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Video clip synopsis – The 'Cash for Comment' affair in 1999 showed Australian audiences how corrupt and corruptible commercial broadcasting can be.
Year of production - 2004
Duration - 1min 20sec
Tags - broadcasting, culture, current affairs programs, ethics, identity, media and society, media influence, media production, see all tags


Cash for comment

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About the Video Clip


This interview with Liz Jacka was recorded for the website From Wireless to Web, produced in 2005.

Liz Jacka is an Author and Professor in Communications Studies for the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. You can view her full biography at From Wireless to Web

The website is a selective history of broadcast media in Australia. Decade by decade, from radio and newsreels to TV and the internet, this history shows how the Australian broadcast media developed and shaped the way Australians see themselves.

From Wireless to Web is a Film Australia production in association with Roar Film.

Curriculum Focus


Area of study 3. Australian media organisations

This area of study focuses on an analysis of Australian media organisations and the social and industrial framework within which they operate.

Media products are produced within a cultural, aesthetic, legal, political, economic, institutional and historical framework. Their production, distribution and circulation is affected by law, self-regulatory codes of conduct, industry pressures and the practices of particular media organisations. Other factors (for example, sources of revenue, ratings, circulation, ownership and control) influence the nature and range of media texts produced by individual organisations. Consideration of the impact of these factors on media organisations and their products is important in developing an understanding of the production role of different Australian media organisations.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


In 1989 angry Germans took to the Berlin Wall with pickaxes and the 'old world order’ collapsed. Then the first Gulf War saturated the media, leading a parade of local conflicts from around the world into our homes during the 1990s. Globalisation became the buzzword and millions hooked up to the internet. Australians searched for a place in the ‘new world order’. Some embraced it, some turned 'green’ and adopted the slogan 'think global, act local’. Others simply turned off.

Cash For Comment
The ABC’s Media Watch, which commenced in 1989, has as its goal the investigation and exposure of media misdeeds and breaches of the codes of ethics which govern the media.

In July 1999 Media Watch broadcast allegations about a financial relationship between 2UE radio talk-show host John Laws and the Australian Bankers’ Association. Laws – a vocal critic of banks over many years – had begun to make positive on-air comments about banks. Media Watch suggested that Laws’ opinion had been 'bought’ by the Bankers’ Association.

Under the Broadcasting Services Act (1992), broadcasters must adhere to certain codes of practice. These include that 'in the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programs … viewpoints are not misrepresented and material is not presented in a misleading manner by giving wrong or improper emphasis, by editing out of context, or by withholding relevant available facts’. Also, 'advertisements broadcast by a licensee must not be presented as news programs or other programs’.

An ABA inquiry into the ‘Cash for Comment’ affair found that the existence of sponsorship contracts with two radio talkback hosts at 2UE – John Laws and Alan Jones – had not been disclosed. Laws and Jones were two of Australia’s most influential radio broadcasters who presented on-air as if they were serious journalists. In his defence, Laws claimed that he was not a journalist but an entertainer.

The scandal stirred old debates about the roles and responsibilities of the media to a society. Central to those debates is the notion that the media play a key role in forming what we think, how we think and what we think about.

Classroom Activities


Answer the following questions from the Video Clip Context and the video clip itself:

  1. Do you think is acceptable for a broadcaster to accept payment or sponsorship without declaring it to the public?
  2. Look at a typical current affairs show over at least three nights.
    1. Do you see any evidence of advertorials, free promotions for products or promotions for films or other shows on the network?
    2. Should these items be considered or included in a current affairs show?
  3. How do you think we can avoid another ‘cash for comment’ scandal in the future?

Further Resources


Go to From Wireless to Web for more about the history of broadcast media in Australia.

ABC TV Media Watch

Frontline (1994–1997). Produced and directed by Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner, Rob Sitch and Santo Cilauro.