Has Abbott lost the support of The Australian? That’s the question many political observers and journalists are asking, after the paper splashed explosive allegations by new associate editor John Lyons on Saturday alleging Abbott was, last November, unilaterally considering sending troops to Iraq to fight Islamic State.
“Do you feel like The Australian newspaper is out to get you,” Abbott was asked at a doorstop press conference in the Northern Territory on Saturday. “No, I absolutely don’t,” he responded, before saying he’d rather focus on national security.
Indeed, today’s edition shows Abbott still has some friends in the paper he used to work for. A piece by foreign editor Greg Sheridan doesn’t criticise the reporting itself, but does attempt to paint it in a light more favourable to Abbott:
“These revelations suggest not a foolish prime minister dreaming up quixotic adventures, but a thoughtful leader seized of his nation’s strategic interests and grappling with all the possibilities.”
The report was quoted approvingly by Andrew Bolt, who, despite being of the same stable, has been highly critical of the Oz‘s reporting. By midday on Saturday he had “called bullshit” on the allegations, based on speculation that the dates given in the story don’t match up with real-life events. And today he describes the reports as “hysterical”, going further to name and shame columnists who have bought into the rest of the media’s obsession with kicking Abbott. “Add van Onselen to the lynch mob,” he wrote this morning of Oz columnist Peter van Onselen, who’s written a piece about Abbott’s strategic mistakes. Bolt even approvingly quotes an ABC news report that tried and failed to independently verify the Oz‘s report.
But maybe Bolt is freelancing on this. When The Australian moves on a political leader, it tends to do so decisively. And the letters page of The Oz, another barometer of Abbott’s popularity with conservatives, is already rooting for anyone else, as Crikey detailed in January. Over the weekend, Miranda Devine said (on The Bolt Report) it certainly wasn’t her impression that Rupert Murdoch has given up on Abbott. But maybe Oz editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell has. — Myriam Robin
Another cock-up for the files. For the record, this, on page 27 of today’s Age, is not a picture of Rio Tinto boss Sam Walsh — it’s of Rio Tinto CFO Christopher Lynch. We’d forgive you for getting the two confused, though, given that the caption below the image, in fact, calls him “Sam Wash”:
How could this happen? All The Age‘s business journalists would know exactly what Sam Walsh looks like — the issue is very likely to have arisen in post-production. Fairfax’s metros have outsourced imaging and captions, and this has led to a steady drip of errors, particularly around photography, that would have been unimaginable a few years back. For example, in July last year, The Age got almost every actor in the Baillieu-dictaphone controversy paired with the wrong picture, and its Green Guide television section mixed up Waleed Aly and Nazeem Hussain in December. — Myriam Robin
Today in media feuds … Crikey‘s Bernard Keane had a go at the Oz‘s coverage of that wind-farm research in January, but it wasn’t until Media Watch arced up on the issue last Monday that The Australian has begun robustly defending its own coverage. Today, it carries a very detailed article by Simon King responding to the program’s assessment of the issue, accusing it of cherry-picking biased academics who weren’t experts on the issue to take predictable pot-shots at the report. Media Watch has responded itself, putting up its full answers to the Oz‘s questions on its own Facebook page, as well as a transcript of its conversation with Steven Cooper, in response to his claims of being taken out of context.
Writing in Crikey today, Simon Chapman, one of those quoted by Media Watch, responds to the way the Oz described his credentials — the paper has twice in the past week claimed he had no expertise in medicine despite his having a PhD in the discipline.
While we’re on the subject of Oz/ABC warfare, Aunty scored a correction in Media Diary today about an item published last week that said its fact-checking unit had been criticised in a 2011 report (the unit was only established in 2013). The ABC was so pleased with the correction they’ve gone to issue their own statement about it on their website.
“The ABC acknowledges the correction in today’s issue of The Australian,” the statement reads, before quoting the correction.– Myriam Robin
Bahrain goes cold on Murdoch’s Prince. Rupert Murdoch’s Saudi associate, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, is in the news again after Bahrain told him to close his fledgling US$200 million Gulf-based satellite TV station — it was taken off air within the first 24 hours of its debut broadcast earlier this month. The Financial Times and other media outlets are reporting that the information ministry in Bahrain reportedly told the Prince’s Alarab station to dismantle its operations in Manama, the Bahrani capital.
The order is a shock and comes after Alarab hired about 280 staff in Manama to compete with other Arabic-language stations, such as Al Jazeera, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, and Abu Dhabi’s Sky News Arabia, (a joint venture with BSkyB). Alarab was announced in late 2011 and under the deal with the Prince’s key company, Kingdom Holding, Bahrain pledged financial incentives of US$10 million a year for 10 years to the channel, as well as another US$7 million a year for Prince Alwaleed’s media company, Rotana, in which Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox has a stake. The FT says the authorities also provided discounted government services, such as various IT costs, rent and visas.
It is not known if the station will relaunch in a different location or close permanently. Alarab started broadcasting on February 1, but was taken off air within hours of its launch after its debut interview featured a senior member of Bahrain’s main opposition group criticising a recent government decision. Earlier this month Kingdom Holding revealed it had sold most of its 6.6% stake in the voting shares of the Murdoch clan’s News Corporation. Bahrain and the Saudi governments are supposed to be close — indeed the Saudi military helped Bahrain suppress an outbreak of fighting during the Arab Spring by Shia Muslims who feel the Sunni government discriminates against them. — Glenn Dyer
For sport’s sake, get rid of anti-siphoning rules. Over the weekend, we had confirmation of how the Nine Network no longer cares for cricket in this country. After the Australia-Bangladesh game in Brisbane was washed out on Saturday, Australian fans without Foxtel (around 72% of the TV audience) had no game at all to watch from the Cricket World Cup over the weekend. Cash-strapped (due to spending tens of millions of dollars on The Block and The Voice and cutting back on everything else), the Nine Network is now willing to join Seven and Ten in playing second fiddle on sports coverage to Foxtel/Fox Sports Australia, despite the anti-siphoning rules.
Who needs the anti-siphoning rules? By their abject surrender to allow them to continue to spend money on their reality programs (The Block, The Voice, House Rules, My Kitchen Rules, The X Factor, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, The Biggest Loser — there’s more than $160 million in total cost of those programs alone this year), the free-to-air networks are letting sports fans without pay TV down — and letting them down in a bad way. Now they want the remaining licence fees removed and want the right to advertise beer and other doubtful products (and show tits and bums) an hour earlier in prime time — all to drive revenue and profits to bolster what is a sinking industry bottom line. Time to get rid of the anti-siphoning rules. They allow the networks and their shareholders to get the best of both worlds, and discriminate against free-to-air viewers. — Glenn Dyer
Front page of the day. Tony Abbott reminded Indonesia last week that Australia had been generous in its tsunami relief aid, as he implored Indonesia to be kind to two Australians on death row. The comments have sparked a grassroots campaign in Indonesia to return Australia’s aid.