Roundup: James Packer and Alan Jones, Twitter reading limit, Australian Idol

Alan Jones

Peter van Onselen, BBC Studios, Federal Court, Regional media, Jeremy Clarkson, Nine, Wiener Zeitung, ABC, Matt Preston

Business of Media

James Packer returns to media, backing Alan Jones

James Packer has returned to the world of media, emerging as a key, multimillion-dollar investor in Alan Jones’ Australian Digital Holdings, report Nine Publishing’s Sam Buckingham-Jones and Mark Di Stefano.

Jones, one of the highest-profile figures in Australian radio, established ADH TV after exiting Sky News Australia and Nine Entertainment’s 2GB Sydney in 2021. Modelled off Newsmax, a right-wing television network in the United States, ADH broadcasts five hours of shows each day hosted by Jones, Family First party director Lyle Shelton and The Australian columnist Nick Cater.

Packer has been close to Jones for years, calling him to wish him well on his retirement in 2020. Packer also used a private lunch with Jones and Barry O’Farrell to pitch the then NSW premier the idea for Crown Sydney.

The billionaire, whose Publishing and Broadcasting Limited vehicle spun off Nine and other media assets in 2006, has been part of a quiet capital raising for Jones’ ADH, The Australian Financial Review understands. Sources close to the investments, who were not permitted to speak publicly, said the network was valued at more than $20 million.

While Packer’s multimillion-dollar injection into the company is small compared to his wealth – $4.95 billion, according to the Financial Review Rich List – it adds weight to a fledgling network that aims to challenge News Corp’s Sky News for the conservative Australian audience.

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How much is a political editor worth anyway?

Peter van Onselen needed to interrupt his Italian coastal holiday last week to make an appearance in the Federal Court. The former Network 10 political editor beamed in via Zoom from an undisclosed location on the Amalfi Coast to defend himself against the broadcaster and its counsel, Arthur Moses, SC, in a mostly pointless case. 10 has been trying to enforce a non-disparagement agreement that PVO signed on his way out the door, report Nine Publishing’s Sam Buckingham-Jones and Mark Di Stefano.

But amid bizarre references to Dostoevsky and goat f…ing, the legal dispute has also brought to light the going rate for a political editor.

Van Onselen signed the gag order and in return received $165,491 to leave the network, according to an exhibit submitted to the court on Thursday. That included $35,781 as part of an eight-week statutory redundancy payout, an ex-gratia payment of $71,563, and 13 weeks’ contractual notice of $58,145.

Taking the contractual notice as a guide to his base pay, that puts van Onselen’s annual salary around $230,000. But there was probably more. Van Onselen was paid as a casual to appear on The Project and The Sunday Project by Rove Enterprises, the documents said.

It’s not just at 10 where the value of a political editor has been top of mind. Last month, the ABC made the award-winning journalist Andrew Probyn redundant, with the public broadcaster’s news boss Justin Stevens suggesting its Parliament House bureau had become too “top-heavy”. In a leaked organisation planning document, the ABC revealed it was getting rid of the political editor, which was a Band 9 position.

Reporters on Band 9 at the ABC take home an annual base pay of $211,000. Several press gallery insiders suggested to this column that Probyn was likely on a market allowance, which would have seen him paid much more than that.

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See Also: Peter van Onselen takes the stand, as court hears he threatened to become a “whistleblower”

BBC Studios looking to increase investment in Australian content

BBC Studios is looking to significantly boost its investment in Australian-made content, identifying it as a “key growth area” in its plans to double global revenue over the next five years, reports The Australian’s James Madden.

Tom Fussell, the chief executive officer of BBC Studios — the British broadcaster’s commercial global production and distribution arm — said Australian content “always had a resonance with UK consumers” and there is a “demand for more”.

“Australia is known for its great actors and writers, and the UK market likes working with Australia. We’re looking to grow both unscripted (documentaries, natural history, lifestyle) and scripted (drama and comedy),” Fussell told The Australian.

“North America is our biggest market (outside the UK) but I want Australia to be the market that really grows.”

Over the past five years, BBC Studios has established a toehold in Australia, producing local versions of British shows such as Bake Off and Dancing With The Stars.

But its biggest global commercial hit in recent years is, in fact, is one of Australia’s hottest exports — Bluey.

The wildly popular ABC children’s program is owned and made by Brisbane animators Ludo Studios, with the global commercial rights belonging to BBC Studios, which co-commissioned the show with the ABC.

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Federal Court seeks to repair relations with media after furore over restricted access to documents

The Federal Court is establishing a “media committee” — which will be made up of judges and journalists — in an ­apparent bid to repair its relationship with members of the fourth estate following the controversial decision earlier this year to limit reporters’ access to legal documents, reports The Australian’s James Madden.

In December, the court introduced new rules to deny journalists access to key information about legal matters until after a case’s first hearing, thus severely compromising reporters’ capacity to accurately record the goings-on in court, and potentially denying the public relevant infor­mation about the behaviour of individuals as well as companies.

The decision prompted a fierce backlash from journalists and editors across the media industry, amid concerns that the move compromised the principles of open justice and transparency.

Scores of journalists co-signed an initial letter of complaint to the Federal Court’s then chief justice James Allsop, expressing their ­opposition and stating: “The idea that applications for access can simply wait until after the first hearing reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how journalism works and its role in a democratic society.”

While the court subsequently loosened its new rules to let non-parties access unrestricted documents, the tweak came with a prohibitive caveat: permission would be granted only if “all ­parties” – which more often than not includes a respondent who would rather details are shielded from the public – agree.

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Regional media reels amid ‘unprecedented’ government advertising cuts

Widespread reduction in government advertising spend is spurring a crisis for regional media, particularly the nation’s largest regional publisher, Antony Catalano’s Australian Community Media, reports Nine Publishing’s Calum Jaspan.

Managing director of ACM Tony Kendall told this masthead the company has been “significantly impacted” by the lack of federal government spend after extensive lobbying.

Australian Community Media is a privately owned newspaper publisher with titles including The Canberra Times, The Newcastle Herald and The Land.

A real estate entrepreneur and former chief executive of Domain Group, Catalano bought ACM from Nine in 2018 for $115 million. The acquisition, backed by billionaire Alex Waislitz, involved 170 newspaper titles and a large amount of property in regional and capital cities.

ACM has been on a selling spree recently, offloading eight South Australian and Queensland titles to The Star Group. It has sold a further six NSW titles to Hartley Higgins’ Provincial Press Group and another two titles in Western Australia to Sports Entertainment Group to partner with its radio licences.

Kendall says government ad spend is down 70 per cent across all media and has fallen further than that at his company, which he calls an “unprecedented reduction”.

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UK press watchdog finds Jeremy Clarkson’s column about Meghan Markle was sexist

A column in The Sun tabloid that fantasised about seeing Prince Harry‘s wife, Meghan Markle, being pelted with faeces as she was paraded naked through the streets was sexist, Britain’s press watchdog has found, reports the ABC.

The column by TV personality Jeremy Clarkson in December described how he hated the Duchess of Sussex “on a cellular level”.

He said she used “vivid bedroom promises” to turn Harry into a “warrior of woke” and controlled him like a sock puppet.

“The imagery employed by the columnist in this article was humiliating and degrading toward the duchess,” said Edward Faulks, chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

“IPSO’s purpose is to protect the public and freedom of expression by upholding high editorial standards. In this case, The Sun failed to meet these standards.”

The independent organisation, which most UK newspapers, magazines and digital news outlets voluntarily commit to be regulated by, found that multiple “pejorative and prejudicial” references to Meghan’s sex breached its editors’ code.

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Twitter applies reading limit after users report issues with platform

Twitter has applied temporary reading limits to address “extreme levels” of data scraping and system manipulation, Elon Musk said in a post on the social media platform on Saturday, reports The Guardian’s Miranda Bryant.

Verified accounts were temporarily limited to reading 6,000 posts a day, Musk said, adding that unverified accounts and new unverified accounts were limited to reading 600 posts a day and 300 posts a day respectively.

The temporary reading limitation was later increased to 10,000 posts per day for verified users, 1,000 posts per day for unverified, and 500 posts per day for new, unverified users, Musk said in a separate post without providing further details.

Previously, Twitter had announced that it will require users to have an account on the social media platform to view tweets, a move that Musk on Friday called a “temporary emergency measure”.

Musk had said that hundreds of organisations were scraping Twitter data “extremely aggressively”, affecting user experience.

He had earlier expressed displeasure with artificial intelligence firms like OpenAI, the owner of ChatGPT, for using Twitter’s data to train their large language models.

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News Brands

Nine mulling more cuts as costs keep rising

There is chatter in the market that plenty of discussion is happening internally about cost cuts at Nine Entertainment, reports The Australian’s Bridget Carter.

But this does not mean a round of mass redundancies is on the cards at the free-to-air broadcaster and publisher.

Nine’s publishing arm that it inherited as part of its Fairfax Media acquisition has made large job cuts over the years, across titles such as The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review.

Analysts spoken to by DataRoom say that because of this, they expect that there will be little to cut in the way of staff who generate content, and any job cuts in the business would likely be across the company at the margins.

Those hired for digital roles that are non core to the business in recent years or back office roles could potentially be targeted.

Other areas where it could trim its budget are expenses – where Nine cut budgets for staff such as in the area of travel – and there could be one or two programs cut from its line-up.

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World’s oldest national newspaper prints final edition after 320 years

The world’s oldest national newspaper has printed its last daily edition almost 320 years after it began, reports The Guardian’s Donna Ferguson.

Wiener Zeitung, a Vienna-based daily newspaper, will no longer print daily editions after a recent law change meant it had ceased to be profitable as a print product.

The law, which was passed in April by Austria’s coalition government, ended a legal requirement for companies to pay to publish public announcements in the print edition of the newspaper, terminating Wiener Zeitung’s role as an official gazette.

This change resulted in an estimated €18m loss of income for the publisher, according to Der Spiegel, and has forced the paper to cut 63 jobs, including reducing its editorial staff from 55 to 20.

It will continue to publish online and is hoping to distribute a monthly print edition, although that plan is reportedly still in development.

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ABC board tells management that radio network needs to be ‘urgently’ overhauled

The ABC board has told the public broadcaster’s senior management that it must move to arrest the decline of the media organisation’s radio arm “as a matter of urgency”, after it was presented with a long-awaited internal report into the troubled network, reports The Australian’s James Madden.

The report, which was tabled at the ABC’s most recent board meeting, held in Perth last month, makes dozens of recommendations as to how to fix the broadcaster’s ailing radio division, which has suffered a dramatic exodus of listeners over the past two years.

Among the recommendations are the need for a shake-up of underperforming on-air talent, and an overhaul of internal reporting structures within the ABC, which if accepted would likely result in the redeployment of a number of “middle managers”.

The adoption of the internal advisory group’s proposals is ultimately a matter for managing director David Anderson and the ABC’s recently appointed chief content officer Chris Oliver-Taylor, but The Australian has been told the pair were informed by the board of the “urgency of the situation”.

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Matt Preston quits Dancing with the Stars

Matt Preston last night bowed out of Dancing with the Stars, forfeiting his place in the competition and allowing former AFL player Gavin Wanganeen to continue and avoid the weekly dance-off, reports TV Tonight.

Preston has been battling injury since his first day of rehearsal.

“I’ve loved everything about this. My ankle is cooked. I can’t dance again tonight,” he told hosts Daryl Somers & Sonia Kruger.

“What I want to do is concede and give the win to Gavin and Meghan who danced brilliantly today. I’m so proud to do this for you, brother.”

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Australian Idol ups maximum age to 30 as it begins recruiting for season nine

Australian Idol is seeking contestants for Season Nine, with production kicking off in September, reports Variety Australia’s Vivienne Kelly. 

This year, it appears Eureka Productions and broadcaster Channel Seven have upped the age limit for the series, with the terms and conditions revealing singing hopefuls need to be aged between 15 and 30 as of Oct. 1, 2023.

The singing competition caused frustration in some corners of the industry and wider public when it was revived but was only seeking those aged 28 and under last year.

Those seeking to enter this year’s singing battle need to be available for a minimum period of 40 days between Sept. 1 and March 31.

The initial audition process involves uploading a video, sending a link or singing over Zoom.

In the most recent season, the judging panel included Harry Connick Jnr., Meghan Trainor, Kyle Sandilands and Rolling Stone AU/NZ cover star, Amy Shark.

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