It was the early 1990s. Our fledgling publishing company had launched a new kind of glossy weekly newspaper, in the suburbs of Melbourne.
It was doing really well. We’d taken big slabs of advertising away from the fat, rich suburban newspapers owned by News and Fairfax. They weren’t happy.
We decided to expand the idea into the north shore of Sydney, where News Corp dominated the territory with their vastly profitable North Shore Times and Mosman Daily.
Although we tried to keep our Sydney expansion plans quiet, a few months before launch I got a phone call from a senior figure in News Corp’s newspaper division. He thought it would be good to catch up.
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We met in the coffee shop of the Hilton Hotel in East Melbourne. He was a Big Company media executive from central casting who looked, acted and talked corporate.
After effusively congratulating me on our success with the Melbourne Weekly, he cut to the chase.
“We know you’re planning to launch in Sydney,” he told me.
Then — and I still remember these words as if they were spoken yesterday — he said: “If you stay in Melbourne, we’ll let you survive, but if you come to Sydney, we’ll wipe you out in both places.”
As it turned out, despite the mafia-style threat, we survived in both.
Earlier this week, News Corp “suspended” 60 of its community newspapers across Australia, including the mastheads we competed with all those years ago.
In an op-ed published prominently in News Corp’s dailies yesterday, the company’s Australian CEO Michael Miller declared that “COVID-19 did not create this crisis, but it brought it to a head,” instead blaming “international platforms” (Google and Facebook) who “unlike us” have “no commitment to local communities” for forcing the “suspension” of 60 Australian community newspapers at a moment in history when those communities need local news more than ever before.
To clarify. News Corp is an $8.6 billion corporation run from Sixth Avenue in New York.
It is controlled by the (American) Murdoch family.
Its exploits over seven decades have been as brutal and Darwinian as any media company in history.
It has regularly dispensed “we will wipe you out” threats to small and large competitors across the world.
Now, we’re told, “international platforms” who have “no commitment to local communities” are responsible for depriving 60 Australian local communities of the news they have depended on for decades.
At some point in Australian history, the malevolent abuse of power by the billionaire family who milks its former colony will be exposed.
Maybe, just maybe, we have reached that point.
Eric Beecher is the Chairman of Private Media, the publisher of Crikey.