Amanda Meade’s removal from The Australian’s Media section gossip column for calling Rupert Murdoch a “foreigner” was justified but also sends a message to Murdoch hacks not to criticise the boss.

The saga goes back to this item which led the Diary column last Thursday:

“Melbourne’s Herald Sun reported as a front-page lead last week that foreign investors were soon to own $1000 billion of assets formerly owned by Australians. Under the headline ‘Australia Sells Out’ Mathew Pinkney wrote, ‘Some of Australia’s best-known brands including Vegemite, Four ‘N’ Twenty Pies, Arnott’s Biscuits and Sherrin footballs are among those lost’. To that list Pinkney and his editor, Peter Blunden, could have added their own newspaper, the Herald Sun, owned by that well known foreigner Rupert Murdoch.”

Now Peter Blunden gets mightily annoyed at the regular attacks from the Sunday Age’s Spy columnist Lawrence Money who made exactly the same mistake in attacking Pinkney’s story in the following terms two weeks back:

Spy’s inaccurate attack on Hun foreign ownership piece

“Oh mercy, look what the shrieking tabloid Hun has revealed now! We are being taken over by wicked foreigners. Thursday’s front page pictured some of those that have been swallowed: Arnotts, Heinz, Bushells, Allens, IXL. But that’s odd, they’ve missed the daddy of ’em all: News Corp. You know, the sharemarket giant owned by American Rupert Murdoch, the former Aussie. Publisher of the Hun.”

The problem is that the table on page 4 of the Herald Sun report under the headline “Our leading foreign-owned companies”, features News Corporation third out of 21. There is even a great big News Corp logo. Doesn’t anyone read the spill of the splash any more? Mr Money and Ms Meade should email their apoligies to [email protected] and [email protected] If you want to ask for a copy of these apologies, try [email protected] and [email protected]

All good gossip columnists know that they possess a poison pen and should correct mistakes when they are made. But instead of righting his wrong in his most recent column, Mr Money has opted for another churlish attack on the Herald Sun over some harmless cadet lecture material which suggested journalists drink a lot in sentences to demonstrate appropriate grammar. Isn’t there any real gossip happening in Melbourne and when are Australian journalists going to start correcting their errors before the first legal threat turns up?

So Amanda Meade and Lawrence Money both attacked Pinkey and the Herald Sun without bothering to read the spill of the story and discovering that News Corp was mentioned. If you wanted to attack the piece, the only glaring errors were that David Jones was listed as foreign owned when it is not and worldwide direct foreign investment was claimed to be only $3.76 billion in 1990. Otherwise, it was a worthwhile exercise and we Australians should debate this foreign ownership scourge a lot more.

RUPERT’S FOREIGN OWNERSHIP

In Crikey’s opinion, the bigger problem with the attacks by Meade and Money is that News Corp IS registered and has its primary listing in Australia. This is why we all go to Adelaide each year for the AGM. Rupert and his family own 17 per cent of the economic stock. Rupert is now an American citizen but he was born in Melbourne. His mother lives in Melbourne and his sister, Janet Calvert-Jones, is chairman of the Herald & Weekly Times and also lives in Melbourne. A quick look through the News Corp top 20 shareholders list includes the following Australian companies: Queensland Investment Corp, AMP Life, Perpetual Trustees, MLC Ltd and Westpac Financial Services Ltd. Why is it that the rest of the world calls Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp an Australian company yet some in Australia insist on calling it “foreign owned”. Things get really bizarre when the Hun errs in calling News Corp “foreign owned” but then gets bollocked by other papers for supposedly not doing this. I give up.

The process of sacking Meade from the column was still difficult for David Amstrong and Oz editor Campbell Reid. She was tipped into the story by someone in the Oz’s Melbourne office but put the words together herself.

Meade was in tears in the office after being delivered the news because she absolutely loved doing the column. We hear that Blunden emailed Meade saying something like that her piece “read like a job application for Fairfax” and that he was furious.

Blunden is a zealot when its comes to News Ltd loyalty. Afterall, he’s done almost 25 years with News Ltd and his dad was also a company veteran. He still complains on a regular basis to staff about the way I supposedly let him down by publicly criticising the Herald Sun for being too close to Kennett.

Sometimes the public interest is a little bigger than the Murdoch interest Peter. Anyway, Blunden’s anger at Meade was exacerbated by another item in Meade’s last column about that right-wing Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt which read as follows:

“For those who want to read more about the Herald Sun’s resident right wing idealogue Andrew Bolt, the website we quoted from last week can be found at www.melbourne.indymedia.org.”

Andrew Dodd also had a full page story on Bolt in the Media section which did not leave him smelling like roses. Bolt has already fired off a letter of complaint to Media and it will be interesting to see if it gets a run. My letter to Media after a recent Mark Day column never saw the light of day which is probably a good thing given that the lawyers have advised me to shut up about the Steve Price defamation action.

There is some suggestion Meade’s bosses told her they didn’t mind what her mates at Fairfax and the ABC thought about her removal. Crikey supports the decision to remove Meade but cautions that it sends a loud message to News hacks that they should not criticise the Murdochs. As editor of the column it was a big misjudgment by Meade but more importantly, the column has become too inhouse. Time for a change and it appears that what will hopefully be a new and improved Media column will be shared amongst several different Oz staffers.

This view has nothing to do with the fact that Meade’s lawyer sent a threatening letter to Crikey last year and that this appears to be another case of the “Curse of Crikey” which afflicts people who make legal threats.

Finally, we are going to be campaigning hard against the power of media moguls such as Murdoch and Packer when we set up this political party in the next few weeks for a concerted run at the Senate in all states. It will be very interesting to see what sort of a run we get from Murdoch and Packer owned outlets when we outline policies that would reduce their media power.

It is about time Australian journalists stood up to their proprietors when it comes to covering them properly. If Amanda Meade loses her column for calling Murdoch a foreigner, what would happen to Terry McCrann if he wrote a column saying Rupert should be forced by the regulators to sell some of his newspapers?

This will be part of the platform offered to voters nationally in the Senate and it will be very interesting to see what sort of a run it gets.