Rupert Murdoch is on a roll. Fresh from beating Charlie Ergen’s $US1 billion pay-TV piracy claim, he’s now agreed to deliver the prestigious Boyer Lectures on Radio National in November and his mum this week beat an estimated $100 million ATO tax bill.

The idea that the $8 billion man who took News Corp from Adelaide to Delaware and then listed his personal shareholding on the Bermuda Stock Exchange to avoid $50 million of NSW stamp duty should have to make a large contribution to the Federal Government was quite appealing.

Alas, Dame Elisabeth won on appeal, sparking this rather unusual comment piece in The Australian by Matthew Stevens yesterday, which included the following:

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But, just as we over in Newsland are often lampooned for being too careful in covering the proprietor’s affairs, so the opposite can be observed of our esteemed colleagues over at Fairfax, and beyond, where bad news for Murdoch can go a lot further than the good.

Stevens, who seemed very well briefed on Rupert’s mum’s tax affairs, then attempted to use this Crikey story to beat up on Fairfax and especially The AFR’s resident Murdoch expert Neil Chenoweth for excessively covering the Echostar claim.

It would be okay for Stevens to do this but for one thing – News Corporation’s failure to cover either the Echostar claim or Dame Elisabeth’s tax problem when they first emerged.

Crikey followed up Chenoweth’s exclusive story on the tax bill last October, but Stevens seems to be suggesting it wasn’t a story when it was a belter.

To its credit, The AFR gave Dame Elisabeth’s successful appeal a good run as the page eight lead yesterday. This was what it failed to do the Monday after the Echostar judgment, although reporter Neil Chenoweth apparently didn’t have much to go with.

We gave The AFR this spray for only producing a one-paragraph Reuters brief, but at least Chenoweth followed up the next day with a page lead pointing out the huge legal bills NDS still faced even after only being ordered to pay $US1500.

Despite the remarkable court documents from the Echostar claim, the US reporting of the case amounted to a wire reporter occasionally dropping in for parts of the day, along with one trade reporter.

This led to significant errors in the coverage and the global reporting of this judgment largely came from the wire reporter’s account, quoting extravagant claims by NDS. The Wall Street Journal coverage was a debacle. They ran a story on their website without byline titled Dish Wins Case, which was then revised and they ran two corrections.

Chenoweth is certainly robust in his Murdoch coverage, but Stevens took a cheap shot at him yesterday that will no doubt please the Murdochs who would love to silence the bloke who has literally written the book on the Sun King.

Instead, Chenoweth should be commended for being the only journalist in the world to explain the remarkable pay-TV piracy battles, even though none of it happened in Australia.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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