Roundup: AAP funding future, The Project, Cate Blanchett

the project

FOI system, QMS, News Corp, wage wars, Mitchell v McGuire, Foxtel NRL and AFL audiences

Business of Media

Comment: The FOI system is broken, and that’s bad for democracy

Delays with Australia’s freedom of information regime mean it can take up to five years to win an appeal against secrecy, leaving voters little hope of getting contested government documents about a current government, reports The Australian’s Michael McKinnon.

The huge appeal backlog led to the abrupt resignation of the Commonwealth FOI Commissioner Leo Hardiman KC last week because he doesn’t have the power to fix the problem of delays.

It is unclear what additional powers Hardiman may have wanted but governments routinely appeal against FOI decisions to release information because they want to control the message to voters.

For the record, The Australian has lodged an FOI request with the Office of Australian Information Commissioner to find out what changes or powers Hardiman sought from the government in order to improve the appeal system.

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Digital billboards in Sydney’s CBD are big business for QMS

Private equity-owned media company QMS says it is reaping the benefits of television fatigue and a booming outdoor advertising market with its City of Sydney screens contract, despite pedestrian complaints and an ongoing City of Sydney review, reports Nine Publishing’s Sam Buckingham-Jones.

The Sydney contract is said to be generating $4 million to $5 million a month for the firm, which was inundated with demand for WorldPride.

QMS chief executive John O’Neill predicts the out-of-home industry could grow to $1.3 billion in the next few years, having emerged from COVID-19 and lockdown lows of $655 million to top $1 billion in 2022.

“This city is just so alive,” he said. “There is so much goodwill, and from an advertising perspective, so much excitement around what WorldPride has brought to Sydney.

The network includes 500 digital and 140 non-digital screens sold in 30 packs tailored to segments such as luxury retail, consumer goods and moviegoers. It covers 26 kilometres and reaches 2.6 million people a week, two-thirds of whom come from outside the City of Sydney area. The contract is worth $450 million to the council over its 10-year period.

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Mike Cannon-Brookes’ cash and press releases in AAP’s funding future

The Australian Associated Press has taken funding from billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and nabbed two major press release distribution deals as it looks to diversify revenue and wean itself off government support, report Nine Publishing’s Sam Buckingham-Jones and Mark Di Stefano.

AAP hired a transport journalist last year with cash from Cannon-Brookes through his $1.5 billion Boundless Earth green fund, which, alongside the Rockefeller Foundation, supports the news outlet’s Future Economies reporting topics.

Among eight philanthropy-funded reporting desks, AAP also receives cash from rich listers Terry Snow and his brother George through the Snow Foundation, top teal donor Rob Keldoulis from Vivcourt, and the Jibb Foundation – the family foundation of John and Libby Fairfax.

The transport reporter was hired to cover “transport transition issues”, including electric vehicles, efficiency standards and new fuels, an email to staff announcing the role said.

In the past few months, the service has also boosted AAPR, its press release service, through new commercial deals with global distributors Cision PRNewswire and Intrado. The deals are “significant”, AAP chief executive Lisa Davies says, but are not enough to make the service self-sustaining.

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Australian actor Cate Blanchett hot favourite to pick up her third Academy Award

The Australian flag will be flying at the Oscars, with Cate Blanchett hotly tipped to win her third Academy Award for her riveting performance in the haunting film Tar, reports News Corp’s Zoe Smith.

The Melbourne-born star is the firm favourite to take home the golden statuette for her devastating portrayal of a narcissistic and abusive fictional female conductor at Monday’s ceremony.

If she does take out the top gong, 53-year-old Blanchett — who recently announced she is taking a break from acting after the rigorous filming schedule of Tar — will become only the fifth woman to win three Oscars for acting.

The other stars on three wins are Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman and Frances McDormand.

Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn — who Blanchett played in her Oscar-winning role in The Aviator — holds the record with four Oscars.

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News Brands

Up to 200 jobs likely to go at News Corp amid strategy shift

News Corp Australia will cut up to 200 people from its ranks as part of a global cost-cutting drive while shifting its strategy from focusing on increasing subscribers to reducing churn amid tightening consumer spending, reports Nine Publishing’s Sam Buckingham-Jones.

For years, News’ Australian executive chairman, Michael Miller, has spoken about a “pay and stay” approach for the company’s media assets, where readers sign up and remain subscribers for the long haul.

At a company-wide town hall last week, however, he flipped the phrase to “stay and pay”, which emphasises reducing people unsubscribing from its media assets, which include The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Australian and Vogue Australia.

After a 30 per cent drop in earnings reported at its global results last month, News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson announced a 5 per cent reduction in global headcount, which would save $US130 million ($197 million) and cut 1250 jobs.

“It’s not something you want to do, but it’s something you have to do in these circumstances to build on what is [a] robust platform,” he told a Morgan Stanley conference last week.

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Wage wars roll on at ABC, 10

Journalists at two major Australian media outlets are fighting for annual pay rises of six per cent however have so far been offered significantly less by their employers, reports The Australian’s Sophie Elsworth.

Employees at Network 10 are demanding six per cent pay rises per annum over the next three years and no cuts to existing entitlements including redundancy payouts and sick leave, however this was last week rejected by management.

ABC staff are maintaining demands for a similar wage rise.

A spokesman for the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance said 10 has offered staff a pay rise of 2.5 per cent annum over four years but an overwhelmingly majority of union members at the Paramount-owned network – 75 per cent – recently voted “no” to this offer.

A Network 10 spokeswoman said: “We continue to constructively engage with employees in the current EBA negotiations and will continue to communicate directly with our staff as we work towards a resolution”.

The ABC salary negotiations – which were recently taken over by managing director David Anderson – are continuing.

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McGuire to repeat face-off against Mitchell on air

Get ready for fireworks as media heavyweights Neil Mitchell and Eddie McGuire face off against each other in the 3AW studio later this month, reports News Corp’s Fiona Byrne.

McGuire will again be part of the “Ideas Factory” segment on Mitchell’s top rating AW morning show this year, although his appearances will be sporadic.

The pair made headlines — many headlines — last year for their spats and strong opinions about each other during the fortnightly segment with the sparring being such that some even questioned if the pair would be able to continue working with each other.

McGuire will make his first appearance for the year with Mitchell on March 23.

“Eddie will be continuing to be a part of the Ideas Factory, but we are going to have a rotating bench,” Mitchell said.

“We are open to anyone with ideas and Eddie will be part of it.”

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Complaints to media watchdog against The Project Jesus joke mount

The Project’s offensive Jesus joke has attracted more complaints than shock jock Kyle Sandilands’ infamous Virgin Mary slur, the media watchdog has revealed, reports News Corp’s Adella Beaini.

Tens of thousands of viewers unleashed their anger last week after queer comedian Reuben Kaye made a sexual joke mocking the Christian faith on the prime-time show.

The severe backlash forced the show’s hosts to issue an apology on-air.

However, the Australian Communications and Media Authority said they’ve received more than 203 complaints about the episode.

“Under the broadcasting co-regulatory system, complainants are directed to the broadcaster in the first instance,” ACMA said.

“If a complainant does not receive a response from the broadcaster within 60 days, or is not satisfied with the response they do receive, they may refer their complaint to the ACMA for consideration.”

In 2019, around 180 complaints were made to ACMA after Sandilands referred to the Virgin Mary as a liar who was “knocked up” behind the camel shed.

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Sports Media

Foxtel fights claims it inflates NRL and AFL viewing audiences

Foxtel is fighting claims it is overstating its audience on key entertainment and sports content, including NRL and AFL broadcasts, which could reduce how much money it receives from advertisers, report Nine Publishing’s Zoe Samios and Colin Kruger.

Australia’s television ratings provider OzTAM contacted Foxtel last week following the release of ratings data about the NRL’s first round of the season. Foxtel said it had an average audience of 523,000 per game, up 17 per cent year-on-year, but did not explain where the data came from.

OzTAM chief executive Doug Peiffer said he saw the press release with the numbers and is working with Foxtel to understand the data. “I have put a call into Foxtel to understand how they have put those numbers together,” Peiffer said.

Foxtel has denied any wrongdoing.

“Transparency and accuracy of data around audience numbers is something which we take incredibly seriously, and we continue to work closely with OzTAM in relation to its industry-wide linear reporting,” a Foxtel spokesman said.

Multiple media sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak publicly, claim Foxtel is misstating data it receives from OzTAM by combining it with internal data and failing to remove duplicate audiences across its services, such as Foxtel IQ, Foxtel Go, Binge and Kayo Sports.

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