Roundup: News Corp & MEAA, Ben Roberts-Smith, Bob Fulton, ABC ad spend + more

High Court test for defamation, Facebook, ABC Twitter ban, ABC’s Craig McLachlan claims, Ghost Train, BBC, Eurovision, and Ian Thorpe

Business of Media

Press Council move exposes tensions between News Corp and media union

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is not known for its warm view of organised labour, but journalists at its Australian mastheads still pay a lot of attention to the industry union. And increasingly they are questioning the depth of its commitment to supporting them, reports SMH‘s Nick Bonyhady and Zoe Samios.

It’s a thorny problem for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). The MEAA is associated with left-wing organisations such as the Australian Council of Trade Unions but is required to represent the interests of all its members, including journalists at newspapers with right of centre viewpoints.

Tensions between the MEAA and one of the nation’s biggest employers of journalists were exposed in a recent decision by the union to stop funding the industry’s complaints adjudicator.

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High Court test for defamation in the digital age

Australia’s leading media companies tried to convince a sceptical High Court this week that the cost of doing business with Facebook should not extend to picking up the bill for defamatory comments, reports AFR‘s Michael Pelly.

It will be a few months before a verdict is handed down, but the bid to stop a defamation claim by Northern Territory youth detainee Dylan Voller has ramifications that extend well beyond the media sector.

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Costs stoush in Nine defamation battle with Ben Roberts-Smith

Nine Entertainment has issued an extraordinary demand for legal costs on the eve of the long-awaited defamation trial involving Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, asking the private company owned by the Stokes family to cover any financial liabilities incurred by the former soldier’s court action, reports News Corp’s James Madden.

Prominent Melbourne lawyer Peter Bartlett, a partner at MinterEllison and lead solicitor for Nine newspapers in the defamation trial, earlier this month wrote to Ryan Stokes, the chief executive of Australian Capital Equity, informing him that Nine would pursue his family’s private company for legal costs arising from any adverse finding against Roberts-Smith, should the SAS veteran be unable to pay.

The letter, dated May 14, has prompted accusations that Nine is seeking to intimidate Roberts-Smith into dropping his legal action, an act that could constitute contempt of court.

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Ben Roberts-Smith in court battle over medical records

Ben Roberts-Smith has asked a court to block a newspaper’s lawyers from accessing his personal medical records as his legal battle over war crimes allegations ramps up, reports News Corp’s Steve Zemek.

In the lead up to a Federal Court trial, lawyers for the newspapers issued subpoenas to two doctors, a GP and a psychiatrist, who treated Roberts-Smith.

They also sought documents from a marriage counsellor who saw Roberts-Smith and his ex-wife Emma Roberts prior to their separation.

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Facebook sold more than $700m in Australian advertising but tax bill just $20m

Social media giant Facebook scooped up more than $700 million in Australian advertising revenue last year by boosting its online sales as the nation spent more time at home and online through the pandemic, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

With much of this ad revenue expensed back to its US parent, the tech giant’s tax bill was just $20.2 million.

Documents lodged with corporate regulator the Australian Securities & Investments Commission revealed Facebook Australia Pty Ltd generated $712.7 million in Australian advertising sales last calendar year, up 5.7 per cent on a year earlier.

Because Facebook views its Australian business as a “re­seller” of ad inventory across its flagship website, Instagram and Messenger apps, it books a “reseller expense” to be ultimately paid to its Californian parent.

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ABC ad spending blitz

The ABC has doubled its spend on advertising in the past year, with a blitz on billboards, public transport hot spots and social media posts to promote the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

Prominent advertising in sought-after inner-city locations in Melbourne and Sydney have been on display in recent weeks, promoting the ABC’s online streaming and news services. But the move has raised concerns given the public broadcaster’s advertising spend has more than doubled in just 12 months.

Some of the key locations featuring ABC advertising include alongside Kings Way in Melbourne, at tram stops throughout Melbourne’s CBD and in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

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Coalition to push for ABC ‘Twitter bans’

ABC managing director David Anderson will face a torrid line of questioning in a lengthy three-hour Budget Estimates session in Canberra on Wednesday night, with a prominent Coalition senator pushing for the imposition of “Twitter bans” on Aunty’s staff through its enterprise agreement if they breach its social media guidelines, reports News Corp’s Nick Tabakoff.

NSW senator Andrew Bragg tells Diary he will use the Wednesday hearing to grill Anderson on whether disciplinary action the ABC is now taking against senior in-house lawyer Sebastien Maury — as first revealed in this column a week ago — will now become a “line in the sand” for all of Aunty employees that is incorporated into its enterprise agreement with staff. In a series of anti-government tweets, Maury labelled Scott Morrison’s regime as “fascist”, described the PM as an “awful human being” who was “dreadful at all the jobs to which he’s turned his clumsy hands”, and trolled Christian Porter over the Four Corners episode, Inside the Canberra Bubble, stating: “Honestly. If this doesn’t finish his career, then nothing means anything.”

Maury’s tweet followed a high-profile tweet by 7.30 chief political correspondent Laura Tingle, in which she directly trolled the PM with the sledge: “Hope you’re feeling smug @ScottMorrisonMP” and accused him of “ideological bastardry”.

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News Brands

ABC fury at ‘offensive’ McLachlan claims

A huge row erupted on Sunday between the ABC and Seven, after a special about Craig McLachlan implied that women speaking out against the actor on 7.30 had been manipulated by ABC staff, reports News Corp’s Nick Tabakoff.

During a Seven News Spotlight special featuring extensive interviews with McLachlan — who was found not guilty of seven indecent assault charges in December — Seven aired claims a week ago that the women interviewed by the ABC appeared to be “coached” by a producer and reporter in their answers, and included clips from the interviews themselves.

But on Sunday, an ABC statement that strongly defended its reporter and producer, claiming the coaching allegations were “offensive” and that clips from the interviews were taken out of “context”.

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ABC will answer to Luna Park fire claims

Labor will use Senate Estimates to interrogate the ABC over the integrity of its documentary into the Luna Park ghost train fire and adherence to editorial policies given its claim Neville Wran was corrupt has been widely discredited, reports News Corp’s Troy Bramston.

Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the ABC had editorial independence but noted the many criticisms of the program for alleging Wran had a relationship with crime boss Abe Saffron and organised for the Luna Park lease to go to his front company.

“Concerns have been expressed, including from high profile Australians, that the program is not a fair or credible reflection on former NSW premier Neville Wran,” Rowland said. “At Senate Estimates next week, Labor will have the opportunity to ascertain whether the ABC has received complaints about the program in question, and if so, what it is doing to ensure it meets ABC editorial standards.”

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BBC faces funding review over 1995 Martin Bashir interview with Diana

The BBC’s financial future will be intensely scrutinised by the British government following the sensational findings of deceit and cover-up by journalists and managers at the corporation over the infamous 1995 Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana, reports News Corp’s  Jacquelin Magnay.

The British government said at the weekend it would “reflect’’ on the findings of the report, conducted by retired High Court judge Lord Dyson, with the public broadcaster now facing the possibility of its annual licence being frozen or cut amid the fallout from the scandal.

Currently, mandatory licence fees of £159 a year are imposed on British viewers, which raises about £3.2bn for the BBC annually.

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Rock Band Maneskin Wins Eurovision Song Contest for Italy

A four-piece band of Italian rockers won the Eurovision Song Contest in the early hours of Sunday, reports the Associated Press.

Maneskin’s win was only Italy’s third victory in the immensely popular contest and the first since Toto Cutugno took the honor in 1990. Italy, the bookmakers’ favorite, trailed Switzerland, France and Malta after the national juries delivered their votes but were propelled to victory by votes from the viewing public.

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Sports Media

Ray Hadley breaks the news of Bob Fulton’s passing on 2GB

Rugby League Immortal and founding member of 2GB’s The Continuous Call Team Bob Fulton has died aged 74.

A heartbroken Ray Hadley called into his station on Sunday to share the devastating news.

“I’ve spent a lot of time announcing sad things on radio this is perhaps the saddest thing I’ve ever announced,” said Hadley.

“I’m going to miss him, as many will.

“He was a great man, a great great rugby league player, but more importantly the most loyal friend I’ve ever had,” added Hadley.

Listen to Ray Hadley break the news on 2GB on Sunday.

Ray Hadley also spoke to 2GB’s Ben Fordham this morning about Bob Fulton.

Ian Thorpe on the starting blocks for Channel 7

Australia’s most successful Olympian of all-time, Ian Thorpe, will join the Seven Network’s commentary team for the Olympic Games in Tokyo this July, reports News Corp’s Selina Steele.

The five-times Olympic gold medallist confirmed today he will be on the starting blocks for the delayed Games.

After stints for the BBC calling the London Olympics in 2012 and then working for Indian broadcaster Star Sports for Rio’s 2016 Games, Thorpie will finally be calling the Olympics for an Aussie audience.

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