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Aug 30, 2017

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Today in Media Files, InDaily has set up a donations platform to support its journalism, following a growing global trend for supporting journalism, and former US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has lost a defamation case against The New York Times.

InDaily asks for donations. South Australian news website InDaily has set up a donation platform so readers can give money to support its journalism. In an article addressed to readers, editor David Washington said that while they didn’t plan to charge for content, “we have become aware that plenty of people in the community would like to support what we do”. They’re using a company called Press Patron, a website that publishers can sign up to and readers can use to make one-off or regular donations. Washington said all funds would be put into journalism for the site. InDaily is owned by SA company Solstice Media, and Washington said it offers an independent alternative to News Corp’s The Advertiser.

InDaily‘s move is part of a growing trend for news organisations using memberships or donations to support their work. The Atlantic announced a membership program last week, and The Guardian formally announced this week a non-profit in the US to make it easier for groups and individuals to make philanthropic donations. 

Palin loses New York Times defamation case. Former US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has lost her defamation case against The New York Times. In an editorial published in June, The Times linked Palin to a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, which it corrected the next day. Palin sued for defamation, but federal Judge Jed S Rakoff yesterday dismissed the claim:

“Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States. In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others … But if political journalism is to achieve its constitutionally endorsed role of challenging the powerful, legal redress by a public figure must be limited to those cases where the public figure has a plausible factual basis for complaining that the mistake was made maliciously.”

The Times has put the full judgement online here, and said in a statement the decision was an “important reminder of the country’s deep commitment to a free press and the important role that journalism plays in our democracy”.

‘Fucking idiots’. A Scottish academic who shared a fake photo of a shark swimming in Houston floodwaters on Twitter has told BuzzFeed he knew it was fake, and only meant to share it for a laugh with his followers. Jason McCann describes himself as a journalist in his Twitter bio, but said he didn’t see a problem with sharing something he knew to be fake:

“To be honest, the first thought that went through my head was, fucking idiots …  We are responsible for how we receive the information we’re getting. If people choose to be fooled by a shark swimming by a car, I don’t think it says a great deal about me.”

Fox News dropped from UK TVs. Hey Rupert Murdoch, you Sky Fox you. If it is the right thing to do in pulling the corrosive Fox News from Sky in the UK, why not get rid of it from Foxtel in Australia? There is a simple reason or two why the codger won’t follow the surprise decision in the UK with a similar move in Australia. There was only a thin justification for the decision:

“Fox News is focused on the US market and designed for a US audience and, accordingly, it averages only a few thousand viewers across the day in the UK. We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the UK.”

Gee, has it taken 20 years to realise that? The same could be said for Australia and anywhere outside the US where Fox News is broadcast. The overriding reason is the increasing fear the Murdochs have that their name is mud in the UK and 21st Century Fox’s agreed $18 billion offer to buy full control of the European pay-TV group Sky is looking shaky. The British government is still deciding whether to refer the deal for a full investigation. 

In Australia Foxtel is 50% owned by News Corp — the associate company of 21st Century Fox which owns Fox News Channel, and News Corp has management and programming control over what appears on Foxtel and especially Sky News which it bought last year. And unlike the UK, News and Fox are not in the midst of a delicate takeover for the rest of Sky that Fox doesn’t own — a bid that is running into rising opposition from politicians, others in the media and ordinary Britons. But there is one big deal involving News Corp and Fox in Australia and that is the injection of Fox Sports into Foxtel to allow Telstra to start exiting the Pay TV company.

Why not a bit of Murdochian symbolism and drop Fox News from the Foxtel channel line up as a precursor to the Foxtel changes? Go on, it will be just as meaningless as the UK move and the justification just as thin. — Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer’s TV Ratings. It was Nine’s night, and the ABC again bested Ten in the main channels and snuck into third spot. Nine’s True Story With Hamish and Andy has lost half a million viewers nationally markets since its debut in early June.

Seven axed Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA and ran a second episode of its own kitchen nightmare — Hell’s Kitchen at 9.30pm. HK had 839,000 viewers for the first episode and 769,000 for the second. Host Marco Pierre White looked bored. Ten’s Shark Tank — 639,000 nationally — sank. Would any of the “entrepreneurs” on the panel buy a show whose audience has fallen like ST’s has? ABC’s The House at 8pm stood out, both in content and viewers with 898,000 nationally at 8pm. Tonight, watch Mad As Hell and Utopia — both on the ABC.

In regional markets Seven News was on top again with 638,000, with Seven News/Today Tonight second with 531,000, then The Block with 513,000, Home and Away was fourth with 489,000 and the 5.30pm part of The Chase was fifth with 421,000. — Read the rest on the Crikey website

Business

Aug 29, 2017

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So many losers from the CBS purchase of the Ten. Just how many are there? Let’s count them (hot tip, they all have some link to the Murdoch family).

But first up, who are the winners? Besides Australian media consumers, there’s the former management at Ten who set up the CBS deal. It’s a bit after the event, but former Ten CEO Grant Blackley (now CEO Southern Cross Austereo) and Nick Falloon, Ten’s former chair (now chair of Fairfax Media) are grinners. Both set up the structure in 2010, with CBS owning a 33% stake in Eleven Co, the content joint venture sitting over Ten’s Eleven digital channel and the conduit of CBS content to Ten. Both were flicked by the know-nothing combination of Lachlan Murdoch, Bruce Gordon, James Packer and Gina Rinehart.

With that stake in Eleven Co CBS gained a very good understanding of Ten’s affairs, its problems, who was to blame and the worsening state of the Australian TV and media markets. And that was used to funnel CBS’s bid because of the monies owed under the content deal. You can bet that both men had a wry smile and a chuckle yesterday at the clever Murdochs being done over by CBS, with the bonus of Bruce Gordon thrown in.

Crikey mentioned the losses yesterday for the billionaires on the board — Lachlan Murdoch, Gina Rinehart, Bruce Gordon and James Packer. That’s an estimated $600 million down the tubes. Smarties! But Gordon and Murdoch stand out:

Bruce Gordon joined with Lachlan Murdoch to make a joint bid for Ten. As they gathered their forces in June, they sent off a nasty letter (via a team of financial advisers based in Sydney) and frightened the Ten board into pushing the network into administration by threatening legal action (one of those threatened happened to be the CEO of Foxtel, Peter Tonagh). Foxtel is owned 50% by News Corp and Tonagh is a former News executive. yet evidently Murdoch and Gordon had no compunction in upsetting him. Not a good look. There is now a suggestion that they knew Ten and CBS were close to doing a debt to equity swap based on the 33% stake CBS has in Ten’s Eleven digital channel, and that the legal threat was a stopper for that deal aimed to give the duo time to structure their bid.

Both Murdoch and Gordon knew James Packer wasn’t on board, but they failed to inform the market of that change. Bruce Gordon doesn’t have the 14.9% stake in Ten anymore that he planned to build into a 50% stake and de facto control, with Lachlan Murdoch occupied at News Corp and 21st Century Fox. So what does that do to the finances of his WIN TV empire? He does have 14.9% of Nine left and might try and turn that into gold. But then WIN is the regional affiliate of Ten and he is on the hook. Time to cash out and depart once and for all for his tax haven in the Bahamas?

Lachlan Murdoch: a rolled gold loser. He has to wear most of the blame for Ten’s collapse and the losses of $1 billion over the years since he first appeared on the share register as a result of a deal with his One.Tel bestie, James Packer, who had grabbed nearly 18% of Ten. Packer sold half his stake to Lachlan Murdoch — both have lost the lot. Lachlan Murdoch’s right-hand woman, Siobhan McKenna is also a loser. She suddenly departed the Ten board on March 15, with no notice or explanation. She never owned a Ten share while on the board for around five years. What was she doing as the network staggered from overspending crisis to over-valuation crisis? McKenna is now director of broadcast at News Corp Australia, overseeing Fox Sports, Foxtel and Sky News. But now Ten and next year Foxtel and Fox Sports will become one. Will she and Lachlan Murdoch try to find a new leader for the new merged pay TV company in 2017? The betting is yep. Former Ten chair and News Corp executive Hamish McLennan is another loser simply because he ran Ten poorly and left it floundering.

[How much money have the Murdochs made out of Ten?]

Foxtel/News Corp: big losers. There goes Foxtel/Fox Sports’ chance to grab back co-broadcasting rights to cricket’s Big Bash that they held for the early seasons, only to see them purloined by Ten. With this contract ending at the end of the 2017-18 season, CBS’ ownership should give Ten the clout to convince Cricket Australia to renew the rights. That would not have happened without a major financial partner and for a while Foxtel Sports/Foxtel was that. Foxtel also lost $77 million on its Ten stake (13.82%) to prop up Ten’s finances in mid 2015. News Corp will no longer be the biggest media company in Australia — even after the Foxtel ownership reshuffle. CBS is many times the size of News — US$28 billion against US$7.88 billion for all of News Corp.

Foxtel and Fox Sports do have co-broadcast rights with Ten for the rugby union, the F1 car races and the Supercar series in Australia. They can quite easily remain there, but CBS owns the CBS Sports Network, which is a US-based digital TV and satellite business. The question is: how far does CBS want to take its sports coverage in Australia? It could decide that working with Foxtel is a better deal than going it alone. Foxtel and Fox Sports face their own problems in the next year with that shotgun marriage as part of the restructure of Foxtel (which allowed Telstra to sell down its stake and eventually leave).

Sky News: losers, big time. News Corp bought control of Sky News last December not only to solidify its control of our nascent Fox News Channel, but as part of the control package when Ten came on board. Sky News was to do the Ten News broadcasts each day and night from new offices being built at News Australia HQ in Holt Street, Sydney. CEO Angelos Frangopoulos’ ambitions to be Australia’s King of Cable News (like a kinder, gentler Roger Ailes) are now on hold, as are those of the flock of News Corp babblers who wanted to be seen by a wider audience on Ten than on Sky News from 7pm (starting with The Bolter).

MCN: And what happens to the advertising sales venture with Foxtel/Fox Sports’ sales arm, MCN, and its ambitious head, Anthony Fitzgerald? Ten owns 25% of MCN. That deal was done when Foxtel invested money in Ten in mid 2015. That money ($77 million) has now been lost, but the MCN deal with Ten lives on — why? Does CBS leave the deal in place for the moment, or spend millions taking back control of its advertising and not ceding control to the Murdoch-controlled Foxtel? If you were CBS you’d want to check the books and make sure there were very high Chinese walls inside MCN between the Ten sales group and the pay TV sales groups.

[Who really killed Channel Ten?]

Endemol Shine/Fox Studios produce some of Ten’s best programs, such as MasterChef Australia. Those contracts won’t change if the programs rate. If they don’t (Shark Tank, Australian Survivor), the salad days are gone. Modern Family from Fox is dying on air. CBS’ NCIS is Ten’s most popular overseas program and the most popular US drama on Foxtel.

Seven/Nine Networks? Seven, no real change except it faces a very big and very well run competitor with ideas and products (such as CBS: All Access) that could make Kerry Stokes’ world just that much harder. Nine Network though faces perhaps the big question — the future of 60 Minutes. It is the flagship program for CBS in the US. Nine pays a fee to CBS for the rights. The question is can CBS take back those rights now that it is going to compete with Nine in Australia. You can bet checking the licence agreement was the first thing Nine CEO Hugh Marks did yesterday when he heard the CBS news about Ten. Stan, the streaming company co-owned by Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment sources some of its content from CBS. That will now be up in the air with CBS:All Access starting next year as a rival.

Ten: Will 21st Century Fox/News/the Murdochs take back some programs, The Simpsons for example, or MASH, because of the change in ownership? Regardless, Ten will be relieved with this deal because Viacom (which is also owned by CBS’s parent, National Amusements) owns Channel 5 in the UK. Channel 5 broadcasts Neighbours and finances much of the budget, Viacom at one stage was not inclined to support continuing to finance the program. Ten gets Neighbours cheap (it is produced by Fremantle for 5 and Ten) and CBS’ move on Ten should keep the show alive for a while longer.

Viacom TV channels such as MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, Comedy Central, etc. Viacom is the other bit of CBS that controls a host of cable channels and Universal Studios and Paramount. (Ten already has access to a lot of Paramount/Universal product). CBS’s biggest cable channel is Showtime. Content from some of these could quite easily appear on Ten’s digital channels aimed at specific markets: kids’ TV, TV for teens, and young millennials.

Sour grapes from News Corp papers, especially The Australian? News Corp wants the media ownership and control and reach laws to be changed and approved by the Senate, but the price of that is allowing a very large cuckoo into the Ten nest in the shape of CBS. That might bring more pain and sorrow for the Murdoch clan. So, will News Corp papers attempt to play the foreigner card (i.e. CBS is American) while avoiding mentioning that News Corp is American, as is the Murdoch family?

And lastly: is CBS taking a step too far? Through its executives on Eleven Co CBS had a very good understanding of the local market and local TV programming ideas and preferences — especially how the easy days of buying in a big hit or two from the US is no longer a viable strategy (as it was for Seven 13 years ago when it brought Lost and, especially, Desperate Housewives). Facebook and Google and Netflix are changing the rules for media, but CBS knows all about that in the more competitive US market.

It will be quite a ride. 

Film & TV

Jul 27, 2017

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Today in Media Files, research by a media analyst finds a content-sharing deal between Sky News and Ten could benefit both networks to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Sky News for Ten would benefit both, analyst says. If Sky News were to produce news for the Ten Network under a content-sharing deal, tens of millions of dollars of benefit would flow to both networks, according to research by Global Media Analysis. The research, prompted by speculative reports about such a deal, found that Ten could save between about $10 million and $20 million under such a deal, while Sky could increase its revenue by between $15 million and $25 million.

Sky News and its companion channels are fully owned by News Corporation, and if Ten’s billionaire shareholder Lachlan Murdoch gets his way in an attempt to grab control of the network with fellow billionaire shareholder Bruce Gordon, such a content deal would benefit both his family’s company and his own.

But it looks like Gordon and Murdoch no longer have the field to themselves to take over the stricken free-to-air broadcaster. That might be a good thing, as The Australian Financial Review reports that nine groups have been given an information memorandum on Ten to allow them to prepare possible bids. The AFR also says the nine groups (which include the US’ Oaktree private equity group and US broadcaster CBS) have had to sign non-disclosure agreements.

But for Gordon and Murdoch to get their hands on Ten, the media ownership and reach laws will have to be changed. We will get the first inkling of the damage to the Murdoch media empire’s balance sheet in two weeks when News Corp reveals its 2016-17 fourth-quarter and annual results. A write-down by Foxtel of the remaining US$22 million or so of value of its 13.8% shareholding in Ten is expected, along with other impairments. Analysts are watching the 21st Century Fox fourth-quarter and annual results the same week for any write-down of the value of its program supply deal with Ten. — with Glenn Dyer

Mid-year Walkley Awards announced. The Walkley Foundation has announced the winners of its mid-year awards at an awards ceremony in Sydney. The industrial relations reporting award was handed to a team from The Age for its reporting on employee agreements negotiated by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. The award was sponsored by the ACTU, which has the SDA as one of its members, and which, according to a Crikey tipster, had tried to put pressure on the board over the stories being shortlisted.

Jo Chandler was named freelance journalist of the year, Guardian Australia‘s Paul Farrell was named young journalist of the year, and SBS’ Jackson Gothe-Snape was awarded the highest amount under the innovation fund for a project to create a database of politicians’ conflicts of interest.

The revolving door. Fairfax politics reporter (and former Crikey media reporter) Matthew Knott is upping sticks to study at Columbia University in New York to study a master’s of arts in political journalism. He’s taken a leave of absence from Fairfax and plans to return in a year, once he’s completed the course.

Front page of the day. Rolling Stone has not been especially subtle in its latest cover story …

 

Changes to Adelaide’s ABC local radio line-up. ABC Adelaide has announced changes to its radio line-up following long-time breakfast presenter Matthew Abraham’s departure a few weeks ago. Abraham had presented breakfast with David Bevan for 15 years. Bevan told listeners this morning he would move to the mornings program, and Ali Clarke will take on the breakfast slot.

Facebook surprises with top financial results. Following Google’s better-than-forecast June performance announced earlier this week, Facebook has stunned with a 47%-plus surge in ad revenues to US$9.164 billion, as monthly user numbers hit 2.1 billion and daily user numbers topped 1.3 billion. Google said 87% of its ad dollars were from its mobile business, up from 84% in the June quarter of 2016.

In both cases the performance of the two tech giants belied the self-interested campaign by media companies, led by News Corp in the UK, Australia and the US, the Daily Mail and Telegraph in the UK and several smaller groups that have tried to bring the two giants, especially Facebook, to heel by highlighting ad placements on extremist and porn websites. Judging by the figures, the campaign has failed spectacularly as users and clients have shrugged off the hypocrisy, especially from News Corp papers (for example).

Despite higher job numbers and costs, Facebook’s profit margins rose in the quarter. Both results make it a bit easier to understand why the US sharemarket hit new highs overnight Wednesday, and will continue upwards tonight.

Facebook’s shares rose 4% in after-hours trading, pushing the company’s value to US$499 billion. Earlier on Wednesday, Amazon’s market value topped the half a trillion level to close at US$503 billion. It reports its second-quarter figures tonight and analysts will be looking to see if details of its Prime membership numbers are released, as well as more information on the spending and other plans for its video on demand service which is now second to Netflix’s offerings (which reported at the start of last week and surprised with more members than forecast and higher revenues and earnings). — Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer’s TV ratings. The Bachelor’s 2017 series return! So many roses slaughtered in the name of faux relationships! So many enhancements! It returned with a solid 1.10 million national viewers (846,000 metro and 262,000 regional viewers), which was a bit lower than the 1.19 million a year ago (882,000 in the metros and 314,000 in the regions).

But the big news wasn’t the fact that The Bach didn’t live up to 2016. No, it was the ratings hit Offspring took last night (now that MasterChef is no longer the lead-in) from having The Bach as the lead-in. You would have thought that The Bach would have helped, but it seems it was a hindrance. Offspring averaged 758,000 nationally last night, down 15% from 892,000 a week earlier. 

For Ten The Bach might have fleshed out some younger female demos, which enabled the network’s main channel to slip past Nine (a Ninja let-down night) into second place last night. Seven won the night. Tonight we find out if the ABC’s new medical series, Pulse, is still alive or needs a trip to the ICU. If it does, it will join the AFL Footy Show for its rebirth next Thursday night with Eddie McGuire back in the chair and Sam Newman trying to reclaim past glories (or rather atrocities). It could be a final throw of the dice for Newman. In the regionals, a Seven night with the news at the top with 634,000 viewers, then Seven News/TT with 509,000, followed by Home and Away with 467,000, the 5.30pm part of The Chase Australia with 441,000 and then The Force with 435,000. — Read the rest on the Crikey website. 

NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the name of Global Media Analysis.

Environment

Jul 11, 2017

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Last week, Chris Kenny and Andrew Bolt broke a story that Kenny said deserved to be on front pages everywhere. But the story didn’t make a front page anywhere. Because the story didn’t exist.

With knowing nods, winks and half smiles, Kenny told his exclusive band of viewers of his “Heads Up” segment on Sky News to prepare for something momentous. This was, he told us breathlessly, a “very, very dramatic story” about “serious science”.

“There’s been quite a dramatic paper released by some of the world’s leading climate scientists,” Kenny went on, pausing for effect.

Kenny was referring to a new paper published in Nature Geoscience journal — “Causes of differences in model and satellite tropospheric warming rates” — by several eminent climate scholars, including lead author Benjamin Santer, as well as the extensively awarded Michael E. Mann.

The Nature Geoscience paper is about the difference between observed and modeled temperature rises, analysing “global-mean tropospheric temperatures from satellites and climate model simulations to examine whether warming rate differences over the satellite era can be explained by internal climate variability alone”.

But Kenny knew better, cleverly revealing the real story: “a global warming pause”.

Wrong. There is no global warming pause, as has been widely and repeatedly made clear, for example, here, here and here. Even worse, the paper he referred to said nothing of the sort.

About five seconds into Kenny’s TV, ahem, “report”, he decided to stop being even slightly accurate. “What they’re saying here is that the warming they have on their graphs, on their modelling, is much higher than the warming that has actually occurred.”   

The paper didn’t say this either.

Kenny then went on to quote repeatedly and triumphantly from the paper’s abstract, not the paper itself. Which is a bit weird. It’s like quoting from the back cover of a book, not the book itself. (The abstract of academic papers is typically publicly available, whereas the papers themselves are usually restricted to researchers or universities.) For such a huge, serious science story, wouldn’t you cite the actual paper? Unless, of course, you don’t have access to the paper. And if you don’t have access, have you actually read the thing?

Kenny quoted the last line of the paper’s abstract:

“We conclude that model overestimation of tropospheric warming in the early twenty-first century is partly due to systematic deficiencies in some of the post-2000 external forcings used in the model simulations.”

This, he said, meant that scientists were overstating temperatures. Hence the momentousness of his”story”. Problem is, the paper didn’t say this at all.

If he’d read the last line of the paper itself — and it’s questionable as to whether he read the paper at all — he would have read this:  

“Although scientific discussion about the causes of short-term differences between modelled and observed warming rates is likely to continue, this discussion does not cast doubt on the reality of long-term anthropogenic warming.”

Kenny didn’t report this, though. If he had, he wouldn’t have much of a story. However, he did claim that the paper showed that climate scientists’ models were wrong, that temperatures were overstated and therefore climate change wasn’t such a problem.

Kenny is the earthly representative of his spiritual mentor, Andrew Bolt, who misreported the same story, but went one further, saying that the paper’s lead author, “leading alarmist Ben Santer, now admits the world isn’t warming as predicted by global warming models”.

Not only is Bolt’s report as untrue as Kenny’s — if not more so — but Santer has been at pains to make clear the opposite is the case. For example, he published a fact sheet to accompany the paper Kenny and Bolt reported on. Wait a moment, I here you say, there was a fact sheet? Indeed. As Santer explained to me:

“The aim of the fact sheet was to reduce the likelihood of misinterpretation of key findings of our paper. But no matter how carefully or cautiously a paper is written, it is impossible to guard against wilful misrepresentation of results. Sadly, such wilful misrepresentation is now an expected outcome after each paper I publish.”

Funnily enough, the fact sheet completely contradicts what Kenny and Bolt reported. For example, it says this:

Do the problems in representing these external cooling influences point to systematic errors in how sensitive the models are to human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) increases?

Answer: No, not at all. We are talking about known, well-studied problems with some of the external, climate-influencing “forcing factors” that were used in the model simulations. These problems have nothing to do with the issue of how sensitive models are to GHG increases.

The fact sheet also discusses cooling and, also rejects the notion that there’s been a pause that Kenny and Bolt reported, saying this:

In a recent paper in Scientific Reports, you find that satellite measurements do not show any signs of “leveling off” of tropospheric warming over the past two decades. Aren’t those findings at odds with the findings of the Nature Geoscience paper?

Answer: No. The findings of the two papers are entirely consistent. The Scientific Reports paper compares the satellite tropospheric temperature trend over the past 20 years with many samples of 20-year trends obtained from model simulations of natural internal climate variability. Even though the most recent 20-year warming trend is smaller than in earlier parts of the satellite record, it is still significantly larger than the range of 20-year trends caused by internal climate variability alone. From our Scientific Reports study, there is no evidence that satellite data show “levelling off” of tropospheric warming in the last two decades.

Despite a fact sheet accompanying the scientific paper they claim to be reporting on, Kenny, Bolt and a bunch of other climate sceptics have reported the exact opposite — Bolt in particular, who is syndicated internationally, especially on a host of foetid climate-denying blogs. His sloppiness — and perhaps dishonesty — in reporting this paper has already been widely disseminated.

This is but one example of what regularly happens if there’s a difference between complex climate models and reality, a difference regularly exploited to suggest climate change isn’t happening or is in doubt.

But take a step back for a moment and think about modelling anything: how you will brush your teeth compared to how you did brush your teeth; modelling economic outcomes versus actual economic outcomes; or modelling visitor numbers compared to actual visitor numbers. There will always be differences because models and reality aren’t the same thing. This is despite the fact that climate models are actually accurate (for example, see this, this and this).

Climate change should be in the headlines every day, and so should all the other problems that constitute the Anthropocene era we’re living in, but they rarely are. The only front page Kenny’s story should be seen on is that of a Press Council adjudication.

Companies

May 3, 2017

5 comments

The Murdoch clan are about to tighten their already extensive grip over the news Australians read and watch every day. Taking advantage of the lacklustre management and oversight of the Ten Network by Lachlan Murdoch, the 100% News Corp-owned Sky News will produce Ten’s news services to generate significant cost savings. The related-party deal is in the final stages of discussion.

News of the talks and the closeness of their finalisation has raised hopes that the $250 million loan demanded by Ten as a key condition of its survival will be granted and guaranteed by at least Bruce Gordon (owner of WIN, Ten’s regional affiliate) and the Murdoch interests, be it Lachlan Murdoch personally, News Corp or Foxtel.

“Ten News will be produced by Sky News, from Sky News. Still branded Ten News, still with Sandra Sully and other local news anchors,” a source inside Ten told Crikey last night.

“However, Ten newsrooms will close down and staff will be retrenched. A small number might move across to Sky News.”

Fairfax Media carried a story on its websites on Tuesday afternoon quoting Ten News staff worrying about these talks, and the union is gearing up for some tough negotiations.

Once Sky News has control of Ten News, it will be supplying every Foxtel pay TV subscriber (2.9 million) with their news, plus Ten (around 450,000 to 500,000 Monday to Friday and fewer than 400,000 on weekends).

This partly explains why News Corp bought Seven, Nine and Sky of London out of the Australian news channel for about $20 million late last year. Earlier this week, Sky News gained control of Fox Sports News, which already supplies video to News Corp papers and some news.

This latest move will elevate the Murdoch family to an unprecedented level of dominance in terms of control over traditional Australian media assets and their news services.

News Corp’s strong national position in newspapers — via its tabloids, The Australian and its vast stable of suburban and regional papers — was augmented last year when the ACCC allowed News Corp to buy APN’s stable of regional dailies in Queensland and New South Wales. The only asset going the other way was Perth’s Sunday Times, which News Corp sold to Kerry Stokes’ Seven West Media last year in what looked like a quid pro quo for the Sky News buyout.

In addition, News Corp remains APN’s biggest shareholder with a 14.9% stake, but is restricted from buying more or taking a board seat because APN owns two radio networks that compete with Lachlan Murdoch’s privately owned Nova Entertainment stable. Existing media laws prevent anyone controlling more than two radio stations in one market.

Industry talk of a deal on Ten News is why Ten shares ended up for the first time in a month yesterday, closing up 1 cent to 24 cents after reaching a high of 27 cents. 

Also helping was strong ratings for MasterChef Australia, which returned on Monday night for its 2017 season with a national audience up on 2016 at more than 1.42 million people. The importance of MasterChef to Ten highlights another entanglement with the Murdoch clan; it is produced by Endemol Shine, 50% owned by 21st century Fox, the clan’s No. 1 company (ahead of News Corp and its 61% associate, REA Group).

Endemol Shine also produced the 2017 failure of the year for Ten, The Biggest Loser. The more successful Offspring (which returns later this year) is another Endemol Shine program for Ten, as is Gogglebox Australia, which is produced for the Lifestyle channel on Foxtel. Ten re-screens it on Thursday nights, and it has become its most successful program of 2017, with ratings up this year and a Logie. Shark Tank is another Ten program from Endemol Shine, as will be the TV remake of Wake in Fright. There have been others in the past, including the mini series Brock.

Without MasterChef, Offspring, Gogglebox and other programs, Ten’s fortunes would be much weaker. The Endemol deal is far more important than the expensive programming arrangement Ten has with Fox Studios (wholly owned by 21st Century Fox) and CBS (controlled by the Redstone family). It is these two contracts that are really hurting Ten, and need to be re-negotiated.

News Corp owned Ten outright in the 1980s before selling it to the Lowy family for more than $800 million as part of its takeover of the Herald & Weekly Times.

But if the Murdochs get control of Sky News they will almost be back to the control they had in the 1980s, when there was no pay TV and Paul Keating declared you could be the princes of print or queens of the screen, but not both.

It would be interesting to get Keating’s take on News Corp’s Pacman-like push in Australia over the past couple of years.

The power at Ten comes from strong influence over board composition, Lachlan Murdoch’s direct 8% stake, Foxtel’s 13.8% shareholding, the advertising selling arrangement through Foxtel’s MCN, the programming supply deals and now the coming control of Ten News.

The commercial terms of the Sky-Ten news merger will be important to watch and would be fully disclosed but for Australia’s lax related-party transaction laws.

CEO Paul Anderson stressed last Thursday that the transformation plan being contemplated would trigger some one-off costs after Ten’s September 30 year, suggesting the newsroom redundancies won’t happen immediately.

Politically, it makes sense to try and secure media law reform and a cut in government licence fees before the scale of journalism job losses and reduced media diversity is fully comprehended.

Malcolm Turnbull will have some interesting decisions to make. He knows the media game intimately and was the banker who sold Ten to the Canwest-led consortium after the Lowys effectively let it go broke in the early 1990s.

As the UK regulators weigh up whether the Murdochs are “fit and proper” to control 100% of Sky PLC, the same questions apply with Ten in Australia. With the ongoing smell emerging from Fox News, this is not a clear-cut question.

The Murdochs are not allowed to buy Ten under existing law but in terms of controlling a competitor they are doing everything but at the moment.

Maybe it would be simpler if the government declared News Corp or 21st Century Fox could buy Ten outright under one condition — an end to the gerrymandered capital structure, which allows the Murdochs to control 40% of the votes at both companies, but only about 14% of the total shares on issue.

If you want unprecedented power in a vibrant democracy like Australia, surely you should have to wield that power through corporate structures that respect democratic principles, such as one vote, one value.

Federal

Apr 10, 2017

5 comments

Ooops, did Peter Dutton do it again? This time last week the Immigration Minister set tongues wagging when he appeared to confirm that Malcolm Turnbull could suffer “death by Newspoll”, just as his predecessor did.

Yet by the weekend, the stumble-prone cabinet minister had crab-walked away from those comments. Was this a case of over-reach by the PM-presumptive or just another one of the former plod’s brain farts?

Thanks to the Abbott camp and their media enablers, Dutton has become the conservatives’ overnight sensation. He is now apparently considered by both the commentariat and serious political journalists, perhaps even the man himself, as a contender for the Liberal leadership.

So it matters what Dutton says.

Last week the Immigration Minister appeared to agree with conservative megaphone Ray Hadley that if bad Newspolls continued for the government then Turnbull would have to pass the baton to someone else. Hadley argued this was “because [Turnbull] raised the spectre on that day of Newspoll being a measure of the fact that he was challenging for the prime ministership.”

Dutton replied it was a fair point and “Malcolm Turnbull wouldn’t step back from that point”.

Whether intended as such or not, Dutton’s comments were seen as a serious ratcheting-up of the conservatives’ campaign against Turnbull. A buzz began in Canberra as less experienced journalists began to trill “it’s on”, even as older scribes remained unconvinced.

[Abbott-Turnbull: it’s on, but there’s a third player]

The Abbott camp did its bit to stir up speculation, with their Lycra-clad man using his taxpayer-funded annual “charity fundraising” event to make numerous media appearances, during which he criticised Turnbull for doing a deal with Nick Xenophon to get corporate tax cuts through the Senate and assured supporters he “may well sign up to go around again” at the next federal election.

The Sky News evening echo chamber redoubled its efforts to motivate the younger conservatives who continue to back the current PM to jump ship, claiming an election still more than a year away was already lost under Turnbull. The delcons then whipped themselves into a frenzy of Turnbull-denunciation when the Liberal Party’s formal review of the 2016 federal election was strategically leaked to the media.

Perhaps Sky News producers were hopeful that, by inviting Dutton to appear on one its weekend political chat shows, the minister would repeat the implied death sentence that he had pronounced for the PM earlier in the week.

[LEAKED: Tony Abbott’s Pollie Pedal bicycle trip schedule]

Regrettably, at least for Sky News, Dutton used the opportunity to either back away from those earlier comments or clean up after himself — depending upon whether one favours the conspiracy or stuff-up interpretation of the concession to Hadley.

Knowing the program is watched by (little more than) weekend-shift political reporters, the man once famous only for making off-colour jokes directly underneath a boom mic didn’t hesitate in unequivocally setting the record straight.

Dutton reminded his perhaps disappointed interlocutors that Liberal prime ministers had reversed poor polling positions before, such as John Howard in 2001, who led the Coalition to victory six months after registering a 35% primary vote.

Incidentally, Howard pulled off an even more impressive feat in 1998, when his government rose from a primary vote of 34% in June to win that election only three months later.

Accordingly, Dutton confidently claimed, “We have the ability to turn the polls around … under Malcolm Turnbull,” and “This government can win the next election and win it well”.

[All of the times ‘no undermining, no sniping’ Abbott has undermined and sniped in the past four months]

The key to whether Dutton originally misspoke can perhaps be found in other points he made during the same infamous interview with Hadley.

The minister noted that the government needed to turn the polls around, but that it had to make tough decisions that are “not always popular”. This would suggest he was trying to defend Turnbull’s poor polling rather than using it pull him down. As they say in the classics, with defenders like Dutton, who needs enemies?

There is another hint in that original interview that suggests Dutton’s brain might not have been fully engaged before he deployed his mouth that day. Noting the need for tough but unpopular decisions, the self-appointed heir apparent claimed voters would ultimately recognise that such decisions were made for the right reason.

That certainly wasn’t the case with Abbott’s budget in 2014. And with Labor poised to depict anything done by the Coalition in this year’s budget as unfair and out of touch, there’s little to suggest Dutton’s outdated political wisdom will apply in 2017.

Media

Apr 6, 2017

5 comments

Ousted “outsider” Mark Latham is back on the air. Kind of. The debut of his Facebook Live version of Sky’s Outsiders last night looked even more low-budget than the program that was canned last week over a series of generally awful comments by the ex-pollie.

Sitting around a sound desk with a cardboard cut-out of Donald Trump and a “Mark Latham’s Outsiders” sign, Latham and panellists Miranda Devine and Bettina Arndt drew a peak of about 1800 viewers at once last night with the broadcast. Outsiders got an audience of about 35,000. The video had clocked up 38,000 views by this morning.

Many of the comments were complaining about buffering and the poor sound quality of the video — something Latham has promised to improve, while also plugging his fundraising efforts for the show.

“A few teething issues with audio that we can improve,” he posted. “Please support the show to help these improvements.”

Latham is asking for donations for start-up and ongoing costs of the program, in denominations from $10 up to $2000. 

There’s no mention of how much of Latham’s parliamentary pension, estimated to be about $80,000 a year, is going towards the effort. — Emily Watkins

Tips and rumours

Mar 30, 2017

5 comments

Mark Latham’s mates and defenders have deserted him after his sacking from Sky News, with only Andrew Bolt and Michael Smith somewhat defending him in editorials so far. Bolt dedicated precisely 56 words to how “sorry” he was that Latham was sacked and his feeling that “we will all be poorer without his insights into the culture wars”. Meanwhile, Smith’s punchy, unadorned prose (“Like I said, I don’t like him. But I like Sky News even less than I like Latham. The decision to sack Latham is wrong.”) expressed concern about the “ratcheting down of our freedom of speech”. Is it that ratcheting down of free speech that’s caused Latham’s right-wing allies to be silent? Or do they think he crossed the line as well?

Media

Mar 30, 2017

5 comments

We’ve finally learned what it takes to get fired from Sky News.

For Mark Latham, it wasn’t defaming his colleague on his barely-watched Sunday program Outsiders.

It wasn’t calling ABC broadcaster Wendy Harmer “disabled” and a “commercial failure” after she attacked the program on Twitter.

It wasn’t accusing a senior bureaucrat of hiring employees based on “the shape of their genitalia”.

It wasn’t even attacking a 15-year-old girl for being privileged and selfish.

Latham was not sacked — or even suspended — until yesterday, after the Daily Telegraph, with comment from ministers, reported that the former Labor leader called a Sydney Boys High School student “gay” when discussing a video the school produced about gender equality. Maybe it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but we found it.

Latham had made those comments on his program back on March 12, but Tele reporter Sharri Markson wrote about it for yesterday’s paper, including criticism from Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham and NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes.

As Latham rightly pointed out in his return to Twitter last night, there hadn’t been a problem with what he’d said until the Tele picked it up.

The Guardian also published a story yesterday by Amanda Meade on comments Latham made on Sunday’s show about the Reserve Bank governor’s 15-year-old daughter, suggesting she was privileged and needed to be more interested in the disadvantaged.

Sky News political editor David Speers announced Latham’s sacking on his show, and then on Twitter yesterday afternoon. Sky News CEO, Angelos Frangopolous, also confirmed this on Twitter, saying: “While we support strong opinions and robust arguments we pride ourselves in doing so in a civil and respectful manner”.

Former NSW premier and current Sky commentator Kristina Keneally lodged a formal complaint with Sky last week over comments Latham had made, calling her an “Obeid protege” among other statements she considered defamatory.

Wendy Harmer tweeted that she only wanted an apology from Latham, and in response to last night’s sacking, repeated this in response to a comment from The Australian’s columnist Chris Kenny.

Latham had his column cut from the Australian Financial Review in 2015 after a number of his columns attracted complaints — including a defamation lawsuit from author and journalist, Lisa Pryor.

He also resigned from Spectator after editor Rowan Dean refused to run one of his columns about the author of this week’s Tele piece, Sharri Markson, back when she was media editor at The Australian

Sky News would not comment on whether Outsiders would continue without Latham, or which of his comments in particular had triggered his sacking.

Australia

Mar 29, 2017

5 comments

Former leader of the Federal Labor Party, Mark Latham, reveals exactly what he thinks of people on the Disability Pension in these extracts* from his daily journal:

9am: Headed to Hungry Jack’s for breakfast. On the way, passed some elitist wankers eating at a hipster cafe just to rub it in the ordinary Australian’s face. They made me so angry I had to punch the straw dispenser several times to calm down. My Aussie BBQ Brekky Wrap was what I call a REAL MAN’S breakfast.

10am: Went to Bunnings to buy a spade, so that I could take it home and call it a spade. And then plant some tomatoes maybe. Asked a sheila where the spades were. She said she didn’t work there. I see this a lot these days: women who think that the sexual revolution gives them the right to say whatever they want to ordinary hard-working Australians. Told her to stop being such a snowflake and tell me where the spades are. She walked away — incredibly rudely, I thought. I worked out my frustrations by overturning several pot plants. Never found the spade. Registered an official complaint with the store manager due to fact all female staff were wearing trousers: identity politics going too far yet again.

11am: Made myself a sandwich at home. Noticed that the bread bag was telling me to recycle it. Screamed at the bread to stop being so PC. Pointed out that this was why the left has lost its way. Banged my head against the water heater till I felt better.

12pm: Popped out to do a bit of gardening. Found it difficult as I had no spade. Shouted over neighbour’s fence that this was emblematic of the crisis in masculinity that Australia is going through. Neighbour refused to come out and listen. Went over and knocked on the door. No answer. “So much for the tolerant left!” I yelled as I uprooted his mailbox and threw it at a passing cat.

12.30pm: Walked the dog, as millions of decent working-class Australians have done for generations without needing to put their hand out for arts grants. As we walked, I informed the dog of the source of the current problems besetting the ALP, i.e. feminism. Passed a feminist outside Woolworths. She asked if I would like to donate to Amnesty International. Told her that her efforts to deny me my free speech would come to naught. She said she was just trying to collect for a worthy cause. I did not fall for her doublespeak; I told her that it was time she got off the Disability Pension and started earning an honest living like a proper man would. She seemed confused, but the bleeding hearts always are when you hit them with the TRUTH.

1pm: Returned to Woolworths to distribute further honesty to the Amnesty woman, since I’d forgotten to call her ugly earlier. Pointed out to her that if men hadn’t died in wars there wouldn’t even be any women, so she could at least make the effort to put on make-up. She walked away and I calmed down by lying on the ground and rubbing my face with gravel for a few minutes. Stood up to find that dog had run away. Truly, we have abandoned the Anzac spirit.

2pm: Got a call from the wife asking if I could pick up some milk. Told her I resented her questioning the extent of my physical strength and proved her wrong by throwing the phone out the window. Tried to make a cup of tea but couldn’t as we were out of milk. Wife clearly has not been doing her job. Tried to ring her to tell her so but couldn’t find my phone. Realised I was getting a bit worked up so took a bubble bath with scented candles. Didn’t work. Kicked a hole in the wall instead. Much better.

3pm: Kids came home from school. Asked them how their day was. Turned out they’d been brainwashed by elitist bleeding heart SJW teachers with a black-armband view of history. Rang the school principal and demanded he face me in the boxing ring. He refused. “This is why Trump won!” I roared. Asked him to explain why he was teaching my children about global warming. Pointed out that Marx had failed. He said he didn’t understand what I was talking about, thus proving that he is gay. Told him I would be taking legal action against the school for being effeminate, and hung up.

4.30pm: Time to start dinner. As I am a man, I cooked a steak. Kids wanted to know what they would be having for dinner. Rather cleverly told them it must be nice, living off welfare. “Back in my day people had jobs,” I shouted. They had headphones in and didn’t hear me, so I quickly wrote an essay on the feminisation of the armed forces and the high percentage of terrorists who are single mothers, and emailed it to them.

6pm: Tried to go to work at Sky, but couldn’t because the security guard at the studio was a woman. Had to stay at a distance, throwing holy water at her. Didn’t work. Called her a lesbian. She wouldn’t move. Called Chris Kenny to come down and help me. He wasn’t there. He’d had the same problem. Had to go home. Cried myself to sleep. A good day.

*As discovered by satirist Ben Pobjie.