No apology, but here’s a loan. Sydney Morning Herald editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir yesterday informed News Corp that his paper will not be apologising for a piece published on Monday by journalist Michael West which alleged News Corp and Telstra were lending money to Foxtel at an exorbitant 12% interest rate in order to reduce the companies tax commitments.

The allegation, the result of complex forensic accounting you can follow at the link above if you’re so inclined, is strongly rejected by News Corp and Telstra, has led to days of several biting critiques in the News Corp press, all the while the company’s corporate side has been seeking a correction be issued in the paper.

On Wednesday, the Herald Sun‘s Terry McCrann wrote what was perhaps the most critical rebuttal to the story:

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“Last September The Age and its Sydney clone, the Sydney Morning Herald, splashed across their front pages a claimed ‘report’ on corporate tax in Australia which was quite simply complete and utter rubbish. On Monday they did it again. They purported to reveal a scheme by News Corporation, publisher of this paper, and Telstra to slash their tax bills. It was also quite simply, complete — made-up and incoherent — rubbish.”

The piece went on to both criticise West’s specific allegations and to accuse him of “sheer ineptitude and raging anti-News Corp bias”. The piece also reprised McCrann’s “Age-ABC-Crikey axis” line, which we are so fond of.

Not one to be silenced, West has been baiting News Corp on Twitter for the past few days, saying he’s confident of securing $450 million in loans to Foxtel at a reduced 10% interest rate, which would nonetheless provide a very tidy return for all involved. He has formally made the offer to the directors of Foxtel.

“We hope Foxtel gives due consideration to our attractive offer,” he told Crikey this morning. “Not only is it priced at a 200 basis point discount to the prevailing interest rate of 12 per cent but the offer is also in the public interest as taxpayers will no longer be required to fund the tax deductions — which presently benefit News and Telstra — on the exceedingly high interest rate of 12 per cent.

“It is of course subject to due diligence”.

Another irony to this whole saga is that West is a Walkley-award winner, and he got that Walkley in 2005 while he worked at The Australian for reporting on a scandal involving Macquarie Bank. McCrann was on the judging panel that awarded that Walkley. We wonder if he regrets it. — Myriam Robin

If you’re gonna republish a press release … An April 2014 editorial in the Fairfax-owned Gippsland Times which drew “substantially” from a press release by then-Victorian health minister David Davis has drawn censure from the Press Council, after it failed to attribute a statement in the release as an opinion from the minister, expressing it instead as fact.

The editorial, titled “Labor labelled as health ‘hypocrites’,” regarded the health funding increase in central Gippsland under the Liberal government.

The Press Council’s beef appeared in the failure to properly attribute Davis’ comment: “Labor MPs voted against the interests of Victorians and voted in favour of Julia Gillard’s $107 million cut to Victorian hospitals in 2012-13”. The council said the use of these words gave the impression the statement was a fact, when it was an opinion expressed from a politician.

The publication agreed the editorial was largely taken from the release, and said, according to the adjudication, that this was “not an unusual practice for small regional newspapers”. The Gippsland Times conceded it should have attributed the statement to Davis.

The council acknowledged such a mistake could be easily made by small newspapers with few staff, but ruled it should have been corrected before publication. “The Council considers therefore that the article’s heavy reliance on a press release was not in itself a breach of the Council’s Standards of Practice,” the adjudication read. “But the failure to present some material as a statement of opinion from the Minister’s release did constitute a breach. The Council welcomes the publication’s acknowledgement of error and of the need to avoid repetition. It commends this approach for adoption by other publications.”

The Press Council flagged last year that it would be keeping a closer eye on opinion writing, now subjected to the same accuracy rules as news articles. But it’s unusual for the Press Council to rule on an editorial. Yesterday, the council revealed it had passed a motion condemning The Australian for breaching its confidentiality provisions in its campaign against the council, for what the Oz sees as the council’s creeping attempt to control the press. The Oz‘s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell yesterday called on the council to be reconstituted by publishers. — Crikey intern Abbey Casey and Myriam Robin

TV ain’t dead. A statement from CBS in the US has added to the debate about whether TV is dying: it’s not, despite all the claims from the tech heads, the early adopters/adapters and other tech heads. The CBS announcement has some data and some ideas to back that claim. According to CBS, viewing levels for the first half of its current line up (for the 2014-15 season) are 3% above those for 11 years go. The website deadline.com. reported the claims, making the very important point that, as multi-platform viewing grows in the US, bigger audiences are being generated.

“While it’s CBS’ point, it speaks to how all broadcast networks are, with varying degrees of success, able to re-assemble their audience via all these other platforms,” Deadline pointed out. According to the numbers from CBS, its current 24-program, prime-time roster viewed across linear TV and also via digital video recorders had an average 13.38 million viewers a night. That was up 3% from 2003-04’s linear, TV-only average of 13.38 million. These totals do not include viewing on various forms of unmeasured nonlinear viewing, including mobile and over-the-top platforms such as the CBS All Access streaming service and DVR playback after seven days. These are all now growing rapidly in the US. Measure those (it’s slowly happening) and the viewing averages will grow noticeably.

On a much smaller scale, the Seven Network here found it had more viewers than for the Australian Open tennis this year when it added in 4.1 million free video streams during the two weeks of the tournament. That was in addition to the more than 13 million people who watched on free-to-air, linear TV. The networks are offering programming streams now on different platforms to different devices. The problem is how to capture the data to support the case. The Australian networks are short of money and will need to partner with someone else to achieve this. Hence the linking of Nine and Fairfax in Stan, and Seven and Foxtel in Presto.

Many who claim TV is dead and or dying only think of linear TV and viewing on static sets. That’s all so very 1995. Even the Australian networks don’t think like that any more. — Glenn Dyer

Dateline scores. After SBS’ Dateline controversially fired most of its former journalists in a dramatic rethink of the program (as Crikey readers would be well aware), many TV journalists have been eagerly awaiting its return. Early figures suggest many viewers were just as keen — Tuesday night’s episode had the best opening ratings by a significant margin. SBS is very happy with the numbers and the high engagement on social media with the episode.

Across the country, 330,000 people watched Dateline at its new half-hour 9.30pm slot on Tuesday. The 2014 season premier had 244,000 viewers, while the 2013 season premier had 230,000 viewers. The whole night was a good one for SBS, with Dateline keeping 80% of Insight‘s audience during a competitive night.

The episode used a mixture of archival footage and fresh interviews to document the plight of Indonesian death-row inmates Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. Narrated by SBS news host Anton Enus and aired without a presenter, as will be usual in the new half-hour format, it made heavy usage of footage from former Dateline star investigative journalist Mark Davis’ 2010 episode, for which he gained exclusive access to Kerobokan prison to film the pair. Davis, who co-owns the footage with SBS, also took it to the ABC when he did an hour-long Four Corners documentary on the same topic aired last week. A report in The Guardian said SBS was unhappy with the ABC’s heavy usage of the footage, and when one considers the fact that Dateline‘s opening episode was almost certainly already in production at that stage, it’s easy to see why.  — Myriam Robin 

This is why we need subs. The ever-perspicacious Townsville Magpie has tipped us off to this sentence in a Fairfax story on Bali Nine duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran …

As the Magpie notes: “For the lack of a comma (or indeed, a better constructed sentence) it appears the two condemned men will be shot in situ in Bali’s Kerobokan prison this afternoon.” We would blame a poor subbing job for the tortured sentence — if there were any left to blame.

Front page of the day. A brave photoshoot by new Health Minister Sussan Ley.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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