Roundup: Ben Roberts-Smith trial, Four Corners, Leigh Sales + more

Leigh Sales

• Plus Guardian Australia, Christian Porter, George Pell’s conviction, Seven ratings, Joel Creasey, MAFS, Byron Baes, State of Origin

Business of Media

Guardian expected to ink deal with Facebook within days

Guardian Australia is set to sign a long-form deal in the coming days to secure payment from Facebook for its journalism, reports AFR‘s Miranda Ward.

It is the latest publisher to secure a deal with Facebook after the Silicon Valley company was forced to the negotiating table by the Morrison government’s media bargaining code.

It is understood the deal is a licensing agreement for a yet-to-launch special section of the platform, called Facebook News, to be dedicated to quality news.

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Allegations ‘destroyed’ him, Ben Roberts-Smith’s parents say

On the eve of Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation trial against Nine, the parents of the former special forces soldier have said the allegations that he committed war crimes have destroyed their son’s life, reports AFR‘s Max Mason.

In a joint statement on Sunday afternoon, Len and Sue Roberts-Smith said the allegations against their son were false and had been distressing for the whole family.

“The allegations have not only destroyed Ben’s life, but have affected us every day for the last several years.”

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Shock at some media outlets’ take on Porter victory claim

The AFR’s legal affairs writer Michael Pelly was not wrong when he wrote that the media is “still reeling from the spin” following Christian Porter’s announcement on Monday, reports Guardian Australia’s Amanda Meade.

We couldn’t agree more. The former attorney general’s attempts to portray the end of the defamation suit as a “humiliating backdown” for the ABC actually worked with some outlets.

Despite failing to secure an apology or retraction from the public broadcaster, Porter sought to claim victory in a bullish press conference outside the court. He looked, Pelly wrote, “more like a politician arguing black was white than a litigant claiming victory”.

The Australian reported numerous negative stories about the ABC, all of them denied by the broadcaster, including that the managing director David Anderson apologised to Porter outside the mediation room. Earlier the Oz claimed that ABC lawyers had been forced to apologise for a “an ill-timed — and inaccurate” tweet by Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour.

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News Brands

ABC on track to broaden its reach to mainstream Australians

The ABC says it’s on track to have most of its content-makers working outside of the broadcaster’s Sydney headquarters by 2025, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

It comes after ABC board member Joe Gersh conceded the public broadcaster needed a better representation of mainstream Australia.

The ABC confirmed it was following its plan – released last year – to work towards broadening its base of reporters and producers to ensure 75 per cent were based outside of its head office in Ultimo, in inner-city Sydney.

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Leigh Sales versus the trolls: The 7.30 host in the COVID hot seat

Leigh Sales is used to criticism. As host of the ABC’s flagship current affairs program 7.30, she grills prime ministers, premiers and chief executives on a nightly basis, and her work is broadcast for the whole country to watch and evaluate, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Koziol.

But even she has been taken aback by the criticism – and outright trolling – she receives about her coverage of the coronavirus pandemic when it involves holding the Andrews Labor government to account in Victoria.

Sales declined to comment for this story. But her executive producer Justin Stevens said the abuse she is subjected to online was “unacceptable [and] sometimes truly disgusting” – as it is for many journalists, especially women. The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale has probably copped the most abusive trolling.

“As anchor of the program Leigh does much of the heavy lifting … her job is to question and challenge decisions taken by people. Asking questions isn’t expressing a point of view, it’s doing her job as a journalist,” Stevens said.

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Media fined a combined $1.1m for contempt of court in Pell reporting

Some of Australia’s biggest media companies have been fined a combined $1.1 million for breaching contempt of court laws over the way they first reported George Pell’s conviction on sex abuse charges, reports The Age’s Adam Cooper.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are among the news outlets to have pleaded guilty earlier this year to breaching a suppression order over news reports they published in December 2018, in the days after a County Court jury found Cardinal Pell guilty.

The media companies, which also include Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, The Courier-Mail in Brisbane, Channel Nine’s Today program and radio station 2GB, pleaded guilty in February to a combined 21 charges as part of a plea deal that brought to an end a trial that began last year.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors withdrew other charges against the news outlets and against 15 individual journalists, which included the editors of some of the nation’s biggest newspapers.

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Ben Roberts-Smith v Nine puts us all in the box

At 7.35pm on August 10, 2018, Sydney Morning Herald investigative reporter Kate McClymont is running late. She’s meant to be going to the Kennedy Awards for journalism when she learns her newspaper is being taken to court over a story about how war hero Ben Roberts-Smith allegedly committed war crimes, reports AFR‘s Max Mason.

For years Roberts-Smith had been lauded as the model Australian soldier, given the country’s highest military honour and even named father of the year.

But that day, investigative reporters Nick McKenzie, Chris Masters and David Wroe had published a story naming Roberts-Smith, accusing him of committing murder on deployments to Afghanistan.

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Seven well-placed to take ratings crown from Nine: James Warburton

Seven’s long-running push to grab a bigger slice of younger audiences appears to be finally paying off ahead of next month’s Olympics, with the network winning the ratings race for the past six weeks, reports News Corp’s James Madden.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian, Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton said the company was well-placed in 2021 to prise the annual ratings crown from Nine for the first time since 2018.

Despite starting the year with two major on-air disappointments – Ultimate Tag was a ratings disaster and Holey Moley fell away badly after a strong launch – Warburton said Seven’s slate of second quarter shows, most notably Big Brother, had clawed back lost ground and had put the network in a strong position.

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PMO’s call to ABC boss Gaven Morris on QAnon story

The ABC’s proposed Four Corners story, which has been attempting to explore Scott Morrison’s alleged links to a QAnon supporter, led to some very high-level dialogue between the PM’s office and the ABC last week, reports News Corp’s Nick Tabakoff.

Diary can reveal a phone call was made by the Prime Minister’s chief media adviser, Andrew Carswell, to the ABC’s head of news and current affairs, Gaven Morris, last Tuesday about 3pm. The dialogue was brief and to the point.

It is understood the call began with a question from Carswell. “Is the story going to air?” we’re told he asked of the program, being pursued by Four Corners investigative reporter Louise Milligan.

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Four Corners pushes to air QAnon episode within weeks

Four Corners will push for its episode linking Scott Morrison to a QAnon conspiracy theorist to air within the next fortnight, despite the Prime Minister’s office rebuffing the broadcaster’s attempts for a detailed response to its questions, reports SMH’s Lisa Visentin and Zoe Samios.

The controversy over the episode will be a key focus of a Senate estimates hearing on Monday, when ABC managing director David Anderson will face questions over his decision to delay the program days out from scheduled airing, deeming it “not ready”.

ABC sources familiar with the internal dynamics of the controversy who were not authorised to speak publicly said Four Corners was working to address Anderson’s concerns with the aim of having it broadcast-ready in the next two weeks. One of the concerns was that the Prime Minister had not responded to detailed questions from the broadcaster.

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Nova’s Joel Creasey gets ripped in Men’s Health makeover

Comedian Joel Creasey has shown off a dramatic fitness transformation, reports News Corp’s Amy Harris.

Reaching the milestone birthday of 30 inspired the television host and Nova radio presenter to shed 12kg of body fat and put on 4kg of muscle, sharing the results as the latest cover model of Men’s Health magazine.

Creasey joins the likes of Larry Emdur, Guy Sebastian, Hugh Sheridan and Osher Gunsberg who have all committed to body transformations for the magazine.

In the interview, Creasey revealed he suffered from scoliosis and arthritis, which meant he needed to seek physiotherapy and chiropractor support, as well as regular massage.

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Time moves on, technology changes, and we all look at television with fresh eyes

Launching the Morrison government’s Green Paper on modernising media regulation late last year, my message was clear: technology is changing the media sector rapidly, and our regulatory framework needs to catch up, writes minister for communications Paul Fletcher.

Many provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act have remained largely unchanged for almost thirty years. They were written at a time when the only way to consume television was to watch one of the five channels broadcast by the handful of licensed broadcasters.

By contrast, today, in most Aussie homes the flat screen television is supplied by a high speed broadband connection, giving an abundance of choices.

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TV watchdog to probe controversial MAFS season

The sensational 2021 series of Married At First Sight is being investigated by the Australian broadcasting watchdog, reports News Corp’s Fiona Byrne.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has started looking into certain episodes of the top rating series following viewer complaints.

“The ACMA has commenced an investigation into episodes of the 2021 season of Married At First Sight and is currently assessing the scope of the investigation noting the range of issues raised in complaints over several episodes,” AMCA said in a statement.

The move comes after the ACMA received at least 54 complaints from viewers about the show.

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Dannii Minogue and Courtney Act Australia’s most prolific reality stars

News Corp’s Cameron Adams has run the numbers on Australia’s most prolific reality TV stars. He has calculated that Danni Minogue is Australia’s busiest reality TV star, followed by Courtney Act.

If you think you’re seeing the same faces on the celebrity reality TV circuit it’s because you are, reports Adams.

Famous Australians are now jumping from celebrity reality TV show to celebrity reality TV show as a way to build their profile, sell a product, get more followers on social media and get a pay cheque – especially when work dried up in 2020.

Some wind up on multiple reality TV shows on the network they’re signed to, even if they’re an unlikely fit, as a way to keep them in work and justify their expensive contracts.

Cameron ranked the busiest reality stars:

Star and number of shows

Dannii Minogue 12
Courtney Act 9
Manu Feildel 8
Sophie Monk 7
Ricki-Lee 7
Julia Morris 7
Rob Mills 6
Paulini 5
Kate Ceberano 5
Anthony Callea 5
Angie Kent 4

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Byron Baes: Influencers say no to forthcoming Netflix reality show

Some of Byron Bay’s original Instagram influencers have joined the chorus of protest against the upcoming Netflix docudrama Byron Baes, reports News Corp’s Jane Hansen.

Byron Bay artists Mitch Gobel and his wife Sally Mustang have more than 500,000 followers between them and feature content that showcases their idyllic lifestyle in the hinterland.

Mustang, along with her friend and fellow Instagram influencer Montana Lower, were both approached by the Netflix producers about starring in the show.

“Sal and Montana actually auditioned for the show — before they told us in depth what it was all about,” Gobel said.

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Sydney house hunt no joke for 2Day FM breakfast host Dave Hughes

Comedian Dave Hughes has called in a dynamic buyers’ agency duo to find a Sydney home for his family, reports News Corp’s Jonathan Chancellor.

Hughesy had been forlornly looking since he moved to Sydney in January following his appointment to headline the new 2DayFM breakfast radio show with Channel 9 sports news personality Erin Molan and fellow comic Ed Kavalee.

His Box Hill-born wife Holly Ife and their three children under 12 — Tess, Sadie, and Rafferty — had expected to make the move by Easter, but the bumper autumn sales season has come and gone without any acquisition.

Hughes’ latest house-hunting exploits in the eastern coastal suburbs was posted this week on the Instagram account of Sydney buyers’ agents Jack Henderson and Sam Black, from Henderson Advocacy.

Hughes, who reckons he’s met every real estate agent in Sydney, appointed Henderson four weeks ago to assist his search.

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Morale on Four Corners ‘is at an all-time low’

Right now, Inside the Four Corners Bubble is not a happy place to be, reports News Corp’s James Madden.

The two most senior journalists on the ABC’s flagship current affairs show, Louise Milligan and Sally Neighbour (the program’s executive producer), are said to be “at war” with the national broadcaster’s managing director David Anderson and the organisation’s news director Gaven Morris over the decision to delay the airing of a Four Corners episode about Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s alleged links to a known supporter of the QAnon far-right conspiracy theory.

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Sports Media

Nine’s Origin shock: Gus and Fatty set to be overlooked for Townsville clash

Phil Gould and Paul Vautin have been mainstays of Channel 9’s State of Origin commentary team but it appears that they may be missing for Wednesday night’s opener, reports News Corp’s Phil Rothfield.

Channel 9 is refusing to confirm if State Origin legends Phil Gould and Paul Vautin will be part of their big game coverage on Wednesday night in Townsville.

Rumours emerged on Saturday night that Gus and Fatty had been sidelined from the showpiece for the first time since they started commentating for the network.

Channel Nine’s rugby league boss Simon Fordham told The Sunday Telegraph: “I can’t confirm or deny that.”

Nine has confirmed veteran caller Ray Warren will be commentating, most likely from television monitors out of Nine’s North Sydney studios.

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