There’s an old aphorism, been kicking around forever, that goes, ‘Money talks.’
No it doesn’t. Not any more.
It subtly infers; it seductively hints; it innocently implies.
But it doesn’t talk; at least, not directly.
Take this – imaginary – conversation between, say, a mining magnate who’s just bought a slice of a media company, and one of its editors. It takes place at a get-to-know-you, morning tea. Completely informal. You know, the sort of thing they organise so new owners can size up their just acquired executives.
The magnate sips her tea. ”Of course,” she says, with just a hint of a smile, “I’m new to the business, but one thing I do know is that journalistic balance is critically important.”
A Keatingesque shiver passes down the editor’s spine. He’s been here before. “Indeed, Ma’am.”
“Are we balanced, do you think?”
“I believe so, Ma’am.”
The magnate lays a plump hand on the editor’s elbow, a hint of disarming intimacy. “I suppose so. And yet.. well, take - oh, I don’t know - global warming, for example. Do we tell both sides of that story?”
“We work hard to explain the science, Ma’am”
“Of course you do.” She – the magnate – looks at the platters and touches her chin with an elegantly manicured finger as she decides. She reaches for a second scone repleat with jam and clotted cream.
“I was just thinking” she murmurs, “my dear friends Ian Plimer and Lord Monkton could really help in that noble task of educating our readership; getting their thinking right; ensuring that our reporting is absolutely balanced. As it must be.”
The magnate giggles; a monumental occurrence. The editor involuntarily steps backwards. “But what would I know?” she continues. “Silly me. I’m sure you’re doing a perfectly wonderful job. You mustn’t take the slightest bit of notice of my ramblings.”
Now that the editor is a shade further away from her, she’s able to look him up and down. She does so, smiling all the while, as she chews and then swallows.
“Tell me about you,” she says, once again moving close to her
prey, sorry, subordinate. “About working here.’
And there, while the editor desperately searches for a safe yet not humiliating reply, we shall leave the now less than happy couple. At least, less than happy from the editor’s point of view.
Later, both the magnate and the editor will swear on oath before a Royal Commission into our nation’s media ownership - and they will be entirely justified in doing so - that at no time, ever, had the board discussed editorial decisions.
Indeed, as they made clear in their respective statements, the directors constantly emphasized the need for fair and balanced journalism.
The reality is that such conversations take place on a daily basis. They are of course far less banal and vastly more subtle; sometimes so subtle that a bystander might not even have noticed.
The participating underlings do though.
Because, as I said earlier, money doesn’t talk.
It doesn’t have to.
But the message is sent and received just the same.