lack of respect in the way the federal Opposition constantly just uses the female pronoun to refer to the prime minister. Tony Abbott is a serial offender – constantly referring just to “she” or “her” in his press appearances – but he is not the only one.”

More to the point, if you study the Newcastle speech, you find an awkward paragraph:

Another friend told me about an encounter his mother, whom he describes as “quietly spoken and conservative-looking”, had at a medical office in Albury when she went to submit a form for her latest MRI. The man behind the counter said to her, unprovoked: “I’ll send it off to the red-haired bitch”.

What went on there was that Summers had three “friends” each of whom told her a horror story of front-line staff in businesses gratuitously bagging Gillard to them, e.g. as “a lying c—“ (Darwin taxi-driver); a “bitch” (Sydney flower stall-holder) and “red-haired bitch” (to a friend’s “quietly-spoken and conservative-looking” mother who had fronted at the counter of Medibank Private in Albury for MRI forms).

Summers subsequently had to append this backdown, in tiny type:

Note: an earlier version of this speech stated that this incident occurred at the Medibank Private offices in Albury. I have since discovered that this is not the case. I made the mistake in good faith, acting on information provided by a friend that he believed to be correct. However, having been alerted to the error, I have corrected it and apologise unreservedly to Medibank Private and especially the staff at the Albury offices.

To rephrase Summers, she was told third-hand that someone in Medibank Private, Albury, was telling random customers that Julia is a red-haired bitch, and Summers, with no further check whatsoever, printed the alleged incident as fact. Forced to grovel to Medibank, she then shifted the goalposts and claimed the slander occurred at “a medical office in Albury”. Did she interview the “friend’s mother” and cross-check with the “medical office” allegedly involved? Which medical office was it, anyway? Few small firms are so recklessly offensive to clients. Summers doesn’t say. The possibility that her other friends had also mis-remembered, still hasn’t crossed her mind.

Her earlier piece involving a 6800-word profile sliming Andrew Bolt had been rapidly followed by a similar grovel. She had written:

[David] Marr accepted Bolt’s apology and his assurance he had not seen the [homophobic] posts. What Bolt did not disclose was that the person who was moderating the blog and past whom these comments had “snuck” was his wife, Sally Morrell…

The Monthly’s editor then inserted:

[Sally Morrell has assured the Monthly that she had no part in moderating the blog posts that referred to David Marr and Annabel Crabb. The Monthly accepts that assurance and apologises to her for any embarrassment in saying that she did.]

These grovels do not exactly conform to Summers’ self-image: “I hope my name is associated with good writing, good reporting, good investigative journalism.”

There is a further sub-text here: The Monthly editor, Ben Naparstek, originally commissioned Jana Wendt to do the Bolt profile. Mid-way through Wendt’s exercise, Naparstek allegedly replaced Wendt with Summers, creating the impression among some that he wanted a hatchet job rather than the straight profile that Wendt was planning. Naparstek denies such motive for the switch and neither Bolt not Wendt would comment.

Summers’ piece certainly was a hatchet job: she had an ex-belly dancer/girlfriend of Bolt from 30 years back dishing the dirt on her ex-lover, for example. Summers even pointed out that Bolt’s mother-to-be, Margarethe, spent her pre-teen years in Aalsmeer, “notorious for having had a Nazi mayor during World War 11.” (Margarethe died of cancer in 1983). Heaven knows how Summers would deal with a profile subject XXX whose mother, say, grew up in wartime Berlin. Perhaps: “XXX’s mother was raised in an apartment in Berlin, within proximity, by pram or on foot, to Hitler’s bunker.”

Summers had been excoriating Bolt over the homophobic comment about Marr posted on Bolt’s blog by a third party. The moderator failed to notice and snip it. Bolt, alerted, immediately apologized to Marr and readers. Compare that episode with the fact that for more than a year, Summers has allowed this third-party post to remain on her own blog:

Jhondarc
October 18th, 2011 at 2:59 pm • Reply
I knew Andrew [Bolt]’s father in the 1980s. He was a quiet, gentle and respectful man with progressive views, so I doubt any Nazi connection. He of course must wonder, as I do, how he produced a son who is so very much the opposite of him.

I suggest Summers do a similar (further) grovel to the Bolt household over that post, before the Bolts’ lawyers get wind of it.

Let’s now return to the Radio National interview. Admittedly, it’s in a regular program about the media, but because of its crawling tone, seems to violate the ABC’s 2011 rules about endorsing commercial products:

12.4 Do not state or imply that the ABC endorses any commercial organisation, 
product or service.[iv]

Earlier ABC guidelines (2005) were more detailed and explicit. I don’t know if they still apply but they should:

15.2.2 Publicity for individuals, organisations or products should not be given, and the presentation of identifiable or clearly labelled brand products or services should be avoided. For example, contact details or repeated references to the trading name must not be broadcast or published, nor the place where goods or services may be purchased. [Aedy said, “ You will find a link to Anne Summers Reports at our website”].

15.2.4 Marketing slogans and positioning statements should be avoided. [Summers trumpeted her branding “sane/ factual/ relevant”]

15.2.5 ABC presenters and announcers must avoid any endorsement of any commercial organisation, product or service by themselves, their guests or contributors in ABC broadcasts or on ABC Online. [Aedy promoted Summers, her e-zine and her fund-raising appeal]

15.9.1 “endorse”: shall mean ‘publicly advertise, promote, approve or support, whether for money or any other form of consideration or for no consideration’….“be involved in the endorsement of”: shall include interviewing people in segments which endorse a commercial product or service.

15.9.3 other than in exceptional circumstances, permission will not be given for regular ABC presenters or announcers to endorse (or be involved in any way in the endorsement of) non-ABC commercial products or services in the market place.[v]

I believe Quadrant is having some financial stringency. Could Aedy please have my Quadrant OnLine editor along as his next guest on Radio National Media Report, to give Quadrant a seven-minute puff, and launch a public appeal for donations to Quadrant?

Thanks Richard in anticipation.

(The audio and full transcript of the Aedy-Summers interview is available here.)

Tony Thomas is also keen to go on Radio National Media Report to solicit public donations for his various publishing ventures.

[i] Also, Summers’ personal partner, Chip Rolley, was appointed editor of the ABC’s blog The Drum on May 29, 2012.

[ii] My bad. I am informed there is such a stamp.

[iii] http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/mediadiary/index.php/theaustralian/comments/bolt_in_the_spotlight

[iv] http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/documents/20110408/EditorialPOL2011.pdf

[v] http://www.abc.net.au/corp/pubs/documents/edpol02.pdf

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