Avoiding the press gallery. Press gallery journalists were puzzled yesterday when a planned door-stop interview they were promised with the Prime Minister took place in Sydney, where none of them could reasonably fly up on the one-hour’s notice given for the mid-morning announcement. The surprise appearance earned a rebuke from The Australian‘s Peter van Onselen today, who claims the Prime Minister hasn’t fronted a press conference with the press gallery since the start of the month. “He’d rather not get bogged down on leadership speculation or talk about leaks, the gallery’s stock and trade,” the Sydney-based van Onselen — who just made the surprise press conference — wrote for this morning’s Oz.
Yesterday’s avoidance of the press gallery involved Abbott darting up to Sydney in a government jet to announce the package aimed at discouraging foreign investment in real estate (he took a few broader questions too). Because it’s Senate estimates season, one is able to get answers to pesky questions somewhat more quickly than would usually be the case. Labor senator Stephen Conroy used his grilling of Air Vice-Marshal Gavin Davies to ask about the surprise trip up to Sydney — specifically, how much it cost to fly the Prime Minister up so quickly to Sydney. He was given the figure of $3300. Media management isn’t cheap. — Myriam Robin
Sheehan v SHY. A couple of years ago, Paul Sheehan had to apologise after he launched a noxious attack on a Greens staffer, by way of an equally noxious letter from her estranged father that Sheehan had received. The old water diviner is at it again today, beginning an attack on Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs — you may not have heard of her, she doesn’t get much media focus — with this paragraph on Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young:
“Late in the afternoon of February 11, a woman walked into one of the two Fairfax newsrooms in Parliament House Canberra, placed a document on the desk of a reporter, and proceeded to tell the reporter the highlights of a story she should write.
“I noticed the visitor because she had such a proprietary attitude.”
Is that official M.O. at the SMH — if someone in the newsroom doesn’t like you when you drop in, they’ll mock your demeanour in print? Worth remembering if you are thinking of favouring them with tip-offs. Or were thinking … — Guy Rundle
Nine sitting pretty. In 2012, Nine Entertainment Co flirted with receivership. Three years on, there should be no worries about its financial strength, despite it reporting lower-than-expected revenues and earnings for the six months to December (joining rivals Seven and Ten in battling the weak TV ad market). It’s going to waste some of its hard-earned cash on a $150 million share buyback over the year, which I bet will be grabbed for all they can by its two biggest shareholders, Apollo and Oaktree, which between the two of them control around 36% of Nine’s issued capital.
The two US distressed debt investors have yet to announce if they will participate in the buyback, but they’d be mad not to do so, as it would enable them to lighten their holdings in the TV network after taking out well over a billion dollars between themselves from the restructuring, and then the float of Nine in late 2013.
In announcing a buyback, Nine joins Kerry Stokes’ master listed company Seven Group Holdings, which yesterday revealed an $87 million buyback over the next year — a move which will tighten Stokes’ control on Seven Group (pushing it above 70% because he will be participate in the buyback), and possibly make it fall out of some major sharemarket indices that the number of freely traded shares will fall below the minimum of 30% of the number of shares on issue.
There’s no chance of that happening at Nine. Nine explained its buyback as enhancing shareholder value by being able to buy shares “opportunistically”. In other words, any shareholder who wants to get out can have the company use shareholder funds to buy them out, a move that will improve earnings per share marginally and possibly (over time) the share price. It also has the added benefit of supporting the Nine Entertainment Co share price over the next 12 months. Kerry Stokes has used buybacks in Seven West Media to support its share price over the years, and in Seven Group Holdings. Rupert Murdoch spent billions of dollars on buybacks when News Corp was the main company of the family empire. It was very helpful in supporting the weak share price after the News of the World Phone Hacking scandal erupted in July 2011.
Looking at Nine’s latest results, it reported a fall in profit for the six months to December (which is supposed to be the TV industry’s period of strongest revenues and earnings). Net profit fell 6.4% to $88.8 million, while revenue eased 1.9% lower to $829 million. Both were lower than market forecasts.
But chief executive David Gyngell said in this morning’s statement that “in what has been a difficult advertising market, Nine Entertainment has reported a solid result”. He said the company had grown its share of overall metropolitan free-to-air TV advertising revenue from 38.7% to 39.2% in a market where industry ad revenues fell 3% in December half year. The company will pay an unfranked interim dividend of 4.2 cents a year, but the company said the final will be fully franked. The company said it was maintaining earnings guidance for the full year for at least reaching last financial year’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of $311 million and a rise in after-tax profit of “at least 10%”. — Glenn Dyer
Sattler loses Duffield. Last week we told you about Perth veteran shock jock Howard Sattler’s new internet radio station. Here’s an update. Producer Tricia Duffield appears to have already jumped ship for another show. Yesterday, 2ST | Power FM announced she’d be joining them from April as News Director. In January, Duffield told the SMH she’d “jumped at the chance to join Sattler’s new internet station, describing it as “radio, but without boundaries”. What a difference a month makes. — Myriam Robin
Reasons for anonymity. There’s a new restroom development in Manhattan, and The New York Times is on it. The story filed for Tuesday’s edition contains this charming paragraph:
A second person who checked out the women’s restroom — and who asked not to be identified because she has always wanted to be an anonymous source — reported her findings by email: “Black shiny granite-y sink. Arched faucets by Sloan. Tasteful slate gray and powder gray tiles.”
Front page of the day. Wired’s sex issue …