Mediaweek roundup: Your Right To Know, Banijay, Masked Singer + more

• Disney+, NRL, ABC and Al Jazeera + Seven

Business of Media

Banijay close to securing $2.2 billion deal for Endemol Shine

Banijay Group is on the verge of sealing a deal for production and distribution powerhouse Endemol Shine, reports Variety.

Vivendi-backed Banijay and Endemol Shine’s joint owners, Disney and Apollo, are understood to have scheduled a meeting for Thursday after talks accelerated in recent days, with Banijay now on the brink of finally closing a deal for a big asset it has been chasing.

Numerous industry players have taken a look at Endemol Shine, a huge production and content sales operation that has shows including Black Mirror and Big Brother in its deep catalogue. Eighteen months of on-and-off talks with various suitors have so far failed to reach a deal. All3Media dropped out of negotiations in recent weeks.

A source with knowledge of the situation told Variety that the purchase price of the proposed Banijay deal will be in the region of €2 billion ($2.2 billion).

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In Australia, a deal as outlined above could mean Banijay-owned Screentime could be merged with Endemol Shine Australia. The latter produces some of the biggest shows in Australia including Married At First Sight, MasterChef, Australia Survivor and Lego Masters.

Verizon US customers to get year of Disney+ for free

Disney and Verizon on Tuesday unveiled a deal to give the phone giant’s wireless and Internet customers a year of Disney+ for free from November 12, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

The offer of 12 months of Disney+ on Verizon will apply to the phone giant’s wireless unlimited customers and new Fios Internet and 5G home Internet customers. Set to launch November 12, the Disney+ streamer will provide movies and shows from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and more.

The free-year offer, besides rewarding Verizon wireless and Internet customers for loyalty, also promises Disney potentially millions in new customers for Disney+ after the first year of viewing.

Disney+ is set to release more than 25 original series and 10 original movies and documentaries, including The Mandalorian, from executive producer Jon Favreau, and Lady and the Tramp, a retelling of the 1955 animated classic.

“Giving Verizon customers an unprecedented offer and access to Disney+ on the platform of their choice is yet another example of our commitment to provide the best premium content available through key partnerships on behalf of our customers,” said Verizon chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg in a statement.

Disney is challenging rival SVOD players by bankrolling new original series for Disney+ and by pricing the service below Netflix. Shares in Netflix fell by 2.4 percent to US$271.50 in early morning trading on news of Verizon bundling Disney+ with its wireless and Internet hardware.

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News Brands

ABC paid $5000 licence fee to Al Jazeera for One Nation, gun lobby footage

The ABC paid a $5000 licence fee to Al Jazeera for its undercover documentary into the One Nation Party and the American gun lobby, which hurt Pauline Hanson’s party at the May federal election, reports The Australian’s Lilly Vitorovich.

Managing director David Anderson said the documentary was acquired through its entertainment and specialist division, adding that the $5000 fee “might have been in kind for access to the ABC’s archive footage”.

Anderson said he didn’t know if the ABC had sought comment from the One Nation or its president about the documentary’s accuracy before airing.

“I don’t know if any member of the ABC reached out to One Nation or not,” he told Senate Estimates, which included questioning from One Nation leader Paul Hanson, on Tuesday evening.

However, before the documentary aired it went through ABC’s legal department for publication approval, he said.

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Your Right To Know

Army’s reports kept secret to avoid flak on social media

The Department of Defence has kept a series of reports into the culture within the Australian Army under wraps, claiming that their release would jeopardise any possible improvements and have the potential to fuel a social media backlash, report The Australian’s Sean Parnell and Matthew Denholm.

The latest example of government secrecy can be revealed as Scott Morrison’s Coalition came under strong criticism from former Liberal leaders over press freedom, with Jeff Kennett warning that the separation of powers had been “totally blurred” and John Hewson urging “serious” reforms to halt “abuse of power”.

right to know

The government’s refusal to provide access to information is one of the motivating factors behind­ a letter media organisations sent on Tuesday to all 227 federal MPs, sounding the alarm on a growing culture of government secrecy. The letter — signed on behalf of 19 media organisations by News Corp Australia’s corporate affairs director Campbell Reid— said that laws needed to “strike the right balance” and too many passed in recent years were at odds with “an open and transparent society”.

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Year-long backlog for Freedom of Information reviews

Freedom of Information reviews are taking more than a year, some without even being allocated to a case officer, because the federal government has not given the oversight agency enough funding, reports The Australian’s Sean Parnell.

The incoming Coalition government tried to abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner but was unsuccessful. It has since allowed its three separate commissioner functions to be done by one person, most recently Angelene Falk.

In a Senate estimates committee hearing on Tuesday, Falk said there had been an 80 per cent increase in applications for review of FOI decisions over the past four years.

The OAIC budget allows for 19 case officers, however Falk said she had asked government for funding to hire another nine plus capital costs.

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Senator Rex Patrick’s leak on submarines may have saved lives

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick says blowing the whistle on the leak of the French company that is designing Australia’s $50bn submarine fleet has made the nation safer, reports The Australian’s Greg Brown.

The South Australian senator, who is pushing for a referendum to include the right to press freedom in the Constitution, said the balance between national security and the public’s right to know was out of kilter.

In 2016, Senator Patrick, then a staffer for former senator Nick Xenophon, released to The Australian’s Cameron Stewart a leak on the combat capability of the six Scorpene-class submarines that French shipbuilder Naval Group designed for the Indian navy.

Senator Patrick has called for constitutional change to enshrine press freedom and an overhaul of Freedom of Information laws.

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The criminal on the PM’s plane and other absurdities of a secretive democracy

Kevin Rudd’s plane had taken an unusual detour on the return journey from the 2008 APEC meeting in Chile, going via Hawaii rather than Auckland, reports Nine News political editor Chris Uhlmann in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Detours on domestic and international journeys were not that uncommon for the peripatetic Kevin747, so few in the travelling media pack thought much of it.

No one had any reason to sweat the refuelling stopover of a few hours, except, of course, for the convicted criminal in our midst.

As we disembarked, and handed over our passports and paperwork, the criminal was spotted and singled out by US officials. For his crimes he was taken and held apart from the rest of the pack for the duration of the stay and escorted back to the plane when it departed.

The criminal was the Melbourne Herald Sun’s political reporter Gerard McManus. A little over a year earlier he had pleaded guilty to five counts of contempt in the Victorian County Court. His colleague Michael Harvey pleaded guilty on four counts.

Gerard McManus is now a media adviser in the Morrison government so there is hope that all criminals may one day be redeemed. There was some change after his conviction with the introduction of shield laws to provide greater protection to journalists and their sources. It was a small pause in a steady retreat.

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Corruption investigations on the rise as Morrison fends off press freedom calls

Corruption inquiries have hit a record high at the nation’s law enforcement agencies in a telling sign of misconduct at the same time federal politicians face a united media campaign against government secrecy, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s David Crowe.

The federal integrity commissioner has disclosed the “highest ever” number of ongoing corruption issues being investigated, with the workload growing by 20 per cent to have 278 investigations under way at the end of June.

The findings come as Prime Minister Scott Morrison counters media industry calls for six reforms to protect media freedom including stronger laws to protect whistleblowers who reveal public sector misconduct.

Morrison has dismissed the need for stronger whistleblower protections in the past and has countered the media industry campaign this week, saying “no one in this country is above the law,” but Labor is challenging him to admit the need for reforms to curb secrecy.

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Geoffrey Robertson, QC, warns Australia looks second-rate

Australia looks like a “second-rate nation” because of its draconian laws that allow attacks on journalists and their sources, leading human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, QC, has warned, reports News Corp’s Stephen Drill, Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson and Charles Miranda.

The UK-based Australian barrister has backed a campaign, supported by all of Australia’s major media companies including News Corp – the publisher of this masthead – to reform laws in Australia to protect the public’s right to know.

Robertson said more needed to be done to get Australia’s law up to speed with those of the United Kingdom.

“Australia is behind other advanced nations in its failure to protect the media from police harassment. In Britain, for example, they may only obtain a warrant to search journalists’ offices and homes with the Director of Public Prosecution’s approval, by making an application to a judge, which the media can oppose,” he said.

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Seven ordered to pay compensation to contestant for ‘psychological’ injury

A former contestant on Seven’s House Rules has won a workers compensation case against the Seven Network that will have severe implications for reality TV shows produced in Australia, reports Robert McKnight from TV Blackbox.

The damning 27 page finding says season five contestant Nicole Prince suffered a psychological/psychiatric injury during the course of her employment with Channel 7, despite claims by the network there was no employment relationship established.

In what will ring alarm bells for the industry, the assertion by Seven’s defence Prince was not employed by the network was rejected by Arbitrator Cameron Burge.

The fact reality TV contestants must now be considered ‘workers’ could have a raft of ramifications for production companies, including liability for superannuation and payroll tax plus they will be subject to issues of workers compensation.

Prince, who along with her friend Fiona Taylor was the second team to be eliminated in the 2017 series, was paid $500 per week plus an additional $500 allowance. Despite the ‘allowance’ she was provided with breakfast, lunch and accommodation during her participation on the show.

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News Corp’s Mibenge Nsenduluka and Jonathon Moran report:

Reality TV stars have warned further lawsuits could follow a landmark ruling by the NSW Workers Compensation Commission where Channel 7 was ordered to pay compensation to a former House Rules contestant.

Former Married At First Sight stars Dean Wells and Nick Furphy said the ruling could open the door for further lawsuits.

“I would not be surprised if you see several more lawsuits come out of this,” Wells said.

“You sign these giant contracts that are filled with jargon but no one actually knows what they mean.”

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The Masked Singer did what no other reality show could

Now that it’s over, we need to talk about the success of The Masked Singer, writes News Corp’s Cameron Adams.

It finished on Monday night with over 1.3 million people watching Cody Simpson win, well, nothing except a whole lot of publicity, which ironically he already has thanks to his new and very public relationship with Miley Cyrus.

Unlike so many other reality TV shows, what made The Masked Singer so incredibly successful was not a singular thing.

And unlike shows like The Block, which take a week’s worth of episodes to show viewers the money, every single episode of The Masked Singer offered a reveal. In other words, viewers weren’t being shamelessly milked and bombarded with product placements while nothing really happened. Instead, people stuck around because they knew there was going to be a pay-off. We all have shorter attention spans these days and The Masked Singer tapped into that.

In being the lone reality television show that was essentially the antithesis of all other current reality TV shows, The Masked Singer triumphed, which is why so many of us are now counting down to the premiere of season 2.

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Sports Rights

Why bringing broadcast production in-house could cost the NRL

Existing television rights holders will oppose any deal that cuts them out of the production process amid predictions the NRL could be worse off financially if it took responsibility for the broadcasts itself, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Adrian Proszenko.

As revealed by the Herald on Monday, the NRL is considering bringing the production of its matches in-house before selling them off to interested media outlets. The move has already been made by a number of major sporting bodies in Australia and abroad in response to changes in technology and viewing habits.

Global Media and Sports boss Colin Smith – who has advised the NRL, AFL and ARU during previous rights negotiations – said centralised broadcasting often didn’t make financial sense.

“If you think about TV production, there are only really two houses that can do something. It’s not like the NRL is going to set up its own trucks for live TV production, there is literally only NEP or Gearhouse that could do that.

“When it happened with V8 Supercars a number of years ago, there was actually no saving. What it did was increase costs because the broadcaster still needed production people to make sure it was fit for purpose.”

Smith said the NRL rights remained a valuable commodity despite the consumer trend towards traditional television screens to other electronic devices.

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