Correcting Fairfax gossip column

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At least journalists at The Australian called before they conducted their hatchet jobs the other day. Fairfax Media gossip columnist Joe Aston didn’t bother to pick up the phone for today’s knife job on yours truly.

Failing to call the subject of your insults before publishing is not just cowardice, it’s a matter of basic journalistic protocol. Journalists are required to make the phone call in order to allow their subjects to respond – and get the facts straight.

How wrong they are. Joe Aston from the Australian Financial Review claimed I “attended” Trinity Grammar School, where my father Rod West was once headmaster and Alex Malley once a student.

In fact, I didn’t attend Trinity at all. And the first time I met Alex Malley was at my father’s funeral last year.

A detailed rebuttal of Joe’s petty claims would be a waste of time. His entire coverage of the Alex Malley saga is tainted by the fact that Nine Network canned his TV show, Financial Review Sunday, two years ago and replaced it with In Conversation with Alex Malley.

Joe has been on a rampage of malice ever since. The Financial Review, whose show was jettisoned because it was not commercially viable, has published roughly 100 negative stories since then about Malley.

Before then, its coverage of CPA and Malley was positive. Since then, it has been relentlessly negative and in recent weeks the Murdoch press and the ABC have piled in as well.

The purpose of Joe’s story is to paint me as a stooge for Alex Malley because of this piece:

Witch hunt: The Fin’s crusade to destroy CPA boss Alex Malley

The purpose of the piece is hardly to defend Alex Malley. As pointed out, the CPA saga is a failure of disclosure, and Malley’s pay is over the top, as written.

The real point of the story, again as clearly written, is that there are far greater corporate abuses in this country, stories of far greater public import, which need to be investigated but are studiously avoided by the mainstream media.

Further to Joe’s “stooge thesis”, it should be noted that as a peak professional body for accountants CPA is very close to the Big Four accounting firms: PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY.

For the past five years this reporter has been the number one critic of the Big Four in this country and is in favour of their break up. You won’t hear a bad word about the Big Four in the AFR. It’s all “executive style” puff-pieces and roundtables.

Oligarchs of the Treasure Islands

The AFR has never disclosed its commercial relationships with CPA’s rival Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand. And where is the coverage of the chief executives of other peak bodies such as the Minerals Council of Australia, the Business Council of Australia, the Property Council, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA)?

The answer to this question is that the coverage of these organisations is there in the finance press all the time … in the guise of shuffled words from their endless stream of press releases. PR fluff.

The mainstream finance press has lost it. While the CPA has been running big surpluses under Alex Malley, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review have both been making losses. They are beholden to the big end of town and hardly try any more, except when there is a second-tier scalp to be had.

It is lily-livered and it is a sad abrogation of the duty of journalists and editors to hold power to account.

Then there is the hypocrisy. While flagellating Malley week-in week-out for being paid too much and failing to disclose his pay, Joe’s own boss, Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood, was secretly gifted millions in share options.

Fairfax: the bid and the bosses’ secret pay

  • Nick

    Michael, whilst I agree with the majority of your article and can’t speak to the motivations of the AFR or its journalist, I do disagree with your assertions that CPA Australia building up sizable surpluses is laudable. CPA Australia exists as a member services and professional standards organisation. Surpluses should be returned to members in increased services, not used to justify exorbitant salaries. Like most CPAs, I am committed to continuing professional development, unfortunately it isn’t economic to do it within my own representative organization.

    • Michael West

      Sounds fair Nick

  • Tim Buckley

    The AFR needs to step back and rethink its journalistic standards. For too long it has reported as “facts” the foreign funded lobbyists spin of the MCA, QRC and APPEA (lobbyists for the firms who in turn are the AFR’s major advertising sponsors?!), and let the IPA go under the radar while it sets the LNP agenda. The AFR should be doing a similar review to the CPA on the Big Four accounting firms (refer Nicholas Shaxson’s Treasure I$land) – a cartel critically worthy of journalistic review if our democracy is to survive as anything other than the domain of our billionaire overlords, who remain free to manipulate the laws the rest of Australia operates under.

    • Sandi Keane

      Couldn’t resist sharing this, Tim, on Twitter.

  • Daniel Cannan

    Your comment about CPA making surpluses is irrelevant, and how you (and Mr Malley) see this is laudable is ridiculous. It is a member based organisation – the members pay the fees that generate the surpluses. If anything, this makes Mr Malley’s behaviour WORSE. Rather than spending members money on promoting Mr Malley’s brand, the excess funds should be returned to members, by way of lower fees or spending for member benefit (lower cost PD, for example.)

    The Big 4 accounting firms almost exclusively put their graduates through the rival CA Program, rather than the CPA equivalent. Perhaps if the CPA are ‘very close’ to the Big 4, Mr Malley should be finding out why this is so, rather than interviewing the Fonz for mid Sunday morning TV.

    The tit-for-tat, lettuce leaves at ten paces between journos is entertaining, but at the core, Mr Malley has taken member money, allowed by an agreeable board, to promote his own brand. He is paid twice as much as the CEO of the more prestigious CAANZ. The directors have increased their own fees during Mr Malley’s time as CEO. It looks like they are feathering their own nests at the expense of the members. The AFR have pointed this out, and at the end of the day why they have chosen to take on CPA Australia doesn’t matter. The behaviour of Malley, Wade et al is indefensible, and they should go.

    • Michael West

      Agree on a lot of this Daniel. A few points though. Yes, the lettuce throwing between journalists is indulgent but I thought it was worth pointing out the story was wrong – especially as they dragged my late dear old dad into it. That was low, and getting it wrong while trying to make the case that I was corrupt.

      On the more important issues, yes, agree on NFP surplus issue. Also agree on pay and disclosure, as stated. This is more of an MSM media story – the sheer weight of stories is the point (while disregarding more important stories in the public interest), not the relevance of the debate on the central issues.

      On Big Four, yes CAANZ much closer but fact remains that CPA also represents their interests and mostly reflects their views – something I have been critical of in the past, that is, CPA calling for less disclosure in certain areas.

      I would say that CPA has won some members from CAANZ and via its successful offshore expansion has probably brought a lot more capital into this country. As for pay, the board determines pay and I’m yet to meet a person who didn’t want as much pay as they could get.

  • Peter Kay

    Spot the journalist.

    Michael West Stories:

    June Black money in Aust property
    May Gas Price rip off
    April Optus/Telstra Scams
    Mar Privatisation of public information
    Feb Multinational tax avoidance
    Jan Small business payments

    Joe Aston Stories:

    June Alex Malley
    May Alex Malley
    April Alex Malley
    Mar Alex Malley
    Feb Alex Malley

    • Sandi Keane

      Great comment Peter. Have just tweeted it out!

  • Leon Fitzgerald

    Victory at last.
    Alex is a goner.
    CPA = Cult of Personality of Alex
    (I might subscribe to this site if my comments didn’t get scrubbed).

    • Michael West

      Hi Leon, the comments disappear a bit. There is some kind of filter. Cheers