News Corp Australia’s executive chair Michael Miller has been popping up across the media in what looks like a sales campaign, with interviews in The Australian Financial Review, The Australian and Sky News’ new Sunday program Business Weekend.
It was his first interview with the AFR since 2015, when he took the top job at the local arm of the Murdoch empire. Media editor Max Mason was paid the ultimate compliment by Miller who whinged about Nine publications’ coverage of Foxtel. He accused Nine’s papers of being “deliberately destructive” in coverage of Foxtel’s finances and dealings with global studios.
“I think that some of the coverage from Nine publications … have pretty consistently tried to destabilise and make the studios aware of what we’ve filed from a financing point of view,” Miller said.
And to think that News Corp and its papers have never tried to destabilise rivals such as Nine, Fairfax, the ABC, SBS or Seven West Media — and made it highly personal at times. Miller’s prickliness is a testament to the efforts of Max Mason who first revealed that Foxtel and News couldn’t refinance the pay TV company’s US$1.3 billion in debt. We didn’t see Miller moaning about the coverage from The Australian or other papers in his stable.
In fact, there has barely been any mention in the Oz of the A$300 million loan in April from News to Foxtel to repay a debt. Mason notes that Miller wouldn’t talk about another US$142 million (around A$200 million) debt repayment Foxtel had to make last Thursday. That means News Corp has most likely provided another loan, taking the amount to over A$500 million in the space of a month.
But the big story from the interviews was the warning from Miller that staff across the company had better be on their toes because job cuts are coming. The AFR played up that lead in its story, but it was tucked away in the story in the Oz’s media section on Monday.
News Corp is desperately trying to resize its media operations in Australia to handle the downturn in advertising and sales in its newspapers, in subsidiary REA Group and especially in Foxtel. Miller did say on Sky News that the cuts “will be across the board”. He made it clear that they won’t only be journalists but in the company’s commercial operations. He said the cuts will not be limited to “one part” of the company “or geographic areas”.
He also said there will be people hired with different skills to meet the changes and challenges from the evolving environment. The company was looking to adjust staffing levels among journalists to better match skills with what the company will need (hint: they will have to be able to do podcasts).
Miller ruled out any thought of a spin-off or stock market float of Foxtel, claiming it was “making good money”. He wasn’t challenged on the later point that if Foxtel was indeed doing well, why did it have to borrow $300 million from its parent? With the second debt payment due last week. You would have thought that if Foxtel had been able to make that payment on its own, Miller would have made sure it became public.
Miller was quite upfront when he told The Australian’s media editor Leo Shanahan, who handled the Oz and Sky News interviews, that the cuts will “see people who have been working for the company for some time, leaving”. He said the cuts “would be targeted to all areas of the company”. When asked by Shanahan about the number of cuts, Miller dismissed the intent of the question with “we don’t talk numbers, we talk to people”.
Well, we know at least 35 people where sacked when the Your Money Nine joint venture was axed in April.