Mediaweek Roundup: Andrew O’Keefe, Nine CEO, ABC Board + more

• Plus more on the proposed Media Code, privatising ABC, AAP reopens regional bureaus, Alan Jones forced correction, George Pell articles and Georgie Gardner.

Business of Media

Nine Entertainment Co narrows chief executive search

Four media executives will appear in front of Nine Entertainment Co’s board of directors this week as the search to replace outgoing chief executive Hugh Marks nears its end, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

Industry sources familiar with the hiring process said Stan boss Mike Sneesby and Nine publishing and chief digital officer Chris Janz were the two internal candidates in the running to replace Marks.

Two external media executives are also in contention for the role to lead Nine, which owns television, radio, online streaming, real estate and publishing assets, including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

The sources said the two other candidates are Carl Fennessy, the former joint-CEO of major production house Endemol Shine Australia, and David Lynn, the former president and CEO of ViacomCBS Networks, who left the company late last year after 24 years.

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Anita Jacoby, Peter Tonagh among ABC board considerations

Two well-known media identities are among the candidates being considered for the ABC’s board, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios and Lisa Visentin.

Media industry sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said former Foxtel boss Peter Tonagh and former broadcaster Anita Jacoby have been approached to take on non-executive director positions following the departure of Kristin Ferguson and Donny Walford last November.

Jacoby is a highly regarded broadcast executive and journalist who has held roles with at Nine Entertainment (owner of this masthead), Seven West Media, Network Ten, ABC, SBS and Foxtel. She made the shortlist for the SBS board role last year, before Warren Mundine was selected.

Tonagh, who led the effort to save Australian Associated Press last year, spent a large part of his career at News Corp as both co-chief executive and later Foxtel boss. He has held several board roles including lead independent director of Village Roadshow and chairman of Quantium.

The ABC’s board has had two members leave since November. Peter Lewis was appointed interim deputy chair while it looks for replacements. It’s unclear if Lewis will stay in that position. If not, one of the selected candidates can take the deputy chair role.

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Media Code

‘It’s a bad deal’: Google’s offer to pay French publishers revealed

Google has agreed to pay 120 French media companies €90 million ($142 million) over three years to participate in its new journalism product, in a sign its proposal to sidestep new Australian regulations may fall short of publisher expectations, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

Industry sources told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Google would pay some of France’s biggest publishers between €25 million and €30 million a year to participate in its soon-to-launch Google News Showcase product.

The revelation comes as Google attempts to convince the federal government the Showcase product would be a better way to pay media companies for news in Australia, as it fights back against tough new government proposals to regulate its relationships with publishers.

The government’s new media bargaining code, deemed “unworkable” by Google and Facebook, would force the two digital giants into binding commercial agreements to pay Australian news businesses or risk steep fines of up to 10 per cent of their annual revenues. It will be debated again by a Senate committee next week.

Nine, owner of this masthead, has said it thinks the two digital giants should be forced to pay Australian media companies up to $600 million annually, while Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has said they should pay $1 billion.

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reaches out to Josh Frydenberg over media reforms

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft chief Satya Nadella have reached out directly to Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg over the proposed media bargaining code this week, as the government refuses to bow to Google’s attempts to scuttle the reforms, reports News Corp’s Richard Ferguson.

Social media and search engine giants continue to resist key elements of the federal government’s proposed media code, which would see them pay local publishers for the use of their content.

The Treasurer revealed on Sunday that he and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher spoke to Zuckerberg this week about the impact the reforms may have on his company.

“It was a very constructive discussion,” Frydenberg told ABC News.

“Mark Zuckerberg didn’t convince me to back down if that’s what you’re asking.”

The Prime Minister also spoke to Nadella – Bill Gates’ successor at the computer software giant – this week. Microsoft’s Bing search engine is a rival to Google.

“They’re watching this very closely, and no doubt, see opportunities here in Australia to expand, too. So this is world leading,” Frydenberg said.

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US urged to drop media code dissent

The US government’s trade office has been urged to retract its objections to the mandatory news media bargaining code in Australia, amid accusations that its public stance against the Morrison government’s legislation was a threat to high-quality journalism and stained America’s global reputation, reports News Corp’s James Madden

A fortnight ago, in the dying days of the Trump administration, the Office of the United States Trade Representative wrote a letter to Labor senator Alex Gallacher — who was chairing the forthcoming Senate hearing into the media code — to push for a voluntary code of conduct for the tech giants, rather than a mandatory one.

But just 24 hours after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the News Media Alliance — which represents more than 2000 publishers in the US, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times — began a campaign for a retraction of the letter that had been sent by members of the previous members of the Trade Office.

In a letter obtained by The Australian, the peak body tells Katherine Tai — who was last month appointed the new US Trade Representative by  Biden — that the intervention by the trade office just before her nomination was “inappropriate”.

“We believe such a request fails to represent wider US trade and business interests, undermines the sustainability of high-quality journalism back home and abroad, and threatens the reputation of the United States internationally,” reads the letter, signed by NMA president and chief executive David Chavern.

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Will Google and Facebook really axe some services in Australia and what will that mean?

Google and Facebook have both threatened to withdraw some of their services from Australia if a new code forcing them to negotiate with media companies to pay for content goes ahead, writes Guardian Australia’s Josh Taylor.

If Google pulls its search engine in Australia, it would mean you would probably hit a landing page instead of Google search when you go to the Google homepage. Your browser on your desktop and mobile phone would need to be switched to another search engine in order to continue working.

You might be able to get around the block by using a virtual private network (VPN) to make it appear as though you are visiting Google from another country, but part of the success of Google search is providing results relevant to where you are in the world.

For businesses in Australia, it would mean having to switch ads that would normally appear in search results on Google to another service such as Bing or DuckDuckGo.

It won’t mean you’ll be unable to use Gmail, or Google Maps, or your Android phone, or any of Google’s other products, although how the lack of search function might affect these other products is unclear.

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News Brands

Why cancelling Aunty would endanger our democracy

Critics of the ABC, including the Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, have attacked the headline (since amended) of an online article detailing Australia Day events. The article included events marking what for many has become known as “Invasion Day”, writes AFR‘s Joseph Gersh.

Do these critics suggest that the ABC ignores such events or a debate that has been conducted across the entire community, and about which opinions widely differ?

No inappropriate instructions appear to have been issued to staff, and no political position has been adopted by the ABC. Yet critics were quick to hit their keyboards. Curiously, some who argue the ABC ought to be privatised on principle now say it ought to be privatised as “punishment” for perceived sins. Both reasons are wrong.

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AAP reopens regional bureaus to meet government funding requirement

The Australian Associated Press has hired journalists to reopen bureaus in Darwin and Townsville to meet a government funding requirement, reports AFR‘s Miranda Ward.

A $5 million government grant provided to the AAP newswire was given in the understanding the organisation would reopen regional bureaus and hire freelance reporters.

The news organisation was given the grant in September last year after the government tweaked guidelines of its Public Interest News Gathering Program, which was designed to support regional news outlets.

Outlined in government cabinet papers, seen by The Australian Financial Review, AAP was required to “maintain or increase” its level of public interest journalism in regional areas which the papers said it would achieve in two major ways:

• Providing direct support in regional news-gathering via funding of local journalists
• Providing critical indirect support through provision of newswire services to regional publishers which allows them to focus on their own investment solely on local reporting.

The document outlined the funding would allow AAP to reopen its Darwin, Cairns and Townsville bureaus and also support the use of regional journalism freelancers.

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Alan Jones forced to correct attack on Daniel Andrews that ‘misrepresented’ Covid research

Alan Jones was forced to publish a correction to his August 2020 editorial railing against Covid-19 restrictions in Victoria after the broadcasting watchdog found he had “misrepresented the research” on the effectiveness of masks and lockdowns, reports Guardian Australia.

Alan Jones was forced to publish a correction to his August 2020 editorial railing against Covid-19 restrictions in Victoria after the broadcasting watchdog found he had “misrepresented the research” on the effectiveness of masks and lockdowns.

The original six-minute video, “This is not a pandemic it is a catastrophic state government failure”, itself remains uncorrected on the Sky News website and YouTube, a situation the Australian Communications and Media Authority (Acma) does not object to and says “constitutes a correction in an appropriate manner”.

After Victoria went into stage-four lockdown, Jones told viewers the science did not back up the premier’s decision to introduce tougher rules.

“I’d suggest [Andrews is] fighting a virus with the wrong response,” Jones said. “Listening to the wrong experts and trashing everything in our wake.”

In September Acma received a complaint about the episode of Jones’ broadcast on Sky on WIN and assessed the complaint against the provisions of the Commercial Television Industry Code.

The investigation found Jones had “misrepresented the research” but said if he corrected the editorial within 30 days the program he would not be in breach of the commercial TV code.

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Pell articles were about media coverage, court hears

A senior editor at The Australian Financial Review has said he believed any journalist publishing a sensitive story without legal advice and consultation with the editors would face the sack and there was no way a journalist would have gone rogue and put a story online, that was related to a suppression order, on their own accord, reports AFR‘s Max Mason.

The Financial Review, its Melbourne bureau chief Patrick Durkin and editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury, along with more than 20 media outlets and journalists, are charged with contempt of court over stories published in December 2018, which came out of the now-quashed conviction of Cardinal George Pell on child sex abuse charges.

Senior news editor Mark Coultan gave testimony on Friday relating to two online stories, and one print story that was a copy of an online story.

Durkin, the author of the stories, did not name Cardinal Pell. Instead, the stories focused on the media’s coverage of the issue and County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd’s anger at other publications’ coverage despite a suppression order.

“In the theoretical, if Patrick had decided off his own bat to publish this story, it would certainly be a matter of serious reprimand, or even dismissal,” Coultan said.

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Television

Game show host Andrew O’Keefe charged with assault

Channel Seven star Andrew O’Keefe has been charged with allegedly assaulting haematologist Orly Lavee on Sunday, reports News Corp’s Liam Mendes.

Police also applied for a provisional apprehended violence order to protect Dr Lavee, his rumoured girlfriend, following an alleged incident at a Randwick unit just before 1am.

“Just before 1am Sunday 31 January 2021 officers from Eastern Beaches Area Command attended a Randwick unit after reports a 41-year-old woman had allegedly been assaulted in a domestic violence incident,” a NSW Police spokeswoman told The Australian.

O’Keefe, who hosts Channel 7’s quiz program The Chase, was arrested 2½ hours later and taken to Maroubra police station, where he was charged with common assault (DV).

The former Weekend Sunrise host was released on police bail, with conditions preventing him from contacting Dr Lavee, except through legal representation. He must also not assault, molest, harass or intimidate her.

Conditions of the provisional apprehended violence order also prevent O’Keefe from approaching or contacting Dr Lavee. He is prohibited from attending her workplace and her $2m apartment.

The apprehended violence order also states he must not assault or threaten, stalk, harass or intimidate, and intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage any property that belongs to or is in the possession of Dr Lavee.

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Rove McManus on Seven’s list if Andrew O’Keefe ends The Chase

Game show host Andrew O’Keefe’s charmed run at the Seven Network could be at an
end, with network bosses in talks to potentially replace the troubled presenter of The Chase, reports News Corp’s Annette Sharp.

Seven refused to be drawn on the industry talk with a spokesman on Saturday issuing a statement: “Andrew O’Keefe has been a valued member of the Seven on-air family for many years and he continues to appear as host of The Chase Australia.”

This contradicted well-placed talk claiming O’Keefe could leave and suggesting network bosses have drawn up a wishlist of replacement hosts, among whom is Rove McManus.

O’Keefe’s contract with the television network is understood to have lapsed at the end of 2020 giving TV executives the opportunity to move in a different direction after its 17-year relationship with a star who has been battling mental health issues and scandal for a decade.

It also puts Seven in the box seat to draft a new tougher short-term contract that gives the network greater power.

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Nine’s Georgie Gardner renews contract at a reduced salary, insiders claim

Georgie Gardner fought but ultimately lost the Today hosting wars and since then she has been reading the Friday and Saturday evening news in Sydney, reports News Corp’s Amy Harris.

Spies around Nine’s swish new North Sydney studios say Gardner — with a lawyer in tow — sat down with director of television Michael Healy recently to thrash out a new deal and even lobbied for an increase on her rumoured in the neighbourhood of $800,000 annual salary.

However, it’s understood Healy issued a “take-it-or-leave-it” package that one insider claimed was for a new figure of around $300,000 — a massive decrease per year.

It’s believed Gardner ultimately agreed to the reduced salary, which was attributed by Healy to her reduction in on-air duties.

It’s understood she will remain on as host of her two weekly news bulletins as well as occasional fill-in spells for Peter Overton.

A spokeswoman for Nine said: “Georgie renewed her contract last year and everyone at Nine is extremely proud to have her as an important member of the Nine News team. Her deal with Nine is on mutually agreeable terms that both are extremely happy with.”

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