PANEL DISCUSSION – THE MEDIA: CONSUMER WATCHDOG, TRADER
ADVOCATE, OR SIMPLY SENSATION SEEKERS?
Facilitator: Allan Asher
…consumer watchdog, trader advocate, or simply sensation seekers or perhaps all three
and that the session is going to proceed in a similar way to the last one as to the beginning
of it where each of the panellists will make a short statement for 2 or 3 minutes but then
I’ll invite participants in the conference to raise issues, to ask questions or make
observations and again we’ll seek comment.
A quick introduction then. Bridie Smith, the Consumer affairs reporter from The Age,
Jodie White, Consumer presenter for Channel Nine’s The Today Show and also Managing
Director of Armore Service Development and we have Fred Brenchley who is a former
editor of the Australian Financial Review and a senior executive with Fairfax for many
years and still a correspondent for The Bulletin and you’ll see two stories I think in
today’s Bulletin from Fred, Financial Review, I’ve got it wrong again, and then Darren
Linton, a journalist from the Shepparton News and just by way of introduction I want to
read just a couple of small excerpts from a publication, the second reference today to John
Braithwaite, this one is a book that was published in the early 80s called The Impact of
Publicity on Corporate Offenders and it seems to me it just gives us a couple of useful
The first is a quote from quite a prominent US Supreme Judge many years ago where he
said “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants. Electric light the most efficient policeman” and
that was a phrase that was used so often in the context of the development of Freedom of
Information laws and things and then also another observation that “what happens within
Governments and Corporations is usually so shrouded in fog that the glare of public
scrutiny is quickly reduced to a bare flicker”. Another quote that might inspire some
thought is this one from Joseph Pulitzer. He said “There’s not a crime, there’s not a
dodge, there’s not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by
secrecy. Get these things out in the open. Describe them. Attack them. Ridicule them in
the Press and sooner or later public opinion will sweep them away. Publicity may not be
the only thing that is needed, but it is the one thing without which all other agencies will
fail”. Then just to put a slightly different context on publicity, this was from a Court case
in the United States. It was part of the litigation surrounding Ford Pinto where one State
had bought action for reckless homicide against the Ford Corporation and the case had
lost. The prosecution failed and yet the very, very widespread public perception was that
Ford had been found guilty and one report said this: “Adverse publicity is something of a
loose cannon. It’s exact impact cannot be reliably estimated nor is it controllable so that
only the guilty are affected. Here the recent Ford Pinto case supplies a paradigm.
Although acquitted Ford’s ability to market the Pinto has obviously been impaired. The
impact of reduced sales or the termination of a product line once again falls
disproportionately on workers at the bottom end of the hierarchy. If we’re willing to bear
these costs as sometimes we must, it seems easier to rely on early cash fines in preference
to wholly unpredictable impacts of the legal and media stigma”.
So there are a range of thought starters. I’d like to invite each of our panellists to give a
bit of a view from your perspective, what you think your role in the protection or
promotion of the interests of consumers in Victoria are.
I’m Bridie, I’m consumer affairs reporter with The Age and I’ve been there since October
last year. I guess I don’t really think of myself as a protector as such, I’m a
communicator, so I think I act as a filter. I get a lot of things coming across my desk
which are in jargon and not probably designed for the everyday person so my role, I
think, especially in consumer affairs, is to interpret it and present it to the people so the
largest possible number can understand and relate to it and I think with consumer affairs
that’s vital because it’s an enormous industry, it applies to everything we do and I think if
people are aware of their rights and where they stand they’re more likely to defend their
rights and act on them.
Okay, so not a protector and interpreter. What’s next.
I’m Jodie, hello everyone. I’m the consumer presenter for Channel 9’s Today Show and
I’m an informer and a communicator too. I’m wearing a couple of hats today because I’m
in the private sector as well and I’ve had a Customer Service Consultancy for nearly 12
years actually running out of Sydney, but we’re a National concern. The type of things
that, look I really need to get out a bit more and see somebody, but I’ve been studying
consumer behaviour and patterns for a long time on the global scale because it’s
incredible how quickly they change and how slowly industry catches up with them and
I’m just finding that certainly in the last five years there have been a tremendous amount
of changes out there that we’re not supporting well in industry.
Now with the media hat on there, I should have worn perhaps a thicker jacket today as
I’m sure that we’ve had some interesting comments. I’d like to thank Graham for his
ACA comment previously, I don’t know if he’s still here. The media in my role, TV, it’s
a very, very powerful medium as you’re well aware. Some people love us because we
give them credit and we assist them and some people hate us because they say one thing, I
was having a chat with Vivienne earlier today, in fact we’d only met for 5 minutes and I
was very, very frightened of her. She’d been misquoted by ACA and I was trying to tell
her that really I had nothing to do with it and leave me alone! But it’s interesting because
I think that the media does have a responsibility because of the power it does have, but I
think you can use that to your advantage quite effectively.
I’m in a position at the moment, although I’m the consumer presenter for Today for
Channel 9, obviously it can offer consumer issues to other programs in Channel 9, but I
have recently been in touch with Fox as well as ABC Drive Time because I don’t believe
that currently there are enough forums to launch consumer issues and to meet the required
audiences. Breakfast TV, regardless if you’re a Sunrise person or a Today person, is only
one forum. ACA is another one. A lot of people use radio whilst they’re in their vehicles
so there’s a number of areas that we can get out there and communicate the message
further. Currently I don’t think we’re doing it well and I think it is complicated and it
needs to be unravelled so that it can be effective to a number of people in a number of
Well if you think you’ve got your problems – at one point in my career I used to work on
Hinch so we believed in name and shame, shame, shame, so and I still believe in it
actually! In fact I’m here to provide a bit of regional perspective. I’ve always, despite
spending most of my working life in Melbourne and overseas, I’ve always described
myself as a country boy and I’ve finally made the commitment and gone back there and
undergone what they call up in Shepparton a tree-change.
So from a regional perspective I rang around a few editors actually to ask them a little bit
about naming and shaming. One editor did say to me I think it’s great, can I get one a
week and preferably on a Tuesday night late, so it doesn’t get on the TV and we can have
it in Wednesday morning. But you forget things when you’ve been away from the
country for a long time and you go back to a regional community and live back in it. You
start to remember some of the things that you’d forgotten and David is well aware we had
a compliance operation in Shepparton late last year.
A nice release came out from Minister flagging the fact that the good guys were riding
into town with their white hats on and they were going to round up all the rogue traders
and they were going to be going to motor car dealers and traders and retail outlets and all
sorts of other things. There wasn’t a great deal of response to that, but then the following
week when they had in fact were getting towards the end of the operation, they had, in
fact, seized some banned toys and things that had been on sale in town and had a nice
front page with “Deadly Toys Seized”, you know, which was terrific. It continued on and
on about page four was a bit of stuff about motor car traders and a number had been
visited and a number had been done for not keeping their books up to date and so forth.
Fairly vague stuff. Next day four motor car traders rang up wanting to know why they
hadn’t named the traders that they’d caught because they remembered three days earlier
we’d had a story in the paper talking about rogue traders and they were worried that
someone might’ve seen the Inspectors on their premises, it might’ve been a relative or
one of their neighbours or someone from their Rotary Club, and if that had happened then
the word was going to be spread around town that they were rogue traders. Of course
most were pretty responsible businessmen and openly admitted that a couple of them they
did have problems in their books, but it was more a case of being lazy rather than being a
I think these new changes offer a lot of opportunity for Consumer Affairs Victoria. I
think, Jodie’s right, that there is not enough forums, there have been in the past, but there
aren’t enough forums for a serious discussion about consumer laws. Having worked in
current affairs and I know network television at that level is certainly all about having a
victim, having a rogue to chase and hopefully at some point through it, having a
confrontation. It requires powerful images and strong emotions to get a run, so a serious
debate or education is very difficult in that context, but certainly that’s not something the
regional media struggles with. In fact one of the things we do struggle with is copy, so,
and the staff to put it together! So I think you’ll find that the regional media generally is
open to taking on that role of helping with education of the community. I think you’ll
find the regional media see themselves as being a part of their community as well as an
organ that informs them so they’re absolutely willing to take on those sorts of educational
Well Fred, are you a sensation seeker?
Well first of all I’m Fred Benchley and I’ve been an editor over many years and I wrote
the recent book on Allan Fels and the ACCC, so I’d like to address my remarks more
from the regulatory side than the consumer side in relation to the media.
The media is certainly there to be used and exploited shamelessly if you like, but it takes
works, at least initially, to get the cudos of how to use it. I can recall years ago being
buttonholed by Allan Fels. He was then Head of the Trade Practices Commission and he
badgered me to take an interest in book prices and Allan called it rounding up the usual
suspects of journalists who might take an interest in a particular issue and I’m sure you
can recall Allan in those earlier days. He was always holding Press Conferences outside
bookstores, supermarkets, petrol stations and so on to highlight prices and consumer
issues. It didn’t take long before the media realised that this academic regulator, who
didn’t, mind you, come across as some instant media star, was pretty good value. In fact
he had good stories. Fels himself tells a very interesting yarn about how the penny
dropped for him in relation to using the media. He called two Press Conferences in one
day and the first was wearing his hat as the Commissioner of Trade Practices and he was
going to unveil the Commission’s future planning. One journalist turned up. Later that
day he called another Press Conference wearing his other hat as Head of the Prices
Justification Tribunal and it was on the withdrawal of one and two cent coins. The room
was packed because the media likes those hip-pocket nerve stories.
So if you’re a regulator or you’ve got consumer interest in mind, what are the keys to
media success? First, be available. Make sure you put telephone and telephone contact
numbers on every Press Release. Return the calls personally. Don’t leave it up to a PR
person. Work up a line or two for short radio and television grabs and it doesn’t matter
how many times you repeat those grabs, you get your message across. Second have
something to say. The media, and particularly the tabloid press and television, like the
thrill of the chase as some of my colleagues have been saying. Investigations,
prosecutions are all great meat. Overpricing was good in Fels’ day and with Allan Asher
here leading the charge on prosecution followed by Sitesh Bhojani, they are all good fun
but these days the game has changed a bit because many of the high prices, particularly in
issues like petrol and so on, are here to stay.
There’s a whole new world out there for people who want to use media in relation to
consumer issues. The internet. Issues of a click-wrap contracts. Mobile telephones have
been discussed very much today. Property scams. Bank fees. I note recent press stories
about charging for internet banking. Dare I mention again the book prices which has got
to come again. There’s no shortage around of solid consumer affair. Take the looming
issue of contracts and fees for choice in superannuation funds – a very big issue for
Third, gauge your market. Try to get a feel of how the media works. For instance The
Sun Pictorial here or The Daily Telegraph in Sydney is not very much interested in
Section 46 of the Trade Practices Act on market power, but they do like tabloid stories.
They like price ripoffs. You get interest papers like the AFR or The Australian on big
features in consumer issues and schedule television conferences for the 6 pm News, that
means by early afternoon at the latest. If you’re in business be open with the media don’t
cover-up and you’ve always got to remember that the first lesson of Watergate was that it
was not the break-in that sunk Richard Nixon, it was the cover-up.
So why is the media important in relation to consumer affairs? For starters it’s a
fundamental duty of any consumer regulation or Minister for that matter to keep
consumers informed, but for regulators strong media exposure can be a shield against the
best interests in this game. It says mess with me at your peril. Media exposure says to
the market that you’re a regulator who is savvy and whose agency must be taken
For politicians of course the media can achieve very different aims, for instance re-
election. It’s always amazed me that a highly unlikely media star could emerge like Allan
Fels. You’d think he’d be seen in a cardigan, sitting behind his beaurecratic desk in
Canberra with the regulation square of carpet on the floor, yet in a very few years this guy
was voted the third most powerful person in Australia and co-opted into the Sydney
society’s “A” list. Now it was media exposure that largely catapulted Fels into that
position. Fels just didn’t garner media power on the way through, he won enormous
public respect and trust, not only for himself, but in the ACCC as the consumer guardian.
So when the Howard Government came to power and they wanted to introduce a GST
they had to find someone to sell this new tax. Who did that select? Fels. They simply
exploited Fels’ trust with the public, the trust he’d built up over many years of dealing
with consumer affairs. No politician I know of today would campaign for a new tax and
say to consumers trust me, but Fels did and it worked.
Since Fels’ departure almost two years ago it has not been, or rather there has been a very
big gap in consumer media profile. There has not been another Fels. No regulator, no
politician, has been prepared to pick up the mantle. Apparently no-one in Australia in
consumer protection wants to be voted the third most powerful person in the land behind
the Prime Minister or the Treasurer. So despite the recent focus on competition policy,
for consumerism there is still a very big void out there waiting to be filled and you can do
it if you use the media properly.
Let’s open this up in a slightly different way. It’s pretty uncontroversial that you would
expect wide and critical media coverage when there’s a major prosecution that succeeds
against a corporation, where there are dangerous products and there’s been some
determination that a product is hazardous, perhaps it’s already caused a lot of harm, or
where a trader is subject to an adverse finding by Court. That’s one set of issues. What
about, though, where a matter is just being filed so it’s simply that the legal processes are
starting against a company or allegations are made. I just wonder if we could get each of
the panellists, again starting with Bridie, to comment upon whether you see any ethical or
practical or personal problems in running stories about allegations rather than findings of
fact by a Tribunal.
Well obviously we do have to be very careful. Anyone in the profession has been through
a pretty hardy media law course so you’re going to be very careful with what you report
when something has been listed, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a story to tell, so it’s going to
be different, you’re going to handle it at the beginning one way and at the end another
when it’s all been resolved, but I think we do need to address stories from the beginning
and get people interest early and you have to be very careful with the way you do it, but
you also have to work hard to sell it and make it interesting.
[Mobile phone ringing]
There’s some terrible ring tones out there!
I could talk about the ring tones and the scams about those if you like!
I don’t actually report on those types of things so I’m not really in a position to talk about
the legal aspects of it, but from sensationalism I think that that’s something that, it’s
consumer-bred. A lot of people turn around and say oh the media’s just into
sensationalism. Anything they can grab. But who watches it and who breeds it, so I
don’t know whether it’s the chicken that came before the egg or what’s happened there,
but I think that what needs to happen from consumer issues is to take the sensationalism
away so that you’re not seeing sort of journalists chasing after car with camera to get the
final shot of, you know, the real estate game or whatever it was that was played and I
think one of my objectives in my position is to create some credible two-way
conversations and negotiation fields where people can have a say and it’s not about
proving an end point, it’s about being open in discussion and I personally don’t believe
that we have an opportunity, whether it’s from a legislative or regulative point of view, or
whether it’s general consumer issues so that’s hence, my ambition.
Yeah when you talk about allegations, we report allegations every day. I mean anything
that comes before a Tribunal or a Court is effectively a set of allegations and a set of
responses. I mean lawyers have made a career, some of them, out of making available
documents on the day they’re lodged with Courts. I mean they contain nothing but their
case and the allegations that they will make before the Court and, you know, media
organisations report them frequently. I think there’s perhaps a lack of follow-up with the
organisation and I guess following on from the operation you had in Shepparton, that I
hadn’t heard any more about it. Now we don’t have a, we’re not overwhelmed with staff,
so we’re not always able to chase these things up. I know WorkCover, for instance, is
another organisation, are very proactive in the way that they promote the action or the
agreements that they enter into with people. If something’s listed to come up in Seymour
Magistrates’ Court they will ring any interested media organisation and let them know.
They take that sort of proactive approach to making sure that not only the operations
make the news, but also the follow-up to it and any enforcement that takes place so I
guess it’s a bit of justice being seen to be done.
Allan I’m in the business of getting it out there in the sense that if I’m charged in the
Victorian Court with a criminal offence my name will be listed, the charge will be read
out, tough luck Fred. If I’m caught by the Victorian Consumer Affairs and my name
could equally be read out – tough luck Fred.
Okay. Let’s invite then some questions or comments. It’s been a controversial issue over
many years, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission managed quite often
to, the story often became one about advance publicity rather than sometimes the
underlying facts and that in a little while I’ll ask Sitesh Bhojani to give a quick comment
on what a couple of Court cases have held about this issue of advance publicity. I want to
invite though, especially if you’re from a trade association or if you’ve been adversely
affected and unfairly, you feel, by the media, to raise some points. Also if you can think
of roles that the media could play where they haven’t or where they have and you’d like
to point that out, well feel free to do that too. So if you’d like to raise some points for
either the whole panel or individuals on the panel.
[Note – speaker from floor very soft and parts of question/comment inaudible]
Enzo Raimondo again. My question is actually to Jodie and to Fred because in five and a
half years I haven’t had too many problems with The Age – they’re quite good and I
haven’t heard much about the Shep News, so I’m sorry, but ??? Herald Sun, a couple of
others, use one or two halfwits regularly to give the other side of the picture when they’re
talking about real estate and, you know, there might be a typically biased advocate who
has a way of just promoting himself by saying this is what’s happening in the industry and
so the paper ??? because that person says it’s happening. The same with A Current
Affair, a particular advocate, calls himself a Real Estate Educator and Consumer
Advocate, but he’s a halfwit ??? and again he gets all the publicity.
He speaks very highly of you!
I’m sure he does. My question is really why do you go to this pool of, well very small
pool of people just to make a story more interesting?
Fred I’m scare – you go first!
Yes I grant you dealing with halfwits is a problem! I’ll turn the question around. If you
think that’s a problem you should be out there convincing the media that you are a
genuine spokesman and that these people are, in your terms, halfwits and then it falls on
you and not the media. So the media can ring up lots of people and they’ll get in the
Press. The media can’t say that these people are not in a sense genuine spokespeople or
whatever if they pretend to be. It’s up to you to sell your case.
Our case is not as sensational and it’s probably true that people don’t probably want to
hear that, they just want to make sure that, ??? needs to be embellished and sometimes it
is embellished a bit too much ???
Well let’s see if we can explore that a little bit further. Is it the case in your experience,
and you might want to pick up the broader question too, Jodie, that good news,
compliance business, all of that is no news or is it only the case that stories are available
where there’s some controversy that depicts business in a bad light?
Just a couple of things. I wish we could do IQ tests because it would make my job a lot
easier too, but we can’t, but essentially the issue is that sensationalism sells. It’s unlikely
that you’re going to read a book because you’re not interested in it, you know, unless
you’re a student. You know what I mean? It’s just you just tend to do things, you watch
TV programs because you’re intrigued or you’re fascinated, that’s why SitComs are so
successful and you tune in every week to watch your favourite program. It’s about a
couple of things. One is about being educated and these days entertained. Now with all
due respect and I think I have to support Fred’s comment there that you are within your
rights as anybody else to pick up that telephone and honestly I would, I’m putting my
hand up, if you have something you believe you are a full wit and have a high IQ, please
call me because I’d like to deal with you and, you know, we’ll put you on the telly and
we’ll get the story out, so.
Can I also just say as well with Enzo’s point that often what you’re delivering in the
media has either been heard before and it’s correct and not particularly controversial. I
guess think about as well how you deliver it and who your audience is, so if you’re going
to go for TV, I don’t know, maybe go and lie in a ditch on a building site. I don’t know,
but like something that’s going to get people’s attention when they flick it on on the
News, even if your message is not as controversial as your counterpart’s try and, yeah,
just catch our attention. I think, I mean in a Newsroom there’s heaps of people in there.
Everyone in there has a particularly short attention span so you want to catch them and
you want to catch them quickly and in a novel way.
I was going to say, just in relation to what is reported, I mean I just happened to be sitting
on the table with one of the representatives from one of the hire companies that has
actually voluntarily gone ahead and changed and taken about 2,000 words out of their
contracts and he was saying that that, for them, is terrific news because it’s made their
contracts simpler, they’ve made it, by all accounts, fairer and they’ll be using that as a
marketing and promotion tool and a way of encouraging people to use their business
per se, we’re better than everyone else. We did it voluntarily and we’re fairer. Now that,
for them, is a great story and yes it’s a great marketing tool. Is it a story for us? Probably
not, but at the same time I think that’s where the roles differ and the regulator is there to
regulate and to educate and that’s your role. Our role is different to that. We’re not there
to do those things, nor are we there to promote the good deeds of others. We have a
vested interest in protecting our readers, our viewers, but nothing more than that and we
also have a vested interest in entertaining and being read or watched.
Understand the Press reflects human nature. When, for a few years, I was editing The
Financial Review in Sydney and I had to write the poster which goes outside of a
newsagent, there were two words that our sales people showed really picked up sales.
One was sex and one was tax. Now John Howard this week, for instance, he’s got good
news in tax in one hit so there’s no problem there with good news, he’s got in on the front
pages. It’s really a sense of you working up good news stories which fit into human
nature stories and you can do it, it’s not hard.
Might get Sitesh just to quickly comment on the two Federal Court cases where this issue
of advance publicity became important matters in various trials.
Thanks Allan. Yes, there were a couple of cases in which the Commission was alleged to
have acted unfairly because it had issued Press Releases when it launched the proceedings
and no findings had been made and so the companies, Q Design in South Australia and
Nissan company were complaining bitterly about the unfair publicity that they got from
the prosecutor. Now a couple of things that have emerged out of all this is that one, a
recognition by the Courts that justice is public. We don’t all have the opportunity to go to
Court every day to sit in the Courts to find out what’s actually going through the Courts,
that they are open Courts and justice is public. So the Courts are relying on the power
members and their colleagues to inform the community and in the modern-day society
that’s how we find out what happens in our Courts.
Just as Fred was saying if someone is charged with murder you’ll have their names
flashed all across the paper and you’ll know about it and you’re entitled to be in that
Courtroom to hear what actually happens. Every single word of evidence that’s being put
in. You don’t have the time for that so we rely on the journalists and what the Courts
have said in those two Court cases is that what the regulator does is absolutely right,
provided that at that stage the Press Release from the prosecutor or the regulatory agency,
is showing restrained tone and is factual. It’s there to assist our panel members, i.e. the
journalists, to get the story right because without a moderately worded, accurate Press
Release the Courts have said that there’s a real chance that they might muck it up in the
Courtroom and not get all the evidence, not hear all the evidence. They’re sitting there or
standing at the back of the Courtroom trying to decipher what a Barrister facing in the
other direction is saying to the Judge ??? you might not hear them, so how do they find
out what the accurate version is? Well if the regulator issues an appropriately worded
Press Release, that is something that the Courts condone.
Can I just ask a question to all three of them? Except for Jodie because Jodie’s indicated
that she’s looking at trying to get a story out, but we’ve got regional press, we’ve got
State press in The Age, The Shepparton News and the National press, The AFR. One thing
that I haven’t heard that I’d love to hear an answer to is the difference between news
stories, the shock horror of a Court case that’s been launched and a feature story on a
particular topic. For example, people being ripped off in purchasing homes, miracle
cures, all those sorts of things. What sort of decision making processes do paper go
through in deciding whether or not to run feature stories on consumer affairs type issues?
Right Sitesh. They’re two different things. I mean newspapers rely on early general
news up front, what’s happening, sex and taxes as you might say, and then there’s heaps
of pages and there’s usually a Features Editor. Again it’s up to you to try and interest the
Features Editor if you want a good piece on real estate pricing or whatever might be in
talking about it, and writing about it. It’s not impossible. The process is by selection
around a newspaper, there’s usually a news conference two or three times a day and
they’ll decide on what’s happening that day and what the longer term features in these
issues that they should be getting their teeth into.
But can I just turn the argument back to you first point and Allan Asher’s point about a
trial by media. I get a bit tired of this argument, I really do, because it’s the first
argument that a lot of business people throw up in, you know, damned ACCC, they’ve
done this or Victorian Consumer Affairs have done that and some trial by media. If you
look at an institution like the ACCC it has one Press Officer whose a Government-paid
Press Officer, I’d suppose she’d be on a salary, I don’t know, pick a figure $100,000 a
year say and I think she’s got an assistant two or three times a week or something like that
and there’s a group of Commissioners who go around and make speeches and addresses
and so on. If you look at business, there are serious ranks of Public Relations people
whose jobs mostly are to keep the names of those businesses out of the newspaper except
when it’s a good news story, who’ve got every opportunity to get up and sell their case
and market their case and they don’t do it. The first thing they do is just throw muck. It’s
trial by media. They don’t try and sell their case so I’m sorry, I’ve got no time for the
argument about trial by media.
I think Fred summed up the features one pretty well. One thing I would say though about
releases and I know the ACCC doesn’t do it, so that’s fine. When you put out your
releases, don’t put them out through the Minister’s Office. It triples the likelihood of it
going in the bin without somebody reading it!
I guess we’ll be able to test that. In all the packets there’s a release from the Minister’s
Could you just expand on that a little bit Darren? Why is that?
Oh it’s true, yeah, look, perhaps building on the comments from the Head of VCAT
earlier that the umpire has to be independent, I think the regulator ought to be
independent as well and I know you’re beholden to a Minister, but at the same time
you’re there to represent, as you say, the most vulnerable people in the community, so
represent them and do it as an organisation. I don’t know what rules are put in place for
things to be released by the Minister, but, yeah, I think it takes the gloss off some of the
things that you do and makes them less likely to get a run if they’re not presented as by
the organisation protecting the rights of the consumer. That they look like they’re a puff
piece for a politician.
Well thanks for that Darren and as part of the bonus to all participants, during the
reception afterwards, all of the Consumer Affairs Victoria staff are going to get together
and draw straws to see whose the one that’s going to tell the Minister that she’s not going
to put out releases anymore!
Any other comments on those issues from the panel? If not I wonder if we could ask the
panel if you ever feel that you’ve been set up by a law enforcement body or a public body
in its press and whether you feel that you’ve been used in a way that might have damaged
the reputation or interests unfairly of a trader. Anybody want to comment on that issue?
Can’t say I’ve had that experience.
No I don’t think I have.
Probably not sort of in that situation, but I think that being in this position that you all
have bosses, it’s like any other business, you know, I have a producer and I can be sort of
beside myself with excitement about a story that I think everyone would love to hear and
I race in there with all this glee and vigour for the person to turn around and say oh no,
we’re not going to run that and they want to carve it in half and then chop it up again. So
I think sometimes that even though one, I’m not sure if I’m speaking for all of us or for
just myself, but I think sometimes we really want to get out there and do the right thing
and we’re often held up along the way which is beyond our control so sometimes we talk
to people and we assure them that that’s what we’re going to talk about and that’s the
message we want to get across and unfortunately it doesn’t always come out that way so
it’s kind of, there’s a lot of ventriloquism, I think, out there if you like and certainly in my
position as a presenter, so if I’m not synched it’s because my voice isn’t in line with my
Well there is one illustration Allan over recent times that I think is worth talking about
and that is that ACCC and other consumer regulatory agencies have got to be careful to
deliver what they talk about. We’ve seen from Canberra recently a lot of talk from the
ACCC about very stiff action against cartels and there’s going to be people in gaol and so
on and so forth; a lot of talk, no action and I think that the media is just getting to a stage
now where everyone is very suspicious about those statements coming out from the
ACCC and it’s something that I think regulatory have got to be very careful about.
Okay. A quick perspective from Europe is that the regulators are hugely media shy and
it’s a great surprise to me that there are so many opportunities, especially with big cartels
and product safety issues and things like that and there’s some cultural or legal, or at least
practical difference between regulators and enforcers in Australia who tended far more to
use the media than in Europe. In the US of course they’ve taken it to often extreme forms
with the so-called Perp Walk where when people are arrested, they’ll call the media to
come and show people being dragged out of their beds and all that sort of thing, so there
are interesting cultural differences of that sort.
Now we’ve pretty well run out of time and I just want to summarise a couple of points
that seem to me to have come out of just this little discussion about the actual or potential
role of the media in consumer protection and because I heard several people during the
day say that we need to have messages that are very simple and as few syllables as
possible, I thought I would try and string as many together as I could, all starting with “e”
so that they might be more memorable and educating is a role that is an important one and
we see a lot of, but perhaps not enough. Elucidating on aspects of the law and new
policies and enforcement. Empowering is a role that the media has played hugely in
Australia, even some of those dreadful Derryn Hinch programs probably have contributed
to people doing things who might otherwise not have, woeful though some of them are
and were. Enlivening is another issue and I have to say many of us heard some
presentations today from people with a huge amount of knowledge and legal
presentations and you’ve even had to suffer through me 1½ times and yet we do need to
sometimes realise that the language that we speak at conferences and things is just totally
irrelevant to large numbers of members of the public and that there’s a need to use that
lens of simplicity in getting messages through in a clear way. Encouraging is another role
as I see it. Engaging, exposing and as I think somebody said, it may have been Jodie,
entertaining. They’re all things that are done more or less and it’s open, I think, the
challenge from the panel was to traders as well that it’s also open to you to find creative
ways of getting your message across but, as for me, the final point.
One more “e” word!
Yes – exit! Exit stage left. Well I was going to put it in a slightly different way and say
that our time now has exhausted and we need to finish, but if we could finish with some
thanks, please, for the panel.
The lesson there is never cross the media. Well done Darren. Look it’s been a very long
day and so I’m not going to attempt to summarise today other than to thank everyone for
attending and just urging you, if you wouldn’t mind, we’ve got some little evaluation
sheets in the packs I think, those green sheets, if you wouldn’t mind filling those in, that
would be helpful. The conference proceedings will be available on the CAV Website,
www.consumer.vic.gov.au. I would like to just say, though, a special thanks for all the
speakers – The Minister, Peter Hiland, Sitesh Bhojani, Justice Stuart Morris, Allan Asher,
Elizabeth Lanyon, Allan Fels who was a bit of a ring-in but we enjoyed what Allan had to
say and also particularly I think the panellists in the last session after afternoon tea –
Graham Chalker, Vivienne Atkinson, Mike Lotzof, Enzo Raimondo, David Russell,
Bridie Smith, Jodie White, Fred Brenchley and Darren Linton. So I think today has been
a tremendous get together of a whole lot of people who have a significant role in relation
to our enforcement compliance activities with the Fair Trading Act so I thank you all for
attending and participating and just to close off the proceedings we will be having just
drinks so if people would like to stay for a little while and mingle, please do that. Thank
[End of Recording]