Mediaweek Roundup: AAP, Stateless, Olympics + more

• Queensland Music Awards, Scott Morrison, David Anderson, Nova, Chris Matthews, bushfires, AFLW, Eddie McGuire + Merrick Watts

Business of Media

AAP set to close after 85 years: Reasons and reaction

National news agency Australian Associated Press will close its doors after 85 years in operation, with more than 180 editorial staff hit by the close of its newswire and hundreds from other parts of the company to be affected by the sales of various divisions and setting up of new businesses, reports The AFR’s Max Mason.

AAP chief executive Bruce Davidson told staff on Tuesday afternoon that the AAP newswire will be closed, and the Medianet PR business and Mediaverse analytics business will be sold.

Sources told the Financial Review that changes will affect 500 individual staff members and 100 contractors, via the shutdown of AAP newswire, the sale of Medianet and Mediaverse, and the potential setting up of a new production entity. Staff entitlements are secure, sources said.

Davidson said AAP executives had been aware of the decision to close the business for nearly three months, with the final call being made in December.

Nine and News Corp are the largest shareholders and are believed to put about $5 million and $10 million respectively into the business every year.

AAP said the decision was forced by a decline in the number of media companies paying for the service in recent years and the impact of digital platforms taking other people’s content and distributing it for free.

[Read more]

ABC News reports:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament that AAP journalists have a proud and wonderful history covering Australian federal politics.

“When you have such an important [publisher] such as AAP coming to an end … that is a matter of real concern,” he said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese also addressed reporters in Parliament, saying “you will leave a massive void in terms of information coverage”.

“Democracy should not be taken for granted,” he said.

“It relies upon communication of what happens in this place and the Australian public will be less informed as a result of the decision today.”

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Free TV: AAP the canary in the coalmine on news sustainability

Free TV Australia has released a statement claiming the closure of Australian Associated Press (AAP) announced today was a reminder of the need for real action to address the ongoing sustainability of Australian media companies in the face of unprecedented disruption and change.

Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair said: Today’s AAP announcement is a sad reminder of the pressures that Australian media businesses currently face. The work of AAP and its journalists was highly valued by Free TV members.

This shines a big, bright light on the impact that digital giants Google and Facebook are having on Australia’s media landscape.

In response to the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry, the Government has required that Google and Facebook negotiate bargaining Codes of Conduct to redress the substantial power imbalance between them and Australia’s media businesses.

This also shows the urgency of reform of Australia’s archaic media regulations. It is simply not sustainable for our media businesses to continue to operate under regulations from the last century in areas such as Australian content quotas and advertising restrictions.

Today’s sad decision to close AAP only serves to emphasise that there is no time to waste in finalising both the bargaining Code and regulatory reform. The risk of Australians losing their trusted, local news services is real and it is here now.

MEAA: Closing AAP Newswire is irresponsible, government must act

The MEAA said the decision to close the AAP Newswire business in June and its Pagemasters sub-editing and production operation in August is a gross abandonment of responsibility by its shareholders – Australia’s major media outlets.

In a statement, MEAA calls on the investors to recognise that they cannot fulfil their duty to inform the community without delivering a solution to fill the enormous void left if AAP is not available to perform its function.

MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom said: “There are at least 180 editorial jobs at stake – making AAP a major media operation. Any decision to abandon AAP will be devastating for our members and AAP staff and we will do all in our power to support them.

“This decision will also devastate the media industry and the communities it serves. AAP’s shareholders must realise the prospect they face should they abandon AAP. Look at the news stories, the photos, the coverage, the quotes and the enormous spectrum of excellent journalism that AAP has supplied over the past 85 years. AAP delivers news, photos and sub-editing services that the major media groups either cannot or will not.

“The decision to close the AAP Newswire business in June and its Pagemasters sub-editing and production operation in August is a gross abandonment of responsibility by its shareholders – Australia’s major media outlets. MEAA calls on the investors to recognise that they cannot fulfil their duty to inform the community without delivering a solution to fill the enormous void left if AAP is not available to perform its function.

“Bean counters at the top of media organisations might think they can soldier on without AAP, but the reality is it will leave a huge hole in news coverage. Filling those holes will fall to already overburdened newsroom journalists. Or coverage will simply cease to occur.

“AAP has also trained generations of journalists and has been an excellent start for many of Australia’s top journalists. It is reckless and short-sighted of media bosses to jettison this wonderful media institution.

MEAA is currently consulting with its members and MEAA House Committee delegates at AAP to ensure the company’s editorial staff can have maximum input to developing strategies to assist the company.

Journalists rally behind AAP to protest newswire closure

After the announcement of the closure of AAP yesterday, journalists around Australia used social media to protest at the closure of the business and what it offers the industry.

ABC

Group photos from staff at the ABC, The Age and SBS holding signs saying “We need the AAP newswire” were among those posted online.

The Age

Comcast CEO says Olympics plans going “Full Steam Ahead”

Comcast’s “base business is probably at the moment kind of unaffected” by the coronavirus, chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said Tuesday, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

The biggest impact for the company will be at its theme park in Osaka, Japan, which has been closed for two weeks, Roberts said. That will “probably mean a 7 to 9 percent” incremental adverse hit in the first quarter to NBCUniversal’s revenue, depending on the length of the closure. “That park represents about 2 percent of our earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation” at Comcast, which in 2019 amounted to $34.3 billion, he said.

“The Olympics are obviously on everybody’s mind. What I know is it’s full steam ahead,” Roberts said, adding that the company has contractual protection and insurance. “There should be no losses should there not be an Olympics,” he said. “[There] just wouldn’t be a profit this year.” He concluded that he was “optimistic” the Summer Games would happen, adding that he was “looking forward to being there.”

[Read more]

News Brands

Bushfires add $3m to ABC broadcasting costs as funding cut

The summer bushfires added an extra $3m in emergency broadcasting costs to the ABC budget at a time the corporation had to absorb an ongoing annual budget cut of $105.9m, the managing director, David Anderson, has told a parliamentary committee, reports Guardian Australia’s Amanda Meade.

The ABC told the committee the Coalition’s $84m budget reduction announced in 2018 translated to a cut, but the defence minister, Linda Reynolds, insisted it was an “indexation pause” and ABC funding had been maintained.

Anderson confirmed both content and staff would be affected when he unveiled his plans to meet the shortfall next month, but he guaranteed there would be no reduction in regional services.

The ABC has made 935 emergency broadcasts already this financial year compared to 371 the year before and 256 in 2017-18, and has been widely praised for its vital role.

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ABC’s David Anderson’s $10m regional funding pledge

The ABC’s managing director has pledged to invest another $10 million a year in regional journalism if the federal government lifts its freeze on funding the broadcaster, reports The Australian’s Leo Shanahan.

In a letter seen by The Australian, ABC managing director David Anderson wrote to communications minister Paul Fletcher on January 24 asking the government to lift the funding cap freeze, which would allow the broadcaster to devote an extra $10 million a year in funding to regional and rural coverage.

The extra funding would be combined with further cuts and “efficiencies” identified by Anderson.

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Journalist Leigh Sales grills Prime Minister in fiery ABC interview

Veteran journalist Leigh Sales has gone hard on Prime Minister Scott Morrison on several issues in a fiery interview on ABC tonight, reports news.com.au’s Stephanie Bedo.

The 7.30 host didn’t hold back when questioning Morrison on the country’s economy, emissions targets and the sports grants saga.

Sales was praised on social media for her “extraordinary” work challenging Morrison as he dodged her questions.

Sales kicked off the interview quizzing the PM on how he’s managing the economy.

“How is it possible that you don’t have an economic centrepiece beyond a slogan for jobs and growth?,” she asked him.

“Well, I completely reject that,” Morrison replied.

Sales quickly responded: “Let me run through some of it with you…You have done nothing on IR or superannuation, nothing on GST reform, nothing big on company tax reform, no target for emissions reduction beyond 2030, business leaders feel there is no agenda.”

Sales then went on to grill Morrison on emissions reductions when things became more heated.

She told him a plan without a target is meaningless because you don’t know where you are going.

[Read more]

Hardball host Chris Matthews quits suddenly at MSNBC

Chris Matthews, the veteran political anchor and voluble host of the long-running MSNBC talk show Hardball, resigned on Monday night, an abrupt departure from a television perch that made him a fixture of politics and the news media over the past quarter-century, reports The New York Times.

Matthews, 74, had faced mounting criticism in recent days over a spate of embarrassing on-air moments, including a comparison of Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign to the Nazi invasion of France and an interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren in which the anchor was criticized for a condescending and disbelieving tone.

On Saturday, the journalist Laura Bassett published an essay accusing Matthews of making multiple inappropriate comments about her appearance, reviving longstanding allegations about the anchor’s sexist behaviour. By Monday, his position at the news network he helped build had become untenable.

Accompanied by his family, Matthews walked onto the Hardball set inside NBC’s Washington bureau shortly before 7pm to deliver a brief farewell. His long-time crew members, who had been told of his plans roughly an hour earlier, looked on stunned.

[Read more]

Entertainment

Sony Music boss honoured at Queensland Music Awards

Queensland’s next generation of music stars were celebrated alongside big-name music legends at the state’s annual music awards celebration, report News Corp’s Sophie Chirgwin and Amy Price.

The Queensland Music Awards, held for the first time at The Fortitude Music Hall, brought the best of the state’s music scene together in one room, changing the lives of up-and-coming musicians.

Thelma Plum, who was unable to attend the QMAs due to a conflict in schedule, took out the top gong for Album of the Year with her critically-acclaimed debut album Better In Blak, which tells the story of a Gamilaraay woman’s culture turning trauma into triumph.

Brisbane band The Jungle Giants won Song of the Year and the Pop category for their latest hit Heavy Hearted, which came in at number eight for Triple J’s Hottest 100 this year.

The Queensland Government’s 2020 Billy Thorpe Scholarship, which kicked off the careers of artists including Sam Hales from The Jungle Giants, was awarded to Brisbane-based singer-songwriter Harry Phillips, who will receive the $10,000 grant to record his next release along with career planning advice from Chugg Entertainment.

Winners were last night celebrated by renowned stars in the music industry including Bernard Fanning from Powderfinger and members of rock band Violent Soho.

Fanning was among the artists who presented an award while the ceremony was hosted by Dominic Miller, Jeremy Neale, The Grates singer Patience Hodgson and comedian Mel Buttle.

Queensland’s music golden girl Amy Shark surprised the crowd with an appearance to present the QMusic Honorary Award to Sony Music executive Denis Handlin in recognition for his 50-year tenure.

“Denis has changed my life and I’ve been pretty vocal about that. He continues to change my life daily,” she said on stage.

“We’ve really covered some ground in 3.5 years. He’s very rare. I’ve met people you think are all in and they’re not. As an artist having someone like Denis in your corner is an absolute weapon.”

[Read more]

Radio

Nova Brisbane general manager under internal investigation

Long-serving Brisbane general manager of Nova Entertainment Jay Walkerden is under an internal investigation following an alleged incident involving one of the announcers on 106.9’s top-rating Ash, Kip, Luttsy & Susie breakfast radio show, reports News Corp’s Kylie Lang.

The Courier-Mail understands the alleged incident occurred when Walkerden – who is also Nova’s program director – was on a week’s trip with the crew in California last week.

Several radio insiders, including announcers for rival networks, confirmed similar accounts.

One said: “There was an incident in San Francisco, and complaints were made.”

The Courier-Mail contacted Walkerden, but he did not return calls.

He has been in senior roles with Nova for almost nine years, and is married to afternoon announcer Katie Mattin.

[Read more]

Television

With drama under threat, Stateless proves home-grown shows matter

The ABC has debuted an exceptional Australian drama in the form of Stateless, a detailed and wrenching study of the lives consumed at every despairing turn by a razor-wire encircled detention centre, reports The Age’s Craig Mathieson.

Screening on Sunday nights, where it’s helping to reclaim the 8.30pm timeslot for quality local storytelling, the six-part series has a nuanced perspective on our nation’s divide over refugees and the terrible failures that form in the resulting deep cracks.

With its impressive ensemble cast, led by Yvonne Strahovski, Fayssal Bazzi, Jai Courtney, and co-creator Cate Blanchett (working some truly terrifying leisurewear as a cult leader’s courtier), the Matchbox Picture production gets at the official duplicity and private cost of fashioning a system that’s not meant to work for people supposedly in need.

The setting is the South Australian outback, but there are moments – grimly black in their offhand comic detachment – that suggest a 21st century update of Kafka’s worldview.

Following the ABC’s 2018 outback procedural Mystery Road and 2019’s full-tilt political thriller Total Control, it gives the national broadcaster an impressive three-for-three in Australian drama.

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TV Renovation queen buys home of comedian Merrick Watts

Television renovation queen Cherie Barber has been revealed as the buyer of an insane converted warehouse that sold last month for around $6 million, reports News Corp’s Mat Bell.

Barber snapped up the Lilyfield property owned by comedian and radio presenter Merrick Watts and his wife Georgie, a week out from auction for the suburb record.

While settlement will reveal the actual price, CoreLogic confirms that a sale around $6 million will see the warehouse break the Lilyfield property record by nearly $2 million.

The finished product won multiple awards and features a 500-bottle cellar, rooftop pool, 5m high library wall, a suspended fireplace and retractable walls and roof. It also blends minimalist touches with original features such as the Oregon roof trusses.

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Sports Media

Eddie McGuire nominates his most memorable footy calls

Eddie McGuire has paid tribute to footy callers as “custodians of the game” while naming broadcasters who inspired him and special matches he has called over the journey, reports News Corp’s Nui Te Koha.

McGuire, a Fox Footy broadcaster, said footy calling is about doing justice to the game and the players.

“You are, at that moment, the custodian of the game, you are the recorder of history,” McGuire said.

“If you miss someone taking the mark of the year, or the mark of the century because you’re talking about something else, or you haven’t got yourself quite right, you miss the opportunity to make something spectacular.

“The great commentators find the moment.”

McGuire cited Mike Williamson’s “Jesaulenko, you beauty!” as an iconic moment, and gave credit to Anthony Hudson (“I see it, but I don’t believe it” on Swans player Nick Davis kicking a game-winning goal in the 2005 AFL semi final), Stephen Quartermain (“Leo Barry, you star!” for another game-winning effort in the 2005 grand final), and legendary callers Bruce McAvaney and Dwyane Russell.

“As a caller, you just hope you can do the game and the player justice. That’s what it’s all about,” McGuire said.

[Read more]

Broadcaster says he would not cross the road to watch AFLW

Broadcaster Steve Price says AFLW is a waste of money and he “wouldn’t cross the road to watch it”, reports News Corp’s Nui Te Koha.

Price, appearing on Triple M Hot Breakfast with Eddie McGuie and Luke Darcy, said an AFL club official told him the spend on four AFLW games is $1 million.

“Is that a good spend?” Price asked. “I wouldn’t cross the road to watch it.”

He added: “I love female sport, but the amount of money we’re ploughing into this is ridiculous.”

McGuire, who is also the Collingwood Football Club president, told Price membership numbers were up because of AFLW.

“You will never get a dollar of government money for any infrastructure unless you’ve got female sports involved,” McGuire said.

“We’ve just done a deal which will be announced in the next couple of months … and the key part of that was the women’s sports.”

Price responded: “So governments are shaming you into supporting women’s football so you can get infrastructure built?”

[Read more]

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