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TV & Radio

Jul 27, 2010

Sky’s the limit in The Oz’s war on ABC News 24

The Weekend Australian had a day out on Saturday, eagerly delivering its "bias!" verdict on ABC News 24, just 24-hours after the station launched.

The Weekend Australian had a day out on Saturday, eagerly delivering its verdict on ABC News 24 just 24-hours after the station launched. In a triple-bylined front-page ‘Inside Story’ piece, and an accompanying editorial, the paper screamed ‘bias!’ because News 24 failed to cover a Tony Abbott press conference on border protection live, while the PM’s climate change prognostications were shown as they happened.

Luckily, the white knights at Sky News, who share a part-owner in News Limited with The Oz and are currently embroiled in a battle with the ABC to run the federal government’s $100 million Asia-Pacific television service, were on hand to assist with extensive coverage of both events.

But the problem for The Australian was that the 1,500-word yarn, written by Media editor Geoff Elliott, China correspondent Michael Sainsbury and former investigative reporter Caroline Overington, had to be worked up less than 24 hours after ABC News 24 launched. It commissioned Media Monitors to recount ABC TV’s fleeting references to Mark Latham’s criticisms of Labor that week compared with the more extensive coverage afforded to Malcolm Fraser’s resignation from the Libs in May.

It lined up critics of the ABC, including Sydney Institute director Gerard Henderson and Crikey media writer Margaret Simons, and chided The 7:30 Report‘s Kerry O’Brien for his “tone” in an interview with shadow treasurer Joe Hockey. It also quoted ABC Chairman Maurice Newman “on the night of ABC’s new station launch” in Beijing, suggesting the ABC still needed to live up to the fair and balanced provisions in its charter.

Overington was at it again yesterday, writing the station had also ignored a weekend press conference in favour of a report on AFL, while an Abbott immigration sound-grab was apparently shunted for a piece on menopause.

Of course, absent from the reports was any disclosure of News’ joint-ownership of Sky through BSkyB (whose most powerful non-executive director and chairman is James Murdoch, the next in line for his father’s throne). Or, indeed, last week’s debut of a new Sky News media segment fronted by Overington and Elliott.

Or, perhaps more importantly, any reference to the battle for supremacy in Asia, which formally kicked off last week when competing submissions from Sky and the ABC on the future of the Australia Network were sent to foreign minister Stephen Smith.

As The Australian itself pointed out yesterday in a separate article: “The battle of Australia Network comes at a particularly tense time for the ABC and Sky, which is owned by Seven, Nine and BSkyB (part-owned by News Corporation, publisher of The Australian). The two broadcasters are now direct competitors following the launch of the ABC’s 24-hour news channel.”

The Weekend Australian‘s editorial went on to sledge the ABC and its managing director Mark Scott over everything from Q&A host Tony Jones’ interviewing style to the various agendas of morning radio hosts:

The Weekend Australian wants to welcome it [ABC News 24] as a tough competitor for breaking stories and objective analysis. But we wonder whether we will be able to, with the opening days dominated by oft-repeated soft stories and journalists interviewing their peers. This is par for the course for Mr Scott. When it comes to managing news and current affairs, he is less marvel than magician, creating only the illusion of enormous amounts of hard news.”

The paper branded ABC 774 Melbourne host Jon Faine (whose name it misspelled) a “1960s socialist” but at least commended him as “a serious journalist who asks tough questions” compared with the “deep-green” Deborah Cameron and the “irrelevant” Madonna King.

A source inside the paper’s Surry Hills bunker says Saturday editor Nick Cater is “obsessed” with pursuing the ABC, along with editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell. “It’s not their story,” the source says, referring to Elliott and Overington.

Crikey understands Sky News CEO Angelos Frangopolous has been a key player in the rash of stories that have appeared in The Oz. On Monday The Australian ran a facetious letter in its media section from Frangopoulos to ABC chief Mark Scott. “Best wishes to everyone at ABC News 24 on your big day,” he wrote.

But the geniality belies the outright hostility Frangopoulos has levelled at the new channel. He’s issued legal threats over the name ‘News 24’ and is said to have placed numerous calls to Australian journalists, bagging everything about the channel from its place under the ABC charter to its political editor Chris Uhlmann.

Crikey understands Frangopoulos has suggested that Uhlmann should have resigned once his wife Gai Brodtmann became a candidate for the Labor Party (Uhlmann publicly discloses the potential for conflict and told Crikey it’s manageable) and even suggested he has no charisma on television. (Frangopoulos denied the claim to Crikey this morning and says Uhlmann is an “outstanding political journalist”.)

Eyebrows have also been raised by Newman again speaking outside official channels. Last week the ABC chairman was in Beijing to sign an agreement on behalf of Aunty with the Shanghai Media Group. But he used the opportunity to talk to Sainsbury about the ABC, in addition to benign quotes on the Chinese economy which popped up the paper’s business section.

Meanwhile, Simons is puzzled why a newspaper that has criticised her coverage of The Australian‘s vendetta against the Victorian Police commissioner Simon Overland was suddenly putting her forward as a voice of reason. As she wrote on her blog:

The Australian is a campaigning newspaper, and that can be a fine thing. Recently, though, it seems to be blind to its own contradictions and conflicts. Reality shifts and warps in its pages, depending on its cause of the week. When I criticise the ABC, I am a commentator who should be listened to. When I criticise The Australian, or its stablemates, I am beneath contempt.”

Frangopolous rejected the claims of nefarious influence when contacted by Crikey: “My absolute focus has been on working on Sky News’ coverage of the federal election. I have a good relationship with Mark Scott and have the greatest respect for him. The fact that we do not agree on the ‘big picture’ does not mean that there is any personal animosity, that is false.”

He rejected the claims of “white anting”, saying Sky News had provided ABC News 24 with a live satellite feed of the prime minister’s Brisbane address because their broadband connection failed and that ABC News Radio ran the audio from Sky News in its entirety.

“The ABC is a big organisation — Sky News has 110 journalists and the ABC has 1000,” Frangopoulos added, a point also reported on the front page of Saturday’s Australian.

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24 thoughts on “Sky’s the limit in The Oz’s war on ABC News 24

  1. Migraine

    Perhaps these folks are upset because ABC News 24 has replaced Sky News in some Qantas Club lounges – or at least ’twas so in Canberra and Sydney over the weekend.

  2. klewso

    “Mediawatch” had an item on the new channel last night – the delayed telecast of an Abbott appearance at “12:15 pm(?)” the other day, point being that it was recorded and later played in full(?)? Couldn’t see the problem – time-wise – who’s watching then? The piece was later played, for those interested, “in full(?)”. Apparently Sky missed the first few minutes anyway – did they “catch up” and make-up, later?
    What’s really amusing is “Murdoch’s munchkins” taking umbrage at what they see as bias (more often than not addressing the shortfall in their “slanted delivery” on their presentation of what they see as qualifying as “news”, as seen through their one collective Right eye) from others, when they seem to be paid to serve up just that sort of “home-spun news” (like fairy floss for “information diabetics”) themselves – that they slag others off for having the temerity to challenge their views of what qualifies and for actually presenting a bigger picture than the view through a toilet roll that they reckon is “enough” – and all from “Rupert’s Wonky Confection Factory”!

  3. Ignaz Amrein

    Every time I hear somebody from the Murdoch news empire accuse the ABC of bias , I wonder if that’s what they actually believe or if they’re just channeling Rupert. Murdoch uses his empire not to report news but to brainwash the readers into his world view. It is quite amazing how much hypocrisy and double standards his publications can fit on one page. The ABC’s reporting is not perfect but it is miles ahead of anything that Murdoch has to offer. I believe I’m getting excellent value for the taxes I pay.

  4. nicolino

    Murdoch press criticizing the ABC! Give me a break. Heaven help us if we end up with media such as is dished up on the Gold Coast. A rag I wouldn’t have as a gift.

  5. SusieQ

    Surprise, surprise, Murdoch media slagging off the opposition that clearly worries it the most! How boring!

  6. erin_overseas

    Thank you for picking up this issue — it’s been bugging me since the weekend!
    What I found most hilarious/frustrating about the article in The Australian on Saturday was how it highlighted the hypocrisy of the national ‘broadsheet’.
    Andrew/Jason — I wonder if Crikey could do an analysis of the balance of the coverage given to both Gillard and Abbott in Saturday’s Australian — as The Australian claimed to have done via outsourcing to Media Watch?
    From memory of my exasperated review, the vast majority of reports/opinion pieces were anti-Gillard (with few if any anti-Abbott articles), the overwhelming majority of pictures were of Gillard (except for only one very small picture of Abbott in his budgie smugglers towards the back of the paper, directly below a much larger, anti-Gillard captioned photo) and, where articles criticised both leaders, the article generally always commenced with criticism of Gillard followed by criticism of Abbott (so, arguably, those skimming the paper would only have read the anti-Gillard sentiment and not have progressed far enough through the article to pick up any anti-Abbott comments — journalists are meant to be trained to front-load information but those at The Australian clearly failed to do this for one reason or another). Despite the obvious, inappropriate and unacceptable political bias, how is this even enabling The Australian’s readers to obtain basic information regarding proposed Liberal policies — biased or not?
    Having studied journalism at uni and been dismayed by the mainstream press, I have only recently started buying the newspapers again — I have resworn not to!
    At least I saw Paul Murray on Sky getting pretty cranky about the dirty, distasteful linking of the population debate with asylum seekers by both major parties last night… although that’s a small straw to grasp… and who’s watching anyway?

  7. Gavin Moodie

    ABC News 24 started by breaking the story about Rudd skipping Cabinet national security committee meetings and sending along his 31 year-old staffer. This was highly damaging for Labor and was picked up by several other media, presumably including the Australian. It would have completely swamped any advantage to Labor from failing to cover an Abbott press conference live.

  8. Julius

    At lease Sky has the excuse of providing an advertising platform and otherwise responding to signals afforded by individual people willing to spend their money to get it. It offers a forum for rants and is as well described as entertainment as news: so what? Why does the ABC spend our taxpayer’s money to, inevitably, dilute the quality of what it already does well? Why does it spend money on 24 hour TV news when it already provides us with 24 hour news on radio?

    Seriously, has anyone an answer to that last question? If I want the latest news I don’t want to have to turn on a TV or find one that is already on. I have News Radio on most of the time and that is much more efficient. Who needs TV, except for the occasional regular news bulletins which illustrate what our imaginations aren’t enough to provide?

  9. Gavin Moodie

    Yes, ABC tv’s News 24 provides a similar service to its News Radio, a point not much noted by all those who wondered how well its 24 hour tv news service would go. But of course tv is distinctive in providing video, some of which is informative. For that and other reasons it rates far higher than radio, and the ABC should try to serve a big part of the public that pays for it.

    I doubt that News Radio is in any danger of cutbacks: it provides a good service cheaply. Radio National is prolly more vulnerable.

  10. David

    @Julius…you wonder why the ABC should have a 24 hour TV News Service? How about asking why shoudn’t they? Why should Sky have a monopoly? I can’t see your problem with getting news from the ABC via radio. You answer your own question, you have News Radio on all the time so you do not have to go to a TV set to get up to the minute news. Others prefer to see their news and others, myself included prefer a choice. Cannot agree with your description of Sky though as providing entertainment. Its a 24 hour news service so I suppose some news is entertainment, but it promotes itself as the countries leading TV News service. Not balanced mind you, over a period of 4 hours last Saturday every bulletin was headed by an item covering the Leader of the Opposition. Being partly owned by Murdoch of course doesn’t mean it will be balanced, but blatantly pro Lib stretches their credibility somewhat.
    Anyway as long as the ABC continue to provide a damn good fair and impartial service, I’m happy to have my taxes spent with them. They look and sound professional as well.