Who benefits? It’s always News Corp. Hear that shuffling sound? It’s the noise made by the increasingly desperate directors of APN News & Media and Fairfax Media trying to jettison their New Zealand print assets, while dancing to the tune of News Corp Australia. And why is the Murdoch clan playing puppet master? Because it controls 14.9% of APN (and News’ chairman, Michael Miller, is a former APN CEO, who before that gig was a trusted News executive), and that is the key to what could turn out to be the last big print shuffle in this part of the world.
According to media reports this morning, APN wants to raise up to $200 million as well as separate its NZ print (and radio assets). If that is to succeed, News Corp will not only finance up to $30 million of that (and help make it a success) but will pick up 14.9% of the about-to-be-spun-off NZ assets. And, if APN and Fairfax do more than just talk and complete a merger of their Kiwi newspaper interests (subject to competition reviews), News will end up as the major shareholder in any merged company, giving itself trans-Tasman dominance.
In Australia rumours persist that News is sniffing round some of the 16 regional dailies that APN has put on the market (in February, without any success). APN has close to 200 papers on the market, including the big dailies, plus smaller local, regional and community free papers. It would be a big bite for anyone, especially at a time when print is dying. News with its 14.9% stake is said to be the only serious buyer. Fairfax isn’t interested (it has its own headaches in its regional papers). Some conspiratorial types in the media claim that APN and News will reveal a deal about its Australian papers during the election campaign and suggest that without such a purchase, the future of the papers is very uncertain (hint: they might shut — a gun to the head of the competition regulator, the ACCC).
On top of the print assets, News will also control 14.9% of APN’s Australian radio networks if APN is successful in spinning off NZ and raising the cash. In fact, they will go nicely with Lachlan Murdoch’s Australian two radio networks.
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News will stress, as APN and Fairfax are said to be about to argue in New Zealand, that Facebook, Google, etc are the real competition, not News or Fairfax or APN. APN is expected to announce a capital raising and demerger of its New Zealand business at its AGM in Sydney tomorrow. APN yesterday requested that its shares to be suspended until Wednesday morning to allow for a decision on the demerger of the Kiwi print interests. It laughingly said it “the reason for the trading halt is to prevent trading taking place in a speculative or uninformed market”. Given the amount of leaking yesterday and overnight about what is happening, the suspension should have been removed this morning and APN told to provide an immediate update. Some rather curious trading last week in APN shares. Those deals were nicely highlighted in the Financial Review’s Rear Window column this morning.
And then there’s TV and other local print assets. The upshot of all this is that by the end of the year the Murdoch clan could control more than 70% of all print in Australia. And remember News and Seven West Media are moving to a deal in Perth involving the Sunday Times, which is owned by News. Kerry Stokes’ Seven West Media owns the West Australian, and is the half owner of Presto, the streaming video service 50% owned by Foxtel, which is 50% owned by News. Also remember News Corp and Telstra want to move towards a revamping of the ownership of Foxtel, with News buying some of Telstra’s stake and then floating the pay TV business. News also has expressed ambitions to buy control of Sky News from Seven and Nine and Sky News of the UK (which the Murdoch clan controls).
And finally, the decision by Fairfax management to compulsorily retrench 30 journalists from The Age, the SMH and Financial Review underlines that all the shuffling APN, News and Fairfax are now engaged in across the Tasman is essentially a waste of time and money, that the remorseless slide in print ad revenues is unstoppable, and that not even their digital property arms of the News and Fairfax empires can hold back the tide. But the Murdochs aim to get such a dominant position in Australian media that they can at least influence the speed of that tide. It will buy them a couple of years breathing space, but in the meantime, we could awaken after the election and discover that Rupert Murdoch and his sons plan to turn Australia (and NZ) into their backwater where only one voice is important. For Australians and Kiwis, Facebook and Google will loom as the only viable alternatives to daily news and information flows, along with the ABC if it is allowed to survive by whatever weak-kneed government sits in Canberra. — Glenn Dyer
Aly blowback. A lovely bit o’ bitter fermenting and fomenting on the right, following Waleed Aly’s winning of the Gold Logie on Sunday night. What’s delicious, and deliciously painful to them, is that Aly was chosen by the same event that gave the NRL Footy Show its fourth sports Logie in a row, and 10th overall. First out was Tim Wilson in an astonishingly grudging and bitter outburst on The Drum, in which he gargled out some bollocks about Aly being unworthy because he disagrees with the IPA on affordable housing. It had nothing to do with Tim Wilson not being the centre of attention, let’s get that clear.
Wilson was gazumped this morning by Rita Panahi, who suggested that Aly’s win was a reason to have the Logies abolished.
On his blog, the Bolter kept discipline firm, restraining himself from a blast, musing as to whether Aly’s victory was “signal sending”, and wondering why people still thought that Australia was t.e.h racistz. Probably because they read Tim Wlson and Rita Panahi. — Guy Rundle
Can’t see the tyranny for the trees. In Monday’s Oz, Jennifer Oriel has a twist on the “Barack-Obama-caused-Donald-Trump” right-wing routine – she manages to get the US system of government entirely wrong. Arguing that Obama’s use of executive orders has created a ‘totalitarian’ atmosphere, the Little Bird is concerned about Obama’s decision to discontinue some deportations of illegal immigrants (children and their guardians):
“Enacting laws without a democratic mandate or the consent of Congress is consistent with totalitarian leadership …”
Sigh, let’s go over US Government 101 for Jennifer. Presidents don’t enact laws, they execute them. Obama’s argument on the deportations issue is that Congress has not budgeted sufficient money to deport everyone liable for it (he has deported more illegal immigrants than any president in history), so decisions have to be made. The executive has a prerogative to make such decisions programmatic ones. Oriel herself admits that such executive orders will be tested in the Supreme Court in the coming months (as have the executive actions of every President) — so in what sense is it totalitarian? It’s the separation of powers working at its best. Is Oriel chirping propaganda, or does she have the intelligence of a woodpecker? The debate continues — Guy Rundle
Facebook’s news algorithm isn’t impartial. Facebook is the biggest driver of stories to news sites in the world. But does every story have an equal chance of “trending” on Facebook?
According to a Gizmodo investigation that’s spoken to numerous former “news curators” at the social network, the social media giant “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the network’s influential ‘trending’ news section”.
Stories about Mitt Romney, Rand Paul and right-wing gatherings in America trended on the site organically but suffered from this suppression, according to Gizmodo. Meanwhile, stories on “worthy” causes like Syria were artificially injected into trending stories on the site in a bid to make Facebook’s userbase appear more high-brow. If something was trending on Twitter, famous for breaking news, but yet to make an impact on Facebook, news curators would often artificially insert that news into the trending stories. Popular articles about Facebook itself, former curators added, wouldn’t make the trending section without approval through numerous layers of management. Gizmodo’s analysis:
“Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists ‘topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.’
A Facebook response to the story says there are “rigorous guidelines in place … to ensure consistency and neutrality” when it comes to trending news.
“We take allegations of bias very seriously. Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum … [G]uidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.”
— Myriam Robin
The columnist who’ll literally eat his words. In October last year, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank bravely wrote:
“… I’m so certain [Donald] Trump won’t win the nomination that I’ll eat my words if he does. Literally: The day Trump clinches the nomination I will eat the page on which this column is printed in Sunday’s Post. I have this confidence for the same reason [Mitt] Romney does: Americans are better than Trump.”
Perhaps they are, but eat his words Milbank now must. The call went out on social media for recipes and readers responded in droves. He updated earlier this week:
“Through the magic of crowdsourcing, I have discovered that eating newspaper can be downright mouth-watering. This is going to be huge! We are going to build a big, beautiful meal — and Mexico is going to pay for it.
“On Thursday, May 12, after readers have voted for their favorite newspaper cuisine, acclaimed chef Victor Albisu of Washington’s Del Campo restaurant will select and prepare a wide variety of newsprint-based dishes. Tom Sietsema, The Post’s James Beard Award-winning food critic, will be on hand to taste and judge the dishes, and I will eat them — streamed live on The Washington Post’s Facebook page.”
The favourite dish for the moment is “newspaper chilaquiles in tomatillo-jalapeño sauce, crispy newspaper dumplings, saffron rice and newspaper-smoked lamb, newspaper-lined tacos, ground newspaper falafel, newspaper Wagyu steak, candied-newspaper waffles and newspaper-stuffed churros”. Sounds almost good enough to eat.
Video of the day. The ABC says its China portal doesn’t cover news. But Media Watch found several instances of articles placed behind the great Chinese firewall, but only after contentious passages had been removed …