In the hot seat ... Matt Moran.
It is reasonable to expect that chef/restaurateur Matt Moran will give us an extraordinary experience when we visit Aria, eat his Peking duck consommé and roasted barramundi fillet, and part with a chunk of money. It is reasonable to expect that television personality Matt Moran will sparkle and amuse us in his role as a judge on MasterChef. But what should we expect of Matt Moran when he throws out a comment on Twitter?
It’s a question that was explored on ABC’s Media Watch on Monday night: someone had leaked an email to the program revealing that the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) had been recruiting celebrities with high numbers of followers on Twitter to talk up Kangaroo Island — $750+GST per positive tweet. The email, apparently sent from a publicist to his/her celebrity client, read: “…they [SATC] don’t want the tweet to appear endorsed rather an organic mention injecting your own personality into the tweet.”
The tourism body effectively confirmed to Media Watch that Matt Moran was one of three celebrities to have received money for extolling the virtues of the island on Twitter (the other two were singer Shannon Noll and television presenter Sophie Falkiner).
On March 28, Moran tweeted to his 20,000-plus followers:
As Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes remarked: “The point is, there's no way their fans can know that those tweets were paid for. Isn't that like radio hosts making comments in exchange for secret cash?” At 10.17pm on April 23, about two hours after Media Watch aired, and in what clearly was a response to the program, Moran tweeted:
I spoke to Moran yesterday and the first words out of his mouth were “no comment”. Then, “I can’t tell you a word, no comment.” But he did go on to reveal a little more: “There’s been some horrible nasty stuff,” he said of the feedback he has received since the program. Perhaps he’s referring to comments like this one, from @HannahDesouza on Twitter at 10.49pm on April 23: “@chefmattmoran LIES you got paid $750 for the mention...it was on mediawatch along with @NOLLSIE and @SophieFalkiner #kangarooisland."
And this one from The Australian’s John Lethlean, in a comment on Mumbrella: “It’s simple. The next time Matt Moran tweets his enthusiasm for something I’ll just assume it was neither spontaneous nor genuine, but rather a service for a fee.” Or this comment from “Stephen” on the Media Watch site: “Only 4 characters out of the 140 are needed, simply place *ad* at the start. No problem if it's declared, it's the deception that leaves a bad taste.” “Unethical”, “dirty”, “dishonest” and “payola” were a few of the other words I saw online to describe the tweets-for-cash issue.
“I’m horrified by what’s been said. I’m just ignoring it,” said Moran, adding that he couldn’t say whether he’d been paid to tweet about the island or not. “There’s very good reason why I can’t. I’d love to be able to tell the truth, but I can’t. I can’t defend myself.”
Let me take a wild guess about the reasons Moran has gone quiet on the subject of Kangaroo Island: In a media release on April 2, Network Ten confirmed that the SATC was a new “partner” of the network and would be working with this year’s MasterChef.
Last weekend, MasterChef filmed on the island, just off South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. “On the eve of the KI Seafood Feastival, Kangaroo Island has played host to celebrity chefs from the blockbuster reality television show Masterchef,” reported local newspaper KI Islander. “They were spotted filming at a property on the North Coast, Clifford’s Honey Farm and other locations, by keen-eyed residents.”
I called Clifford’s Honey yesterday to see how the MasterChef visit went. “When I came home the family was still hyped up,” Jenny Clifford told me, adding that her husband had pulled some frames of honey out of the hives to show the MasterChef contestants. “They had a great time.” (Jenny, a woman whose honey ice-cream is said to be addictive, couldn’t be around for the filming as she had a prior commitment — she was off playing bowls.)
As I discovered last May when I went behind the scenes of MasterChef for an article, the show’s producers are fanatical about secrecy. I was required to sign a confidentiality agreement; hosts, contestants and crew I interviewed constantly self-censored lest they reveal something they weren’t meant to.
Moran’s contract undoubtedly includes the most stringent confidentiality terms — both to safeguard the surprise-value of episodes and also to protect the interests of show sponsors like the SATC. That’s why Matt Moran now can’t say a word in his own defence.
We could, given what we know, give him the benefit of the doubt: perhaps he wasn’t paid $750+GST to tweet glowing stuff about the island. Perhaps the terms of the SATC-MasterChef commercial agreement dictate that one or more of the show’s judges are required to talk up the island/South Australia in a range of forums including Twitter? (I’ve not been able to find anything to suggest that Messrs Preston, Calombaris or Mehigan have done so; @TourismSA — please feel free to clarify.) Perhaps Moran has become the show’s whipping boy?
And, really, is it any different from Matt Preston mopping up a mess in the MasterChef kitchen with Handee Ultra wipes? Or contestants piling into a fleet of Mitsubishi people movers?
Yes, I think it is different. Product placement in a commercial juggernaut of a program, often followed by an ad for that product, is one thing. What might seem, on the face of it, to be a throw-away line to your 20,000-plus followers on a social media site is quite another.
I should add that Moran is not the only chef whose tweets need to be treated with some skepticism. Earlier this year, My Kitchen Rules’ Pete Evans announced a “partnership” (don’t you love it when that friendly, cuddly word is used to describe a commercial transaction?) with SumoSalad. I’ll let you be the judge of whether his tweets on March 9 and April 13 make it clear that he takes a pay cheque from the chain:
Evans might argue that his website lists which companies he has commercial arrangements with (“partners” SumoSalad, Range Rover, Breville, Jacob’s Creek Reserve, Baccarat). But how many people who saw a tweet from @PeteEvansChef mentioning SumoSalad decided to head to his website to find out what commercial arrangement might explain that tweet? I’d guess none. I’d guess that, mostly, we take at face value what we see in that information-saturated space called Twitter. Who has time to do anything else?
It is reasonable to expect that when an influencer such as Matt Moran tells us something on Twitter, we can trust that it’s an honestly held view and be confident that there’s no deal behind it. But all that said, you have been warned.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter: StephanieAWood1