Foxtel is going all-out to stop customers concerned about News Corporation’s ownership stake in the cable company from cancelling their subscription — including offering 50% off.

In response to the anti-Murdoch backlash, Foxtel has also provided call centre operators with a written statement from CEO Richard Freudenstein addressing concerns about political bias.

Telstra and News Corp Australia own 50% of Foxtel each, and News appoints the Foxtel CEO. News Corp Australia has been criticised during the campaign for the strident stance some of its newspapers, especially The Daily Telegraph, have taken against the Rudd government. Early in the campaign, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd quoted an article by Fairfax columnist Paul Sheehan claiming News Corp’s opposition to Labor was driven by fear the National Broadband Network would undermine Foxtel’s business model.

Darwin seafarer Shane Phillips, who cancelled his Foxtel subscription yesterday because of anger at News Corp, says he was told by the call centre operator that he was one of many to do so.

“I believe the term he used was a ‘massive’ amount of people asking to disconnect over this,” Phillips said. “I rang up to cancel and we went through the process and he [the call centre operator] starting saying the CEO has made a statement that there is no political bias within Foxtel at all and would I like to hear a statement. I said, ‘No, I’m not interested’.”

Phillips says he was then told he could get a 50% discount on his bill after the election — an offer he also turned down. “I said my democracy means more to me than 50 bucks.”

Although he didn’t take up the offer, Phillips noted: “If you’re after a discount now’s the time to sniff around for it.”

Another customer who recently unsubscribed from Foxtel told Crikey:

“The main reasons were that my children had left home, I had seen many of the shows that are endlessly repeated, and my viewing was mostly ABC and SBS. I received a call from a Foxtel rep who asked me about my decision. I explained this to him, and added that all things being equal, I would rather not deal with NewsCorp or associated entities. He immediately engaged me on this by pointing out the proportion of Foxtel actually owned by News. This was clearly something he had been trained to do. I hardly expected a sales rep to be familiar with the intricacies of the ownership of his company. I was intrigued that he was so prepared, and wondered whether my action and reasons has a familiar ring to Foxtel.”

Foxtel director of corporate affairs Bruce Meagher told Crikey: “I can assure you that there has not been an increase in customers cancelling their subscriptions due to debate about News Corporation. In fact churn is at historically low levels.”

Meagher says Foxtel’s media releases are regularly provided to call centre staff so they can keep customers informed.

Foxtel’s full-year financial results, released last month, showed subscribers up 3.4% to 2.5 million households.