The Packer family’s unauthorized biographer, journalist Paul Barry, was so surprised by the news of Jamie’s move on Channel Ten that he was still wanting confirmation that it was true before he believed it this morning.

But then, he said, the younger Packer has always been an impulsive person. A few years ago he was making directly contrary moves — selling out of free-to-air television at the top of the market. Getting back in is cheaper now.

For a long time Packer thought the future lay in pay television, says Barry. But then he also said a few years ago that nobody would buy houses any more, because renting made better sense. So things change

Assuming the news is true, Barry says, Packer presumably is hedging his bets, wanting a foot in both the free-to-air and the pay television camps, and is perhaps anticipating federal government moves on anti-siphoning will be good for free-to-air, and forever limiting for Foxtel.

And what about the journalism, and Channel Ten’s brave plans to upgrade its news and current affairs offerings? Barry describes the re-entry of Packer as “not remotely encouraging” for journalists, given his approach in his last days at Channel Nine where he and executive John Alexander “cut the sh-t out of everything. It was about making money by cutting costs.”

And if Alexander is behind this move — “and he has been at a loose end for a while,” says Barry — then the new high-profile journalistic hirings of Chris Masters and George Negus have reason to be nervous.

Negus was sanguine when he spoke to Crikey this morning. The commitment to better news and current events was a “top down” thing at Ten, he said. His own appointment had been signed off by the board.

Which means if Packer does want to change direction, he will presumably have to press for changes at the top. His capacity to do so on this alleged current shareholding is in doubt, one would have thought.

As for Packer, Negus said: “I have worked for him before. That holds no fears.”

Masters, meanwhile, said his role was not to be on air but to advise and help improve the organisation’s journalism. He had been assured the station was interested in serious journalism.

“I have always been attracted to the idea that serious journalism doesn’t have to be boring journalism,” he told Crikey today. He sees no reason why today’s news should make any difference to his plans.

Peter Fray

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