In a short letter circulated to major media organisations, the media company’s veteran legal mind Ian Philip warned media organisations, including Fairfax, the ABC and the major commercial TV networks, against publishing stories summarising or drawing on the leak:
“It has come to the attention of News Limited that Crikey.com.au has today published documents and information which is highly confidential and commercially sensitive to News.
“In particular, Crikey has published in full News Corps’ Weekly Operating Statement for the week ending 30 June 2013, as well as a number of articles referring to the contents of the Weekly Operating Statement.
“The disclosure of this document is entirely unauthorised, and News is taking the necessary and appropriate action against Crikey (including considering all available legal avenues).
“News will also take appropriate action against any other entity or individual who publishes the Weekly Operating Statement and/or its contents, including by referring to or summarising its contents.”
Crikey has also heard from News Corp lawyers, who wanted us to take down our articles. We have not done so. We haven’t seen any other media organisations take down their stories drawing on ours either.
The legal approach comes as News Corp CEO Julian Clarke told an industry forum in Sydney that he wasn’t overly concerned about the leaks.
Yesterday Clarke sent an email to all News Corp staff telling them not to pay any attention to the stories. “These confidential figures, which are 14 months out of date, have been illegally circulated and are interim management accounts and not from our statutory accounts. They certainly do not reflect the company’s current performance,” Clarke wrote.
The figures Crikey based its stories on relate to the week of June 30 2013, but also had a column revealing what the figures were a year before that. As such, they allow a comparison of the yearly deterioration in News Corp’s newspaper businesses. Publicly released market briefings last week suggested these numbers had deteriorated even further in the year since the figures obtained by Crikey were compiled.
News Corp’s competitors have certainly been carefully looking over the figures. Crikey has been told by the director of a major media company that the company had been sent a copy of the accounts by its banker. Crikey understands the figures have also been greeted with dismay within News Corp’s tabloid newsrooms. Many of them had suspected they were responsible for propping up the business — the figures show they do, and to add insult to injury, they get paid less for doing so.
Fairfax reported yesterday that News Corp’s Holt Street headquarters were “in meltdown” yesterday following Crikey’s daily email. The claim was disputed by Oz media writer Darren Davidson. “Utter drivel,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that News Corp’s financials had greatly improved in the past year.
It was a theme Davidson warmed to in today’s Australian, which carries an opinion piece by him saying the figures show the folly of former CEO Kim Williams’ strategy:
“[T]he biggest news in media circles is a leaked document in which the damage wrought by his strategy in the last year of his short reign is laid bare for all to see.
“The breakdown of the company’s performance in financial year 2012-13 ended on June 30. Williams parted company with News on August 9 last year, a watershed moment in the company’s recent history.
“On that day, Williams was replaced by Julian Clarke, an experienced confessed “newspaper-man”, who has since steadied the ship, stabilised revenue declines and put the company on a firmer footing in partnership with chief operating officer Peter Tonagh.”
Fairfax approached Kim Williams for comment about the figures, including the potentially overinflated price he paid for Business Spectator and the Eureka Report. ”Here’s one thing about purchase prices: people always have 100 per cent hindsight,” Williams told Fairfax’s Madeleine Heffernan. He defended the figures, saying that all media companies are facing disastrous difficulties and those who pretend otherwise are “living in a different world”.
”I’ve no doubt there will be a festival of vengeance against me. I have nothing to say,” he added.