Roundup: Bruce Lehrmann on Seven, Ben Roberts-Smith, Meet the Press

Bruce Lehrmann

YouTube misinformation policy, tech giants, News Corp, Ausbiz, 7News, Rachel Corbett

Business of Media

Stokes ‘undecided’ on Ben Roberts-Smith appeal

Billionaire media mogul Kerry Stokes will on Monday read the full judgment in the failed defamation case brought by ex-soldier Ben Roberts-Smith before deciding whether to bankroll a possible appeal, report The Australian’s Sophie Elsworth and James Madden

Stokes covered Roberts-Smith’s legal fees – which were in the vicinity of $25m – in the long-running court battle, and that figure could potentially double if Judge Anthony Besanko eventually rules that Nine Entertainment’s costs should also be borne by the plaintiff.

An appeal wouldn’t be as costly as the original trial, but could still expose Stokes – or any other third-party backer – several millions of dollars.

While the decision to launch an appeal ultimately rests with Roberts-Smith, it would be unlikely that he could proceed without the financial backing of a third party.

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See Also: Ben Roberts-Smith defamation trial: Judge hands down his verdict

Wall-to-wall coverage, but no uniformity in media’s treatment of Roberts-Smith

Justice Anthony Besanko’s dispassionate tone gave nothing away about the force of the judgment he was delivering in Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation case in a federal courtroom in Sydney. “In light of my conclusions, each proceeding must be dismissed,” Justice Besanko intoned last Thursday, reports Nine Publishing’s Nick Bonyhady.

But his words, broadcast initially on YouTube, echoed around the world’s media. “The judge said that the media outlets involved had managed to prove some of the most serious allegations of war crimes against Australia’s most decorated living soldier,” reporter Phil Mercer told BBC viewers.

CNN, The New York Times and Washington Post ran the story, hammering similar points. A judge had found that a decorated veteran had murdered defenceless people, his former comrades had testified against him, Australia was having a hard reckoning with how it conducted the war in Afghanistan, journalism had triumphed.

Australia’s domestic media has covered the story with a much greater intensity, reflecting its status as perhaps the biggest set-piece news event of the year. But in an often bitterly divided media landscape, exacerbated by Roberts-Smith’s employment by Seven and financial backing by proprietor Kerry Stokes, the coverage had much less uniformity than overseas.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which published the original reporting on Roberts-Smith along with their then-stablemate The Canberra Times, went big on the decision. Nine News and The Australian Financial Review, which are now owned by the same company that had also invested millions in fighting Roberts-Smith’s defamation action, did the same.

The Guardian devoted a whole podcast series to the trial and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which has done its own investigative reporting on the SAS in Afghanistan, gave it prominent placement online, on TV and on radio.

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YouTube scraps 2020 US election misinformation policy

YouTube will stop removing content that falsely claims the 2020 US presidential election was plagued by “fraud, errors or glitches”, the platform said on Friday, a decision quickly criticised by anti-misinformation advocates, reports AFP.

The announcement by the Google-owned video website is a marked departure from its policy initiated in December 2020, which attempted to curb false claims – most importantly pushed by then-president Donald Trump – that his re-election loss to Joe Biden was due to the vote being “stolen”.

“The ability to openly debate political ideas, even those that are controversial or based on disproven assumptions, is core to a functioning democratic society – especially in the midst of election season,” YouTube said in a blog post. “We will stop removing content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors or glitches occurred in the 2020 and other past US presidential elections.”

YouTube’s updated policy, which goes into effect immediately, comes as tech platforms grapple with a key issue in America’s hyperpolarised political environment: How to combat misinformation without curtailing free speech.

YouTube appeared to acknowledge that policing misinformation comes with downsides.

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California law would make tech giants pay for news

A proposed law requiring internet giants to pay for news stories moved forward in California on Friday, despite Facebook owner Meta threatening to pull news from its platform if it passes, reports AFP.

The California Journalism Preservation Act, which cleared the state assembly on Thursday and was in the hands of the state Senate, would mandate that large online platforms pay a monthly “journalism usage fee” to news providers whose work appears on their services.

The bill is designed to support local news organisations, which have been decimated in recent years as ad revenue bled away to Google and Facebook, both advertising behemoths.

Meta spokesman Andy Stone on Friday told AFP that if the bill becomes law, Meta “will be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram rather than pay into a slush fund that primarily benefits big, out-of-state media companies”. The bill has to make its way through the state Senate and be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom to become law.

The CJPA is like other legislative texts pending across the globe.

In Australia, Facebook in 2021 briefly blocked news articles over a similar law and Google threatened to pull its search engine from the country before they made deals to pay several media groups.

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News Brands

News Corp creates ‘innovation’ centre – but staff fear more cuts

Plenty of changes at News Corp Australia, with the local publisher’s various mastheads increasingly pooling digital resources for newsletters, social media content, video and even interactive graphics, report Nine Publishing’s Sam Buckingham-Jones and Mark Di Stefano.

The company’s executive chairman, Michael Miller, told staff last week that News Corp would form something called the Editorial Innovation Centre – or EIC – which will “be the home of News’ multimedia content creation led by our most innovative story producers with the goal of publishing excellent journalism where new audiences are”. The EIC will “utilise AI technology to enhance our journalism capabilities, as well as identify and adopt new channels and story formats, as they emerge”, he wrote.

“Innovation is the EIC’s middle name,” he added.

Audience growth editors will be embedded at the company’s mastheads, from The Daily Telegraph to The Australian, and there will also be a head of content innovation and programming under the change.

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Toxic workplace allegations hit Ausbiz as staff line up for exit

Ausbiz, the online financial broadcaster backed by David Koch and Sanjeev Gupta, has lost more staff over a year than are on its books at any one time, with former employees alleging it has a toxic workplace culture, report Nine Publising’s Sam Buckingham-Jones and Lucy Dean.

More than two dozen former employees have been a part of a WhatsApp group for Ausbiz “survivors” in which they share their experiences of working for the organisation, started in 2020 by Koch, the high-profile host of the Seven Network’s Sunrise program, and Kylie Merritt, the former chief executive of Your Money and executive at Sky News.

Ausbiz streams daily finance news and interviews out of a Sydney office, where it shares space with Koch’s Pinstripe Media business.

The Australian Financial Review has spoken to five former Ausbiz employees – all on condition of anonymity for fear of backlash – who described an environment that featured public humiliation for work not considered up to standard, other inappropriate behaviour and unrealistic demands.

According to the former employees, there are up to 15 full-time staff at Ausbiz at any one time, along with a handful of casuals. Since last April, per LinkedIn records, 20 people have publicly left the network.

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Bruce Lehrmann says he hasn’t ruled out suing Brittany Higgins for defamation in first TV interview since being accused of rape

Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann says he has not ruled out suing Brittany Higgins personally for defamation, reports the ABC’s Patrick Bell.

Lehrmann made the comments in his first television interview since Higgins accused him of raping her at Parliament House in 2019.

Lehrmann’s trial was abandoned due to juror misconduct last year. There are no findings against him.

Speaking to 7NEWS Spotlight, Lehrmann strenuously denied raping Higgins but acknowledged that many people did not believe him.

“I accept that there’s going to be 50 per cent of the country, probably more, that think I’m a rapist,” he said.

Lehrmann is currently suing Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for an interview with Higgins on The Project, having settled a separate claim against News Life Media and journalist Samantha Maiden.

He is also suing the ABC for broadcasting a speech by Higgins at the National Press Club early last year.

Lehrmann said he was motivated to bring the defamation action in an effort to reduce the impact Higgins’s allegation had had on his reputation.

“I don’t want to be known as the guy who could have, would have, allegedly raped Brittany Higgins,” Lehrmann said.

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Rosanna Mangiarelli and Will Goodings top Adelaide ratings for 7News – again

Rosanna Mangiarelli and Will Goodings have extended Channel Seven’s stranglehold on the local news ratings, as the network unveils a new partnership with radio station FIVEaa, reports News Corp.

Almost six months after TV veteran Jane Doyle retired from the newsdesk, her successors Mangiarelli and Goodings have continued Seven’s dominance in the weekday 6pm timeslot.

Seven’s flagship bulletin in Adelaide has so far averaged 112,000 viewers over the hour in 2023, while Nine News presented by Kate Collins and Brenton Ragless recorded 67,000, according to the latest Nielsen ratings.

Those figures are 3.5 per cent up on the same period last year for Seven’s new duo.

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The Project host Rachel Corbett reveals the birth of her first child

When The Project’s Rachel Corbett signed off to go on maternity leave in February, the occasional host was – in her typically hilarious fashion – bluntly honest about her fears. “What if I’m miserable?” she asked her colleagues. “What if I hate it? What if I’ve made a terrible mistake?” reports News Corp’s Angela Mollard.

Co-host Hamish Macdonald stepped in to explain that Corbett was having a child on her own and to reassure her – and the show’s viewers – that she was going to be an incredible mum.

Nearly four months later, as she cradles her baby Olivia in her arms, Corbett, 42, reveals that “incredible” was the last thing she felt as she recovered from a caesarean, struggled to breastfeed and was so exhausted that she almost let her newborn daughter slip from her hands.

“Going into [motherhood], I knew it was going to be hard, but I’m a really resilient person,” she tells Stellar. “I’ve been through a lot in my life and I’m quite good at dealing with tough stuff, but nothing can prepare you for what it’s like. You’ve got this little being who doesn’t care that you haven’t had any sleep. You have to tend to their every need, even if you’ve got nothing left in the tank.”

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Chuck Todd to leave NBC’s Meet the Press after nearly 10 years

Chuck Todd has announced that he will be leaving NBC’s Meet the Press after nearly 10 years, reports The Guardian’s Maya Yang.

On Sunday, Todd, who has hosted the political affairs show for more than nine years, told viewers: “It’s been an amazing nearly decade-long run. I am really proud of what this team and I have built over the last decade.”

“I’ve loved so much of this job, helping to explain America to Washington and explain Washington to America,” he said.

Todd went on to add: “When I took over Meet the Press, it was a Sunday show that had a lot of people questioning whether it still could have a place in the modern media space. Well, I think we’ve answered that question and then some.”

He explained that he was aware that many leaders tend to “overstay their welcome” and that he would prefer to leave a “little bit too soon than stay a tad too long”.

“I’ve let work consume me for nearly 30 years. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t wake up before 5 or 6am, and as I’ve watched too many friends and family let work consume them before it was too late, I promised my family I wouldn’t do that,” he added.

As the longest-running show on US television, Meet the Press marked its 75th anniversary last year with Todd being its 12th host after he took over from former host David Gregory in 2014.

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