It has taken ten years, but Media Watchfinally exposed the quite outrageous corporate and editorial thuggery by News Ltd’s biggest selling paper, the Herald Sun, to a national audience last night.

In the interests of transparency I should confess to contacting Media Watch
a month ago and suggesting they pursue this story, although the producer was already interested in the original item on The Footy Show and didn’t mention a number of other pathetic Herald Sun bans that have come and gone over the years.

As someone who is
considering making a serious tilt at state Parliament later this year,
the Herald Sun ban is an impediment because there isn’t a newspaper in the world which reaches 40% of households in its circulation area.

Unfortunately, editor-in-chief Peter Blunden is one of those
classic
Murdoch bullies who happily abuses his market power and cuts corners to
ram home his commercial dominance and punish those who don’t toe the
line – and no one does that more than his former business editor. The Age has for years just sat back and copped it without ever
properly fighting back – although things might be about to change.

In these circumstances, the only language Blunden understands is equally
aggressive tactics, direction from the Murdoch family, falling circulation and the decrees
of law enforcers – all of which should flow to some extent from the damaging Media Watch expose. In my opinion, Blunden and the broader Herald Sun has a
serious case of abuse of market power to answer and it revolves around
the law that you should not induce a party to break a contract.

Former Carlton President Ian Collins broke his silence on the saga in no uncertain terms last night when he told Media Watch about the paper’s reaction to the sponsorship deal which saw Carlton members get The Age four days a week for just $25 extra a year:

The Herald Sun expressed disappointment and anger…there were series of calls
backwards and forwards…(They were) wild and irate (with) smoke coming out of
their ears.

Contrast that with Blunden’s laughable claim that “we have an excellent
relationship with the Carlton Football Club, and long may that
continue.” Indeed, it only become “excellent” after the board acceded
to threats about more dreadful editorial coverage and dumped The Age deal.

If ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel doesn’t take an interest in that then
he’s not doing his job – although even he would be mindful of an
avalanche of negative News Ltd publicity that would almost certainly
follow any regulatory intervention.

It would never have come to this if Bob Hawke and Paul Keating had
blocked News Corp’s takeover of the Herald & Weekly Times in
1987-88, creating an empire with almost 70% newspaper market share and
enormous power.

Sadly, that power is too often abused and exploited – something which
our federal politicians should think long and hard about as they
contemplate introducing laws that would allow Delaware-based News Corp
to add Channel Seven, Pacific Publications and 3AW to its existing
newspaper and pay-TV interests.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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