Apple gags speaker for Melbourne user group meeting

David Braue
27 February, 2009
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Organisers of the 30-year-old Apple Users’ Society of Melbourne (AUSOM) are making alternative plans after intervention from Apple management prevented a scheduled appearance by Apple Store Chadstone manager James Johnson at AUSOM’s March 7 user group meeting.

Event organisers were expecting a strong turnout for the meeting – the first to be held in new premises at Chadstone Shopping Centre after an arrangement between AUSOM and the Melbourne PC User Group – after advertising the participation of Johnson, who manages the Apple Store that opened in Chadstone last September.

AUSOM president Dick Johnson said James Johnson told him the presentation had been OKed by Johnson’s supervisor early in February, but that permission was quickly revoked after Apple management became aware of an announcement of the meeting advertised by AUSOM and published at macworld.com.au this week.

Apple policy prevents Apple Store staff from speaking to the media and, presumably by extension, to other groups – so the confirmation that James Johnson would be speaking at the AUSOM meeting was seen as a significant coup. Also expected to attend were several Apple Genius and other store staff, who were going to hold an informal chat with members about their experiences working at the popular Apple Store.

It’s not clear whether retraction of the permission to speak came from Apple Australia or Apple management in the US, to which all Apple Stores report directly. However, two days after word about the meeting spread, AUSOM was informed that James Johnson would no longer be able to speak.

An Apple Australia spokesperson confirmed the retraction, but declined to elaborate on the reasons. Instead, she said, Apple was encouraging the members of AUSOM to come to the Apple Store – and brushed off suggestions Apple management had become concerned at the prospect of the store manager addressing AUSOM in an independent forum.

“‘Concerned’ is a strong word,” she explained. “When we heard the store manager was going to pop into the AUSOM meeting, we said ‘why are you going there?’ The greatest thing about the Apple Store is the experience, so we said ‘why not bring them into the store and show them around?’ There’s nothing in it at all.”

AUSOM has over 800 registered members, and the more than 150 attendees expected at the AUSOM meeting would not leave much room for other customers in the Chadstone store.

The spokesperson declined to confirm that James Johnson and the previously committed Apple staff would still be able to address the AUSOM members when they arrived at the store. However, she said, “they will be looked after, as all visitors to the Apple Store are looked after. We have a great experience in the store.”

AUSOM has made alternative arrangements for the March 7 meeting, but Dick Johnson is disappointed at the way events unfolded. Apple have “turned something which was pretty mild and a lift for everyone, into something that could be a big negative,” he says. “They could have been a bit less heavyhanded.”

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