Roundup: Alexi Baker and the NRL, Crikey, Ghost Train, The Project + more

Crikey peter fray

• Lachlan Murdoch, Google & Facebook deals, Four Corners, Quill Awards, ABC, Ben Roberts-Smith, Music From the Home Front, Foxtel, Q+A, Sophie Monk, and Sonia Kruger

Business of Media

Former Nine commercial boss Alexi Baker in talks with NRL

Former Nine managing director commercial Alexi Baker is in talks with the NRL for a position on the executive, believed to be the vacant chief operating officer position, reports AFR‘s Miranda Ward.

The NRL has been without a chief operating officer since September last year, when Nick Weeks was let go as part of sweeping cash-saving changes that resulted in the code making 25 per cent of staff redundant with the executive team reduced from 11 to eight as the NRL looked to pull inflated salaries into line.

Baker played important roles in Nine’s merger with Fairfax Media in July 2018, the broadcaster’s decision to switch from cricket to tennis rights in March 2018, the acquisition of the remaining stake in Macquarie Radio that Nine did not own, as well the growth of subscription video on-demand service Stan.

Alongside former CEO Hugh Marks, and Nine’s general counsel Rachel Launders, Baker was part of the core team that negotiated with the NRL on a new COVID-19 rights deal, securing the media company a discount for the shortened 2020 season and reductions for the final two seasons of the existing agreement.

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Rupert Murdoch doesn’t sue, but Lachlan might

It’s long been a truism of Australian (and global) media that Rupert Murdoch does not sue. Not for defamation anyway, writes AFR‘s Myriam Robin.

Heir apparent Lachlan Murdoch, however, appears perfectly willing to send in the lawyers to deal with at least some reputational slights.

Two recent apologies underline the point.

Last week, Crikey carried an apology to Murdoch regarding an article by Stephen Mayne that made “false and defamatory” claims about Murdoch’s time at Network 10. Its prominence – leading the website and carried on every channel from Twitter to Instagram – has the clear hallmarks of a legal demand, rather than the routine correction of an error.

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News Brands

Crikey kicks off fortnight of apologising to Lachlan Murdoch and Christine Holgate

Front-page apologies and corrections are rare. Apologies are usually relegated to page two of a newspaper and relatively hidden on a news website, writes Guardian Australia’s Amanda Meade.

In 2015, the Age famously apologised to Melbourne’s Abu Bakar Alam on the front page after using his Facebook photo to illustrate a page-one story on Numan Haider, the Melbourne teenager who was shot dead by police after attacking an officer with a knife.

But this week Crikey has gone even further, publishing two front-page apologies – to Lachlan Murdoch and Christine Holgate – on one day. And that’s not all. So serious were the mistakes Crikey has agreed to keep the apologies to Murdoch and Holgate on the homepage for 14 days.

All social media posts and stories have been deleted and Stephen Mayne has apologised on his Twitter account.

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ACCC, Senator Bragg to help small outlets strike Google, Facebook deals

Google and Facebook are facing the prospect of another crackdown by the competition regulator after smaller independent news outlets raised concerns they were unable to successfully negotiate payment for their articles, reports SMH’s Zoe Samios.

Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has separately written to Facebook and Google about the absence of commercial deals with several smaller outlets and will seek to represent their interests to ensure the technology platforms pay for use of content.

“The tech giants have so much power and they’ve made public commitments,” Senator Bragg told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “It’s important that we see the colour of their money and I am very happy to represent the interests of small publishers. If big tech is serious about media diversity, then they will be making deals and paying for journalism from small Australian publishers.”

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Four Corners turns screws on Scott Morrison and Paul Fletcher over Australia Post

Paul Fletcher hasn’t been shy when it comes to attacking Four Corners — his angry letter to Ita Buttrose over November’s story “Inside the Canberra Bubble” was tweeted before it was even read by the ABC chair, reports News Corp’s Nick Tabakoff.

So Diary reckons Ita should prepare herself for another letter from the Communications Minister when he learns through this column that Four Corners is yet again training its eye on Scott Morrison and his government.

We hear the ABC’s flagship current affairs show has been out in the field on the Australia Post saga. The story that will no doubt look at the role of the Prime Minister and Australia Post chairman Lucio di Bartolomeo in the departure of Christine Holgate as CEO. And as minister in charge of Australia Post, Fletcher is unlikely to escape attention in the latest episode.

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Call for Luna Park ghost train fire inquiry to clear Neville Wran of cover-up

Neville Wran’s former staff have called for a fresh inquiry into the circumstances and aftermath of the Luna Park ghost train fire in 1979, confident it would exonerate the former NSW premier from being implicated in a cover-up and socialising with gangster Abe Saffron, reports News Corp’s Troy Bramston.

The former staff, including Milton Cockburn, a former editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, David Hill, a former chairman and managing director of the ABC, and David Hurley, a former director of corporate affairs for Channel 9, have condemned the ABC documentary Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire.

The Weekend Australian revealed that the documentary, reported by Caro Meldrum-Hanna, made a number of false and misleading claims that were not backed up by credible evidence, claiming Wran organised for the Luna Park lease to go to a Saffron front company after the fire.

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Melbourne Press Club will overhaul the Quill Awards after ‘woke’ complaints

The prestigious Melbourne Press Club will look to revamp its annual media awards after event organisers were criticised for succumbing to “wokeness” at last month’s ceremony, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

Multiple sources from within the MPC have told The Australian that last month’s Quill Awards ceremony — held at Melbourne’s Crown casino — was problematic, and said an urgent rethink was needed to ensure the event remains on par with other journalism awards nights, such as the Walkleys and the Kennedys.

Many journalists complained that the night “dragged on”, there was too much focus on the issue of racism, and too many awards – more than 30 – were handed out.

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ABC ‘regrets’ unfairness in finance probes during Covid-19 pandemic

The ABC has expressed “regret” over serious errors in its coverage of some of the biggest financial decisions made by the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

In correspondence seen by The Australian, the ABC just last month conceded an article published in February about the Morrison government’s plans to wind back responsible lending failed to give clear context as to why the legislative changes were being proposed.

In a letter of complaint to the national broadcaster, NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg wrote that the article — which carried an online headline of “Financial counsellors plead to keep responsible lending laws” — failed to “include any counter views, or contributions from the government, industry organisations or third parties”.

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Surprise high-profile witness to be called for Ben Roberts-Smith in defamation trial

Former governor-general Quentin Bryce will speak for Ben Roberts-Smith in a defamation trial centring on allegations he committed war crimes, a court has been told, reports News Corp’s Frances Vinall.

Australia’s first female governor-general will be called as a reputation witness in the June trial, Roberts-Smith’s lawyer revealed in the Federal Court on Friday.

Dame Bryce pinned Roberts-Smith’s Victoria Cross — the highest award possible in Australia — to his uniform in 2011.

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Music From the Home Front: Acts pay tribute to Michael Gudinski

Last year Music From the Home Front perfectly captured the times – people stuck at home, looking for entertainment, reports News Corp’s Cameron Adams.

There was still the virtual element, with pre-recorded performances from Crowded House, Jimmy Barnes, Delta Goodrem and The Kid LAROI filmed all around the globe.

Tina Arena, on the Crown rooftop, graciously allowed newcomer Jess Hitchcock the chance to sing a verse of her hit Sorrento Moon.

Meanwhile at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, a COVID-safe crowd watched live music from Amy Shark, Vance Joy, The Rubens, Tash Sultana, Budjerah, Lime Cordiale, Mia Wray and the unlikely coupling of hip hop trio Bliss N Eso with country star Kasey Chambers.

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Craig Campbell quits The Project

Craig Campbell has quit as executive producer of The Project after 11 years at the helm, reports TV Tonight.

He has been on leave since February due to rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain, but today sent a note to staff.

“Since I have been away, I have been trying to find a reasonable balance between my work and my health, something that a bunch of health professionals have pointed out I don’t have,” he wrote.

“As I get older (I turned 60 two weeks ago) I have been thinking how I can structure my life in a way that will enable me to still do what I love (make TV) but maintain my health (less stress).

“So… it is with a great deal of pride that I would like to announce that Chris Bendall will become the executive producer of the Project.

“Chris has been with the company for over 9 years and is the most qualified human I could possibly think of for the job. I am delighted he has agreed to take the reins to enable me the time to develop other ideas and projects, free of the grind of a daily show.

“You are in an exceptionally safe pair of hands.”

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Local content still reigns supreme on Australian pay TV

Despite having access to endless amounts of content from all over the world, Foxtel executive Amanda Laing says locally-made content still reigns supreme, reports News Corp’s Jess Malcolm.

With the coronavirus pandemic triggering renewed calls for quotas to be considered as a way to support locally made ­productions, they may not be necessary, with viewers already voting with their remotes.

Laing, Foxtel’s chief commercial and content officer, last week told an international virtual conference on the future of pay-TV that locally-made ­productions already accounted for 50 to 70 per cent of the top ten shows on Foxtel’s streaming platforms, with no quotas in place for streaming services.

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Q+A draws just 224,000 viewers on Thursday night

The ABC’s political talkfest Q+A continues to nosedive, recording its lowest-ever ratings on Thursday night, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

Just 224,000 viewers across the five major capital cities tuned in to the show, heightening speculation that the national broadcaster will be forced to dump its Thursday 8.30 pm timeslot and shift it to another night — perhaps its former 9.30 pm Monday slot — in the hope it can regain its lost audience.

This week’s show boasted a high-profile panel including former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and the Dow Chemical Company’s chief executive officer and chairman Andrew Liveris.

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Sophie Monk celebrates engagement to Joshua Gross

Sophie Monk and her fiancé Joshua Gross celebrated their engagement at a private bash on the NSW Central Coast over the weekend, reports News Corp’s Mibengé Nsenduluka.

Guests including Monk’s best friend Jackie O Henderson gathered at the former Bardot singer’s $2.25 million hinterland home in Matcham to congratulate the couple four months after Gross proposed on Christmas Day.

Monk, 41, and Gross, 42, looked smitten as they toasted to their future together. An elaborate Barbie cake was made for the occasion, as a gift from Gross’ mum.

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Why Sonia Kruger’s glad she made the switch to Channel 7

Sonia Kruger is much happier after her high-profile switch from Channel 9 to Channel 7 and says life with her partner — Seven news executive Craig McPherson — is “much easier” now the pair are at the same network, reports News Corp’s Amy Harris.

The ageless 55-year-old mother of one, who has been dating McPherson for 13 years, also claimed her hectic schedule, which sees her hosting as many as five major productions at Seven at any time, was not part of the original plan when she agreed to leave Nine.

The pair previously spent eight years in rival camps while Kruger hosted Nine’s Today Extra.

“Back then it was a case of one of us coming home every day in a good mood and the other one coming home in a bad mood,” she said.

“I can say that life is definitely easier cheering for the same team.”

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