No journalist has done more to tell the world about Rupert Murdoch’s colourful business dealings than The AFR’s Neil Chenoweth.

He has produced two books, numerous features and dozens of news stories which have made him persona non-grata with the News Corp camp.

And so it was in February this year when Chenoweth produced a huge feature on the $US1 billion claim against News Corp subsidiary NDS by Charlie Ergen’s Echostar.

It triggered the following stories in Crikey:

How far would Rupert Murdoch go to hurt his rivals? (Feb 15, 2007)

Did Murdoch give $8 million to a notorious hacker? (Feb 19, 2007)

Chenoweth followed up with another couple of stories during the trial, including one where the judge urged Rupert to show up and give evidence, suggesting News Corp might go down heavily if the boss was protected.

As it turned out, Rupert didn’t given evidence and the judge did indeed produce a staggering verdict – that News Corp would only have to pay $US1500.

And how did The AFR report this on Saturday? The following one-paragraph brief from a Reuters report appeared on page 19:

A Federal Court jury on Thursday broadly cleared News Corp’s NDS unit of satellite television piracy charges in a suit brought by DISH Network Corp. The jury awarded only $US1500 damages from NDS for a single test incident with a satellite TV smart card.

A senior News Corp business journalist, who used to work at Fairfax, emailed through the following comment over the weekend:

I don’t owe any favours to the Murdochs, but Neil Chenoweth spun this court case into a huge conspiracy on the front page of The AFR. A jury has awarded EchoStar just $US1,500. This makes Neil’s story look completely overblown. I like Neil, but his anti-Murdoch agenda is damaging The AFR’s credibility.

This is actually a little unfair because the story was there. If someone like Charlie Ergen, who is richer than Rupert Murdoch and runs a major competitor, issues a writ seeking $US1 billion and makes all sorts of staggering claims then it is a story worthy of deep examination. No one ever attacked the large coverage that Kerry Stokes’ C7 litigation attracted.

In fact, the pathetic coverage of the pay-TV piracy conspiracy claims in the Murdoch press, including The Wall Street Journal, was far worse than what Chenoweth did. However, The AFR did owe its readers a proper report on the verdict and deserve to be condemned for failing to do so.

Check out this account of Friday’s Bell Financial Group AGM

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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