Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Corrie Perkin and conflicts of interest

Corrie Perkin is a consummate media beast. Within the last five years, she has gone from broadsheet gossip/lifestyle columnist (“Critical Mass” in the Age, c 2000-2002), to head PR (aka “Communications and Audience Engagement”) at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), to arts journalist with a different broadsheet (the Australian), as from about May 2006.

Both her former recent positions – one entailing scattergun gossip-peddling, the other institutional depth and detail – have certainly been useful for her recent coverage of the property dispute between ex-partners Geoffrey Smith (a NGV curator) and art dealer Robert Gould, under the guise of serious arts journalism.

(In a stange twist, tabloid homophobe Karen Collier has also piggy-backed on Perkin’s stories here and here)

Despite her professed core concern in the Smith/Gould story being conflicts of interest (as opposed to Collier's "Pooftahs!!!"-type motivations), Perkin has not seen fit to disclose her very recent, and senior, stint with the NGV at any stage. (Formally disclosing her earlier provenance as a gossip conduit would seem redundant, in comparison.)

Perkin’s conflict of interest here runs both deep and wide. Her time at the NGV coincided with the downfall of Melbourne businessman Steve Vizard. Vizard, NGV trustees’ president between 1998 and May 2004, was embroiled in a complex insider-trading and tax-avoidance-and-art scandal between 2002 and 2005. At the start of this, Vizard was the innocent victim of a thieving bookkeeper, but by 2005, many serious question-marks hung over Vizard’s art-and-tax dealings, and now look set to do so forever, following a shambolic resolution of sorts last year. (This “resolution” resulted in Vizard getting a slap on the wrist for insider-trading, while the tax-avoidance-and-art issues just dropped from the radar).

While Perkin was careful, during the time their respective NGV roles overlapped (i.e. 2003 - May 2004) to never appear to be in Vizard’s pocket, there is a strong likelihood that she was closely involved with the commissioning and fruition of at least two journalistically-unethical puff-pieces on Vizard between August 2003 and May 2004.

Just as the wind was changing on Vizard then, someone with “ins” at both Melbourne dailies was running a last-minute charm offensive:

Gabriella Coslovich, “The collector” Age August 7, 2003

John Ferguson, Herald Sun late-May 2004

Note many people would have “ins” across these two arch-rivals, but Corrie Perkin is one of them. She wrote for the Age until c. late 2002, and her brother Steve is sometime assistant features editor at the Herald Sun, and current sports journo there. As Crikey noted at the time, the John Ferguson Herald Sun story had extraordinary timing, incongruously running just days before Vizard’s official announcement of his quitting as president of the NGV’s Council of Trustees.

If you doubt the links here, consider this account by former AFR journo Adam Shand, who had Vizard pull out from an interview with him prior to the John Ferguson story running, even after the interview had physically started (penultimate URL also). Shand also notes the very different way the Age – the AFR’s stablemate – covered Vizard’s NGV resignation:

[Vizard said in an NGV media release that] he intended to spend more time with his family. The resignation had nothing to do with the ASIC investigation and he said he planned to retain all his other public roles. And the media bought it completely, The Age virtually reprinting the PR release from the NGV website.

Are you smelling Eau de Rodent sufficiently yet? If not, may I plead a specimen of Perkin’s own byline – a twisted, nasty, and nakedly-biased disgrace to journalism, even leaving aside her own conflict-of-interest issues.

Reading this piece one could be forgiven for getting the impression that the NGV – unlike the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of South Australia – does not have any conflict-of-interest policies. This is because Perkin takes the trouble to note, mid-story, that the latter trio “confirmed yesterday that their staff were aware of policies on conflicts of interest”. So what about the NGV – could it really, as Perkin surely implies, not be meeting the usual standards here? Actually, no, but a reader needs to persevere to the very last para – past two anonymous (but somehow authoritative) sources calling the Smith/Gould matter “reprehensible” and “a scandal" and even an unnamed “NGV insider” saying that NGV conflicts-of-interest were “a very murky area” – to get to the truth (still convoluted by Perkin even in the last para) that the NGV does have conflict-of-interest policies, just like its peers.

That Corrie Perkin, as a recent senior NGV employee, should well-know this, can also be noted. But such is almost beside the point, as is her lack of first-year-uni, basic journalist objectivity and ability to order information. In a career overlapping with the spectacular, if opaque and ill-resolved, downfall of Steve Vizard, Perkin evidently feels she is untouchable – as if by rummaging around in the small-time skeletons in others’ closets, she is closing the door even tighter on her own, voluminous closet.

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