Why can’t we be friends? News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller (right), with Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh, Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner and Nine Entertainment CEO Hugh Marks.

Please excuse us, we’re falling about laughing.

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australia, wants Australian media to stop turning on each other, telling the Melbourne Press Club, “We need to stop revelling in each other’s problems and publish less negative articles about rival newsrooms being gutted”. And then this follow-up joke, when asked if this proposed ceasefire would extend to the ABC: “[nothing is] off the table in terms of what we can potentially share together … Competition is strong and I think the ABC gives as good as it gets,” he added.

Hypocrisy and nothing more, given this man runs a company whose newspapers have regularly disparaged the ABC over any number of issues in recent years (too many to mention), has bagged Fairfax Media on the same basis, Crikey, Seven West Media and the Seven Network, Nine (but not Foxtel, which is controlled by News). The Australian even had a go at the board of the Ten Network, and was forced to apologise to it and chairman David Gordon as a result. Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh was a member of the Ten board criticised by the report in the paper. Foxtel is 50% owned by News Corp.

Indeed, one of the co-authors of The Australian’s story today on Miller’s speech is Darren Davidson, who was the author of the story that disparaged the Ten board and Gordon.

“’We are now globally having more productive conversations with both those companies around removal of first click free and also developing a subscription platform with Facebook,’ News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said. ‘Those conversations are a few weeks old now. We are glad to be at the table having those conversations which are industry ­solutions.'”

This is, in effect, News Corp running up the white flag after months of bagging Google and Facebook for placing ads on pornographic and/or politically extreme websites and doing nothing to help print media companies survive. Alphabet (which owns Google) revealed the futility of that approach this week with a 52% year-over-year rise in paid clicks (an advertiser pays only if a user clicks on the ad). The company said revenue was boosted by robust demand for advertising on mobile and on YouTube. (The campaign against Google concentrated heavily on ad placements on YouTube).

According to the Fairfax report, Miller said media reform is needed to give publishers greater clout with potential advertisers, and he urged federal Parliament to pass the government’s proposed media reform laws, which would ease ownership restrictions. But if you use Miller’s words in his speech (which is not on the News Corp Australia website) News Corp is not in any need of help.

Fairfax reported that Miller had boasted that News Corp’s combined outlets — including Sky News and all its print and online news — have a monthly audience of 16 million Australians, which is “more than Facebook”. He said The Australian’s revenues from subscriptions are now greater than its advertising revenue.

News Corp is blocked from owning a commercial TV broadcaster in capital cities because it would breach rules preventing a single company controlling TV, print, and radio in a licence area. News’ co-chair Lachlan Murdoch owns the Nova radio network, and News prints newspapers in every capital city. Fairfax said Miller clarified that the scale News Corp could get from further acquisitions would be more about increasing audience reach than content sharing.

“It is the scale to achieve advertising outcomes that we are currently lacking,” he said.

This is nothing but corporate greed. News wants a TV network to give it more clout in trying to control the shrinking pool of ad revenues going to legacy media like print, TV and radio. News Corp currently controls more than 70% of Australian newspaper sales; it owns the only local commercial news organisation on Foxtel (and every Foxtel subscriber has to take Sky News); Foxtel is the monopoly pay-TV business, 50% owned by News, which has management control as well; it is one of two regional newspaper groups (Fairfax is the other).

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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