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Tuesday 9th of November 1999

Laws says 2UE did not ask for changes to format
By ANNE DAVIES, Sydney Morning Herald

Talkback host John Laws yesterday told the ''cash for comment'' inquiry that although 2UE had raised concerns in writing about allegations made on Media Watch, he was not told to change the format of his high-rating program.

Facing his third day in the witness box in the Australian Broadcasting Authority's inquiry into payments into the talkback radio industry, Laws said he had given his lawyer, Mr Gary Boyce of Hunt & Hunt, responsibility for trying to address 2UE's concerns.

"It was my understanding that their concerns were being allayed. It was a process," he said.

But Laws repeatedly told the ABA he had not been directed by anyone at 2UE to alter his show's format, either after the first Media Watch program in March 1998, or the second program in July 1999.

Laws had already told the inquiry that the 2UE chairman, Mr John Conde, had told him that a July 27, 1998, memo issued in the wake of the first Media Watch allegations, which banned the presentation of promotional material as news and embellishing, "did not necessarily apply to him".

Mr Conde, who is yet to give evidence, issued a statement a week ago strenuously denying the conversation.

But Laws's personal assistant, Ms Jodee Borgo, who is employed directly by Laws, yesterday corroborated Laws's version of events.

She told the ABA that when she saw the memo, she had drawn it to Laws's attention as soon as possible and told him it was serious.

A few days later Mr Conde called by Laws's office and the two had a meeting, she said.

After the meeting she asked Laws whether he had asked Mr Conde about the memo. According to Ms Borgo, Laws had replied: "Well, he said not to worry about it. It doesn't really concern me, it's more ..." and gestured down the corridor to Alan Jones's office.

Even after the dramatic revelations about Laws's contract with the Australian Bankers' Association this year, Laws agreed there had been no directions to change the show's format.

There had been lawyers' letters, including one warning that his contract would be terminated if he did not end certain sponsorship agreements, but no-one had told him to stop mentioning sponsors on air.

"So would it be accurate to say that you placed importance on what was said to you as being what was really meant rather than what was written to you?" one of the new panel members, Ms Kerrie Henderson, asked.

"Yes," Laws replied.

Asked by counsel assisting, Mr Julian Burnside, QC, whether he had been hung out to dry by 2UE, he replied: "If it is possible, I would like to continue to be loyal to John Conde.

"Consequently I find it difficult to answer the question, but could I answer that by saying I feel let down.

"Is that acceptable?"