Nine’s political editor Chris Uhlmann recently made his own headlines after accusing some in the media of “waging a war against the prime minister of Australia”. The commentary came during the last week of August as the Liberal Party was swapping leaders.
Uhlmann singled out Sky News, in particular what goes to air after 6pm.
“Sky after dark has been running a campaign against Malcolm Turnbull. Sky after dark at the moment is turning Liberal National Party voters into One Nation voters and they are not coming back,” Uhlmann said.
“I mean, with friends like Sky News, Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t really need many other enemies.”
Speaking to Mediaweek recently about the criticism were two of the biggest names working for the News Corp-owned TV channel, which now also broadcasts around Australia on regional FTA TV as Sky News on WIN. David Speers and Paul Murray looked back on the controversy and reflected on what it had done for the channel’s ratings too.
Paul Murray (PM): I think it is terrible our numbers have gone up and up and up. The more people that know there is diversity of opinion on Sky News on Australian television the better.
David Speers (DS): Chris Uhlmann is a mate and I respect him as a journalist. I have spoken to him about what he said and his views. I don’t disagree that Malcolm Turnbull did cop some pretty aggressive criticism. I think every prime minister who leaves office has made the same complaint though about copping some grief from a section of the media. Maybe it was a bit tougher on Turnbull in particular. What I don’t see evidence of is what Chris is suggesting in terms of what went on behind the scenes. Bullying, threats or intimidation to MPs – I know those people but I am not aware of any of that sort of behaviour.
PM: People know there is a difference in Australian media between straight news and opinion. Everyone knows that the news at the top of the hour on the Alan Jones breakfast show is different than the editorial that happens at 7.05am. What is different now is that this is the first time it has happened on television. A lot of people have generalised about the content at Sky News and dumped it all together.
I always feel very self-conscious if David, Laura Jayes or Kieran Gilbert have to cop any shit for something that I have said. They have always been incredibly supportive and professional about knowing that it works like a newspaper where no one worries about the difference between the opinion page and the news page.
Because we have commercial competitors who will do everything they can to stop our growth (and why wouldn’t they – it is in their business interest to do so). All sorts of terms have been invented – After Dark is a great line and very clever. But last time I checked, if you can’t tell the difference between what I do at 9pm and what David does at 4pm I can’t help you.
How will Sky News treat the new prime minister Scott Morrison?
PM: We haven’t had the meeting yet. [Laughs] You know how it works. They send us the orders of what to say ever day.
DS: Nothing changes for me. Quite honestly, and people may believe it or they may not, I treat every day as a blank page and treat every story on its merit and treat every politician the same. At least I try to. That is my approach and there are no favours for anyone.
PM: As someone who was very critical of Malcolm Turnbull, a lot of people have tried to read why I am critical of a certain politician. As to why you get frustrated with a single person, it builds up over time and then the smallest thing can trigger a big reaction.
It can take some time to explain why you are so fired up.
I have a great relationship with Scott Morrison. I hosted his 10 years in parliament function and have been to the footy with him plenty of times and he has been a mate all the way from Opposition into Government and pre-Abbott and post-Abbott. He is the best shot [the Coalition] has got. Whether or not he is going to win, who knows? He’s going to have to be close to perfect to get close, we will see what happens.
Sky News impact and audience
DS: One thing that always amuses me is those who deride our viewership, yet also claim we can change the government.
Most main media outlets do have an influence and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. We do, but that’s no bad thing if we are opening up the debate and bringing new ideas to the table. If you watch Sky News you know that not everyone sits there and agrees with each other. Far from it – Paul and I will have some terrific debates day in, day out. That is the beauty of political discourse and what free speech should be about.
PM: If we disagree with each other on-air, 100% of the time one or the other will text and explain why we were so fired up. There are no Machiavellian moves about trying to push anyone away from the microphone. I have responsibility for two hours of what we do. I don’t own the hour before and I don’t own the hour after.
If we have a small audience and nobody cares, then why does anyone talk to Radio National breakfast? Should people be only talking to Kyle and Jackie O or doing interviews on MasterChef?
I don’t think I’m the first person to call myself a bogan and we speak in a very direct fashion. There are rules of how you are supposed to debate and I am happy to break that convention. But I am respectful of others who work in lots of different ways.
This has always pissed me off and genuinely annoys me about Sky News. I want it to be part of your media diet, but not your total media diet. My personal media habits see me watching Sean Hannity and then I listen to the Rachel Maddow podcast on the way to work. What I find amazing is that people who work in media, who understand the nuances, complexities and difficulties, come up with some of the laziest analysis of what our channel is and the integrity of the people who are on it. I was the first to do opinion on the channel and have been there for 10 years.