THERE are plenty in racing who believe that controversial commentator Steve Moran was sacked as morning host at Melbourne Racing Radio station Sport 927 because he refused to ‘suck up and survive.’

Despite the ‘lame excuses’ of station management, one suspects that Moran paid the price for going into bat on behalf of the punting public against some high profile identities, including Tabcorp boss, Robert Nason and millionaire owner, Lloyd Williams.

Those responsible for showing Moran the door only days before Christmas apparently didn’t have the balls to deal with him personally or to front the racing public. They left it to Sport 927 Program Director, Steve Cairns, to offer a feeble excuse for his shock dismissal.

The explanation that the Moran dismissal was in keeping with the station’s policy of improving the network in an ever-changing media landscape sounds like a heap of hog-wash to me.

Cairns described Moran as ‘a fine person – excellent for the station’ but added: “We are having a change of direction here at 927 and (he) was not going to fit that change.

“Steve has worked for us for a long time in different roles and has hosted the morning show for just on four years but we must change to hopefully stay at the front of a rapidly changing environment.”

Translated into ‘racing speak’ that really means: “We want someone who won’t rock the boat, criticize anyone important or ask any probing questions.”

It seems pretty obvious that there is no room at Sport 927 for a racing host with an interviewing style that asks probing or controversial questions or heaven forbid offers objective criticism of a stance being taken by a high profile official or identity that might affect those who keep racing going – the punters.

Moran is one of the few racing media commentators prepared to fight for the rights of the punting public – regardless of who he upsets. Here are a couple of examples which have led yours truly to believe that his sacking was more than coincidental. You be the judge.

Punters throughout the country should have a quiet drink on Thursday night – not just to welcome in a new decade but to celebrate the departure of Robert Nason from his position as Tabcorp’s Managing Director of Wagering.

Nason upset a legion of punters throughout the country with comments he made during an interview with Moran on Sport 927 recently. You can’t blame the punting public for feeling he might be better suited to a new role with Telstra, whose questionable treatment of customers has been well documented.

The interview that Nason did with Moran was universally described as a ‘public relations disaster’ for Tabcorp. He was far from happy with Moran for daring to criticize him and Tabcorp, and then made small punters feel as though they didn’t matter.

It came in an answer to questions from Moran on costs involved in the ‘new racing revolution’ that Sky Channel has promised in its television coverage in the New Year.

We all thought the idea of providing Sky Channel free of charge, as part of the Pay-TV package, was to ensure its availability to those viewers who might not otherwise be interested in watching racing or having a bet.

It was seen as a vehicle to promote the racing industry and increase betting turnover by attracting interest from those who are not regular punters or thoroughbred enthusiasts.

An interview that started so well on Sport 927 ended just as badly for Nason, who was understandably keen to talk-up the new product but won few friends in the battling punting fraternity with his handling of questions on how important they are to the overall racing picture and why charges have to be imposed on them and can’t be absorbed by TAB profits.

If only Nason had stuck to his original message: ‘There will be a charge’ – ‘It’s not our charge but will be part of the pricing packages to be announced by the Pay-TV providers’ – and best of all – ‘What we are intending to do is subsidize that cost for any customer who bets with Tabcorp, initially at no cost at all.’

Instead he got hot under the collar and fired this gem at Moran: “WE HAVE TO END THIS ‘FREE RIDING’ THAT IS GOING ON WITH PUNTERS. We cannot continue to maintain unprofitable services in an environment of multiple providers.

“We have to maintain services that give us a return. I think that is a reasonable position for us to take. SKY CHANNEL CAN NO LONGER BE PROVIDED FOR FREE. It has to be on a user-pays basis.”

Nason became more incensed when Moran suggested that this was all about privatization of the TAB and making profit. “I am sure your customers will be disappointed at having to pay for the expanded Sky Channel service,’ Moran said. “Surely if the TAB benefits from income generated by the punters, they are entitled to be subsidized to some degree?”

Nason replied: “It has absolutely nothing to do with privatization. If it was a racing industry owned wagering operator they would be taking the same action.”

Moran also took Nason to task on behalf of small punters that he said felt disenfranchised by not being able to place a telephone bet late in the evening on the Moonee Valley night races.

“We have tiers of customers – gold, silver and platinum that can ring after 9pm and that service is still available. It is the lower value calls we get after 9pm that are unprofitable for us to open the Call Centre and offer the service after that time. There is migration to other forms of betting. We have suffered not a single dollar of degradation of turnover as a result,” Nason argued.

Moran replied: “I am talking about customers who don’t have a high profile and who bet in smaller amounts.”

Nason: “Again I have to say I don’t see any complaints coming to us. I don’t see people such as yourself making it known that Betfair has lifted their limits to $20. It seems to me that you particularly like to focus on Tabcorp rather than the positive things we are doing to reform wagering. It is up to you, but I ask that you put a bit of balance into that.”

Moran: “It is a perfectly legitimate question. I can show you the e-mails that I have received.”

THE dust had hardly settled on the Nason interview when Moran found himself at the centre of another controversy – this time with multi-millionaire owner, Lloyd Williams, over legitimate observations he made on TVN.

The historic hat-trick of wins by Zipping in the Group 2 Sandown Classic was unfortunately soured by the refusal of the Williams stable to talk with TVN after the race.

Williams reportedly banned new trainer Robert Hickmott and jockey Michael Rodd from interviews after Moran made an off-the-cuff remark that upset him earlier in the day.

“The only ones that are suffering are the punters who invest the money that enable races like this to be run,” Moran said. “It is absolutely ridiculous that they are not allowing their new trainer to talk with the media.”

Hickmott had only taken over the training duties for the Williams team following the departure of John Sadler, who allegedly was fed up with interference from millionaire owner, Lloyd and his son, Nick.

Rodd, who produced a daring ride win on Zipping, was visibly embarrassed but was forced to abide by the owner’s wishes and snub the TVN crew.

Williams ordered his team not to talk to TVN after he listened to the Moran’s wrap of the opening race win by Tintern. It was the first win for new trainer Rob Hickmott who, like William’s trainers before him, is not free to speak to the media.

Williams told Rod Nicholson of the Herald-Sun: “Steve Moran went into a tirade and said it was a disgrace that TVN could not talk to the new trainer.

“I am sick to death of him. I am over him. He has been having a go at me for eight years.

“I have spent 50 years putting into racing and I don't have to sit here and listen to that.

“The trainer is an employee. I have 60 employees at Mt Macedon and another 60 at Flemington, and I am the chairman. That's the way it is - and either Nick or I make the statements.

“It is not a traditional stable. End of story.”

BEFORE someone throws their toys out of the cot and lawyers up we are not suggesting that either Williams or Nason personally took behind-the-scenes action that led to the sacking of Moran. But there are plenty in the industry who believe that both incidents contributed to his demise.

Unfortunately, it promotes what we have said all along – the best way of being hailed ‘a respected commentator in the racing media’ is to ‘suck up and survive.’

The response and ‘smart arse’ comments made by some of the handbag throwers at Sky in the wake of the Williams-Moran blow-up on Sandown Classic Day was finger down the throat stuff - which makes the suggestion that Andrew Bensley is one of the favorites to take over the Moran slot at Sport 927 even more repulsive to many in the industry.

Taking nothing away from the ability of Bensley – who does a terrific job chasing the news – he is firmly entrenched with Sky and has his big head firmly planted in Lloyd Williams’ backside as anyone who hears his reports will testify.

Then again in this supposed ‘change of direction’ that 927 is headed, Bensley probably fits the bill perfectly. There is little risk of him asking too many probing questions.

As for Moran, he should be watching his back at TVN – as should a lot of others with the handbag throwers set to dominate what we watch on racing TV in the next decade. Good help the poor stay-at-home punter!

The reason TVN is so much more popular than Sky is because they don’t ram opinions down our throats and don’t stifle constructive criticism on certain issues because industry stakeholders under fire pay the bills to keep the station afloat.

That is why the majority of punters wants to watch Dr Turf on the Valley night racing coverage on TVN and can’t wait to switch off some of the boring, over-bearing morons that hold centre stage at Sky. ‘Doc’ doesn’t care who he upsets and wins plenty of friends with his no-nonsense approach to all matters that affect the punting public.

It’s not a healthy situation if racing journalists and commentators have to watch what they write or say because they are employed by organizations that they might be criticizing. There is a major conflict of interest involved.

You only have to look at Radio TAB in Queensland. You aren’t likely to hear too much criticism of UNiTAB or Queensland Racing with Bob Bentley chairman of QR and on the TAB Board.

Steve Hewlett is one of the best morning hosts of a racing show in the country but the story goes is consistently under pressure for trying to do his job. At least he tries, which is more than can be said for some of his colleagues.

Hewlett apparently paid the price for voicing opposition to a merger of Brisbane’s two big clubs – which has proved a colossal flop in the eyes of many in the industry. He lost his job running a punters’ club which was super successful.

Having seen many victims of this ‘suck up and survive mentality’ that still exists in the racing media in some states, I feel very strongly on the issue. It reminds me of the time when someone I know well was covering harness racing. In the political system that existed in Queensland back then it was impossible to survive.

When he was writing what those running the show wanted he was winning awards for ‘best writer’ and ‘story of the year.’ When he started to question the actions of some of those at the top, along with their business and political mates, the job as he knew it changed forever.

His position was threatened. It became impossible to do his job properly. Eventually he was removed and replaced by a colleague who wrote what they wanted. The Editor responsible for his demise was being wined and dined in committee rooms by those who wanted him out. They did him a big favor. He used to fight for coverage for the ‘red hots.’ Now it gets next to none.

It probably is extremely unfair comparing working in the racing media in Queensland with that of Victoria, where up until now things appear to have run smoothly. Queensland is different in racing and the racing media to anywhere else in the world – and remains that way to this day.

Only in the Deep North would you have a situation where you could be hauled before newspaper management for daring to criticize a Racing Minister from a political party that eventually proved to be the most corrupt Australia has seen.

When the Racing Minister’s private trainer belted another stable driver in a track-side restaurant because he beat him home when he wasn’t supposed to in a race, you were expected to turn a blind eye to it and so was everyone else. If you didn’t write anything about it – who was going to?

The stewards were entitled to feel intimidated. What were the police going to do? He was the Police Minister as well. And then you had newspaper management telling you that because you were doing your job the Premier had threatened to withdraw Government advertising.

Racing in Queensland has been politicized for too long. We had the forgetful era where the ‘goat riders’ ran the show, then the disgraceful situation earlier this decade when political forces took control of the industry and destroyed the lives of so many good people. We are told things have changed – but have they?

Not a lot survive working in the racing media in Queensland. It’s a closed shop run by a select few. You dare not rock the boat. But for those who have moved on – or been forced out – working in the Rainbow State only better prepared them for what lay ahead in the ‘real’ racing world.

For my friends and I – well we earn our keep as form analysts and run a not-for-profit web-site as a hobby to help promote the many good aspects of racing and some wonderful people that are involved throughout the country. We also use it as a tool to keep the bastards honest.

And guess what? They can threaten, intimidate and make all the complaints that they like. These days we aren’t answerable to no-talent newspaper editors that can be corrupted. We’re not for sale, we won’t be bought, we’re here to stay and we don’t have to ‘suck up to survive.’



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