Stanhope, leaked emails and The Canberra Times. A leaked email has revealed that tough-talking Labor ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope ordered his bureaucrats to prepare an “attack” on the media’s reporting of a land bank scheme he is championing.

The Canberra Times reports:

ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope ordered the Land Development Agency to take out a taxpayer-funded newspaper advertisement because he did not like a headline that had appeared on a story.

In an email sent on the morning a story about the Government’s OwnPlace housing scheme appeared in The Canberra Times, Mr Stanhope’s chief of staff Jeremy Lasek told the LDA to take out an ad which ”points out the merits of both OwnPlace and Land Rent”. A half-page colour LDA ad appeared in the paper three days later.

The email which was sent on March 11 this year to Mr Stanhope’s staff said, ”The Chief Minister is very annoyed about today’s [article] … much of the information he was hearing about for the first time.”

It said Mr Stanhope was seeking an urgent briefing and a letter to the editor attacking the reporting.

Supporting documents are available on the RiotACT website.

WolframAlpha, a search engine that knows the meaning of life. WolframAlpha is a computer search engine launched last week by Mathematica software creator, British physicist Stephen Wolfram. Commentators are applauding Wolfram for creating a search engine with a sense of humour, but on a practical level Alpha has generated a great deal of criticism. Mashable has a list of the most amusing, and extraordinarily nerdy, answers that Alpha gives, the clear favourite is this:

The Guardian’s Bobbie Johnson suggests that there isn’t anything WolframAlpha does that is especially unique or revolutionary, aside from jokes. Cnet’s Chris Matyszczyk thinks WolframAlpha needs therapy.

The Register‘s Ted Dziuba says “Alpha is ground breaking in a new kind of useless” citing the lack of a coherent business plan, plagarism from Wikipedia (not the most reliable source of information) and narcissism as it’s main detractions. Dziuba says while Alpha is good for publicly available numerical data it is not useful for anyone outside college professors and engineers.

Zdnet ‘s Dana Blankenhorn says Wolfram does not trust the internets — particularly Wikipedia, complicating Dziuba’s claims about wiki-plagarism. Blankenhorn’s main criticism is the lack of flexibility in Alpha’s answers: “On the internet there is no unitary authority, no final answer. Questions on the internet lead mainly to other questions, or to data, or to opinions, usually all three.” — Eleri Harris

The death of American Idol. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox TV network has a problem or three: falling revenues and no profits would be at the top of the worry list, but now there’s an even greater concern: its biggest franchise, American Idol has just ended and the two final nights were among the least watched since the program started as a summer program around eight years ago.

Kris Allen’s win in Wednesday night’s season finale attracted 28.8 million viewers. The number was down from the 31.7 million that tuned in to last year’s finale. Fox still won and Idol was the dominant series of the US season which finishes tomorrow night ( So You Think You Can Dance starts tonight in the US on Fox, kicking off the summer season of US TV).

US reports say the viewer total was the second lowest for an Idol finale since its first season, while Tuesday night’s final performance show was also the least-watched since season one.

More importantly, it was the lowest rating ever final in the most important demographic in US TV, the 18-49 age group. But still beat the competition by a wide margin. The program ran seven minutes over past the slated 10 pm (Eastern) finish as Fox attempted to give its ratings a boost. Nielsen figures showed the program peaked at 34 million viewers in the last half hour when the winner was announced.

It’s a bad sign of Fox, even though its ensured that the network topped the 18 to 49 age group again, its margin was down.

No reality programs, from drama oriented  Big Brother to performance oriented Idol, have the longevity a soap or drama can have. They are very profitable, but run out of steam as viewers become indifferent. The next Idol will be the big test of Fox’s ability to keep the format fresh and maintain viewing levels. — Glenn Dyer

DMG defies GFC. DMG Radio Australia (Nova and Vega) increased its profits and grew its underlying revenue by 1% despite a 4% decline in the radio advertising market in Australia, the UK parent, Daily Mail and General Trust said in its half year report delivered overnight. Revenue was flat for the half year as 26 million pounds, but operating profit hit 2 million pounds, up from zero in the first half of last year.

“In the final listener survey for the half year, the Nova network increased its share in the key 18-39 demographic across Australia. Vega Sydney again increased its market share,” DMGT said. (But Vega in Melbourne was weaker).

“Significant cost measures have been taken to mitigate the impact of anticipated lower revenues, arising from the adverse market conditions, which are aimed at driving profit growth further in the full year.”

It was a rare small, bright spot for the parent in a result that was mostly full of negatives, including lower revenues, lower advertising and lower profits. First-half pre-tax profits for the group swung from 22.6 million pounds in the first half of last year to a 239 million in the latest half, including 317 million pounds of exceptional items which included asset write-downs, impairment charges and redundancy costs.

Turnover fell 7% to £1.09 billion pounds. Nearly 80% of the company’s sales come from business-to-business, where charging for content online is more common. — Glenn Dyer

News Digital joins the online rate-cutting. After Fairfax Digital Media’s price slashing of its digital inventory for June, it has emerged that News Ltd’s website for The Australian is also offering the market cut price offers for the rest of this month. However, the price cutting does not appear to go quite as deep as Fairfax’s near fire sale offer to the market. The Australian’s deals are around its less dominant ad spots, including text links, which it is offering in its business and IT pages at a discount of around 20% to ratecard. In an email seen by Mumbrella, the online publisher is also offering 500,000 serves of short rectangles (300 x 100 pixels) for just $500. This is the equivalent of a CPM (the cost of serving the ad 1000 times) of just $1. — Mumbrella

Burma junta bars media and diplomats from Aung San Suu Kyi trial again. Burma’s ruling military junta today went back to barring the media and diplomats from the trial of the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after she appeared in public yesterday for the first time in more than a year. Suu Kyi is accused of breaking the terms of her house arrest by allowing an American visitor, John Yettaw, to stay at her home without permission after he swam across a lake to visit her home uninvited. In a surprise concession yesterday the Burmese government allowed outsiders to observe the third day of the trial. It meant that reports of the proceedings and Suu Kyi’s meeting with diplomats were shown prominently on state-run television and in government newspapers. — Guardian

Selling the SeattlePI.com. By 2012 the amount spent on local online advertising is projected to be $22 billion. Hearst wants the largest share of that spend it can get in the Seattle market, hence SeattlePI.com . Yahoo! and Google want the same — but they want to get it without having to spend a lot of money on staffing every city in the country with ad sales reps — hence their “partnerships” with SeattlePI.com that essentially turn this new “local media digital services organization” into a Seattle subcontractor for their online ad sales businesses. Everybody positions themselves for the coming wave of cash. Everybody gets a cut. That’s the plan. — Stranger

Portfolio.com officially resurrected. Condé Nast announced this morning that it has transferred full control of Portfolio.com to its sister publisher, the American City Business Journals. The Charlotte-based ACBJ, which runs all the bizjournal.com Web sites, will assume full power both editorially and on the business side of the Web site, and has hired from portfolio.com managing editor Josh Moss to become the lead editor of this site. Tim Bradbury, president at ACBJ, said portfolio.com would start with a staff of roughly five on the edit side. He said that the Web site would look roughly the same as it does now, and that there would be minor tweaks to the design. — New York Observer

Pirate hero to get book deal. It looks as though Capt. Richard Phillips’s book deal is imminent. The leader of the Maersk Alabama, who became a media sensation last month after he gave himself as a hostage to Somali pirates to save his crew (and was later rescued by US forces), is at the center of a bidding war. Phillips’s life rights are being handled by CAA and a number of publishers were bidders in an auction that got underway late last week. We hear the price for the seaman’s story has already reached $US500,000 and could go well beyond that. We also hear that two houses are still fighting it out. A rep from CAA did not respond to inquiries about the deal. — Publishers Weekly

Dissident writer Michel Kilo freed in Syria. Syrian writer and pro-democracy campaigner Michel Kilo has been released from prison after serving a three-year sentence. He was convicted of weakening national sentiment and encouraging sectarian strife after he joined calls for Syria to recognise Lebanon’s independence. While he was in prison, Syria established diplomatic relations with Lebanon and exchanged ambassadors. Rights groups branded the sentence as political in order to silence dissent. Michel Kilo was released on Tuesday evening, five days after his three-year term elapsed. — BBC

Talks to free Canadian journalist kidnapped in Somalia stalled. Negotiations between the Canadian government and the kidnappers holding Canadian freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout have ground to a halt, according to an international group representing journalists. Ambroise Pierre, the Africa desk chief for Reporters Without Borders, said he was informed last week that talks between the two sides, which have been negotiating Lindhout’s release since she was taken in Somalia in August 2008, have apparently ended. Lindhout was kidnapped at gunpoint along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan and a Somali guide, who has since been released. — Calgary Herald

Peter Fray

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