Roundup: PM cracks down on Social Media, Rebecca Maddern and Lauren Phillips quit

Rebecca Maddern

• Plus the ABC, Seven, The Australian & Prestige Network changes, Doug MacLeod, Matt Doran, and David Koch

Business of Media

PM cracks down on ‘wild west’ of social media

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is cracking down on the “wild west” of social media, announcing legislation that will hold Facebook, Twitter and other platforms responsible for harmful content and impose the same legal liabilities as mainstream publishers, reports AFR‘s Miranda Ward.

The government says the changes will be some of the strongest in the world to tackle damaging comments from anonymous online trolls.

They mean social media companies are considered publishers and can be held liable for defamatory comments posted on their platforms if they do not reveal the identity of users responsible.

“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others are anonymously going around … [where they can] harm people and hurt people, harass them and bully them and sledge them,” Mr Morrison said.

“That is not Australia. That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world. Australia wants to be … one of the world’s leading digital economies, but for that to be true the digital world has to be safe.”

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Media executives laud Scott Morrison’s push to purge trolls

The federal government’s determined push to expose the identities of vicious online trolls, and subject them to legal liability for defamatory slurs, has been heralded by Australian media executives as a long-awaited step in the right direction, report News Corp’s James Madden and Max Maddison.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller welcomed the move.

“Today’s announcement by the federal government that anonymous trolls on social media will be unmasked is a positive step,” he said.

“These are tough, new world-first laws that will give Australian courts the power to order social media giants to identify perpetrators or risk incurring hefty defamation payouts.”

Nine Entertainment’s managing director of publishing James Chessell said: “Nine welcomes the government’s announcement today, which will put responsibility for third-party comments made on social media pages with the person who made the comment, or with the platforms if the platforms cannot identify the person.

“For some time now, Nine, along with other media companies, has been campaigning for reform of defamation laws, to bring them into the 21st century.”

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ABC boss David Anderson should be held to account for failings at broadcaster: Senator Ben Small

The ABC’s managing director David Anderson must be held to account over critical failings that have occurred on his watch, according to a WA senator who will quiz the broadcasting boss at a Senate hearing on Monday, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

Liberal Senator Ben Small will be among at least six MPs who will grill three ABC executives for several hours on Monday evening at the reconvened “spill over” Senate estimates hearing, following on from the trio’s earlier appearance before the parliamentary committee last month.

The Australian understands issues likely to be at the forefront of the hearing include the controversial $200,000 in legal costs the ABC amassed in the defamation case involving Four Corners investigative reporter Louise Milligan, who falsely accused Liberal MP Andrew Laming of upskirting a woman at a Brisbane landscaping business in 2019.

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ABC’s complaints inquiry details focus of its investigations

The independent review into the ABC’s complaints department will be examining issues including the procedure for reviewing or appealing an outcome, and the reporting of complaint outcomes both internally and publicly, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

The review opened up to the public last week and has asked those making submissions to consider key review themes, including explaining their experience with the complaints unit, what role the board should play in complaints oversight, and whether the public broadcaster has satisfactory editorial policies and a code of practice.

In the issues paper, released on Friday, it confirmed the reviewers had already held initial consultations with current and former ABC staff, ABC board members and external observers both in Australia and overseas.

The paper is giving members of the public until December 17 to make any submissions relating to the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs department, led by Kirstin McLiesh.

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Seven executives could share a multimillion-dollar windfall

Seven West Media was in a terrible financial state before coronavirus came to Australia. Net debt at the Kerry Stokes-controlled media company was $564 million, its programs were struggling and its share price had slipped to 6 cents in April last year, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

Private equity was circling. And there were questions about whether chief executive James Warburton, who had been brought back to Seven by Stokes to steady the ship, was the right man for the job. Seven, like other media companies including Nine Entertainment Co (owner of this masthead), suffered from a significant downfall in advertising during the early part of the pandemic. But unlike Nine, whose chairman Peter Costello has enforced a conservative balance sheet over the past eight years, Seven had borrowed too much.

But things have changed fast. Seven renegotiated its debt (under less favourable terms) and secured more breathing space by taking almost $50 million in JobKeeper payments from the federal government. Warburton sold assets such its magazine arm, Pacific, and the group’s West Australian headquarters. At the same time the advertising market has roared back into life and Seven’s ratings have improved.

Two weeks ago, after announcing a long-awaited deal to buy regional broadcaster Prime Media Group, Seven West Media hit a three-year trading high of 70 cents per share. That’s a 12-fold increase since its lows of April 2020. Nobody will be more happy about the reversal of fortunes than Seven’s executive team whose short- and long-term incentives are the talk of the commercial media industry.

According to Seven’s 2021 annual report, Warburton received a total package of $7.6 million this year including his incentive schemes. (Warburton forfeited some of his incentives last financial year).

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‘Not conceding defeat’: Senator Bragg still wants public hearing on ABC, SBS complaints

Liberal senator Andrew Bragg will look at alternative ways for the public to speak to government about their concerns with the ABC’s complaints handling system after his attempts to instigate a senate inquiry were derailed, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

Senator Bragg said he received about 20 submissions to the inquiry before it was thwarted by a Greens motion last Tuesday, and has signalled he will find a way to allow the public to discuss their concerns.

“I am not conceding defeat on the ability of the public to have their say,” Senator Bragg said. “There are still options which I am looking at. People want parliamentary privilege for their protection. They can’t get that from the ABC, especially when the ABC spends $26 million a year on legal fees.”

Senator Bragg’s comments come as the ABC and SBS prepare to face another round of senate hearings on Monday. The amount of public money spent on legal fees and broadcaster complaints handling processes are expected to be the focus of the four-hour hearing.

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News Brands

News Corp Australia reveals team changes at The Australian & Prestige Network

The Australian has revealed a new-look management team, with journalist John Lehmann (pictured) appointed managing director of The Australian and the News Prestige Network, taking over from Nicholas Gray who has taken another senior role within News Corp. Lehmann had been commercial director and managing editor after four years as editor of The Australian.

The managing editor of Vogue Australia, Vogue Living and GQ Australia, Louise Bryant, will take on the role as managing editor of The Australian.

Edwina McCann, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia, has been appointed publisher of News Prestige Network.

There have also been a number of editorial changes at The Australian including the appointment of multi-award-winning journalist and policy expert Natasha Bita as education editor. Bita most recently worked as national social affairs and education editor for News Corp Australia, and has been an associate editor of The Courier-Mail, national affairs writer for The Daily Telegraph and national correspondent for The Australian.

Political reporter Greg Brown has been promoted to national correspondent in the Canberra press gallery after five years covering federal politics for The Australian.

After three years covering federal politics in Canberra, Richard Ferguson has been promoted to the role of deputy national chief of staff of The Australian, where he will drive the masthead’s daily news coverage.

Jill Rowbotham has been appointed as The Australian’s legal affairs correspondent. Rowbotham is an experienced journalist who has been a foreign correspondent as well as bureau chief in Perth and Sydney, opinion and media editor, deputy editor of The Weekend Australian Magazine and higher education writer.

The Australian has also ramped up its sports desk with Stephen Samuelson taking on the role of deputy sports editor. Samuelson has been on the masthead for three years having spent almost 12 years as the digital sports editor and deputy sports editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He has worked with American broadcaster NBC at nine Olympic Games and was the prime-time scriptwriter for Channel 7’s coverage of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.


Tributes for comedy writer Doug MacLeod who has died aged 62

Television writer, script editor, children’s author and playwright Doug MacLeod died in Melbourne last week after several years of ill-health, including a stroke in 2011 and a diagnosis of the autoimmune disease discoid lupus in 2014. He was 62, reports Richard Watts at Arts Hub.

MacLeod was a mentor to many and a friend to more. He is remembered as gentle, funny and immensely kind, loyal to his friends, a gifted writer, adept at giving feedback, and an enormous talent.

MacLeod mentored many young writers himself, especially in television, where he worked on numerous programs including as the head writer of The Comedy Company and script editor of Kath & Kim and Big Girls Blouse.

He also wrote several scripts for the popular ABC series SeaChange, as well as for The Bob Downe Show and the animated series Dogstar, which ran from 2007-2011 and which MacLeod co-devised.

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Weekend Sunrise presenter Matt Doran issues emotional apology to Adele

Matt Doran has given an unreserved apology to Adele and her fans after a “terrible” oversight led to him interviewing the global singing megastar without listening to her new album, reports Warren Barnsley at

Doran addressed the controversy on Weekend Sunrise for the first time since reports emerged of the interview, which he flew to London to conduct.

The Channel 7 personality has admitted to being in the wrong having endured a “torrent of abuse and mockery”, but also set the record straight regarding how the error came about.

“If I’m being honest with you, the bulk of this abuse I deserve and totally own.

“I flew to London to interview Adele – an unspeakable privilege that was to be one of the highlights of my career.”

Doran explained he made the “terrible mistake of assuming” that Adele’s album 30 would not be supplied to him prior to the interview, as it was happening before it was released.

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Network Seven boss reacts to Adele interview debacle

Seven West Media CEO James Warburton weighed in on the debacle, telling it was “obviously disappointing” the interview never made it to air, reports

“The extra piece to that would have obviously been some exclusivity and that would have been great content for Sunrise and Sunday Night the week before to promote the special, and we didn’t get that and that’s really disappointing,” Mr Warburton said on the matter.

“The Oprah Winfrey special for us was absolutely fantastic and did its job in brilliant ratings and streaming numbers,” he added of what did air, which generated 747,000 metro viewers.

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Nine Melbourne shake-up as Rebecca Maddern and Lauren Phillips quit

Rebecca Maddern has broken her silence on her shock departure from Channel 9, report News Corp’s Jackie Epstein and Fiona Byrne.

“I’ve had so many career highlights at Nine and hosting the juggernaut, Australian Ninja Warrior, has been a thrill for the past five years,” she said on Sunday.

“I’m sad to leave my Today show and tennis colleagues as well, but I’m excited about what’s next.

“I’m also extremely proud of playing a role in helping to change the broadcast landscape for women in sport after hosting the AFL footy show.”

Maddern’s departure has been followed by Lauren Phillips, who is leaving her Weekend Today job as weather presenter.

The KIIS FM breakfast host said it was too difficult juggling both her radio and TV roles.

It is understood Maddern and the network were unable to agree to terms on a new deal.

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David Koch puts Channel 9 in its place after Sunrise ratings win

Sunrise host David Koch has weighed into the contentious battle for the top breakfast program, saying figures showing Seven has now beaten Nine for 18 straight seasons should silence his competitor once and for all, reports News Corp’s Briana Domjen.

As the official survey ratings year concludes on Saturday, the Seven Network’s Sunrise has ranked No. 1 in its timeslot in 2021, marking 18 years at the top.

The 2021 win comes as Natalie Barr replaced Samantha Armytage as host in March.

‘Kochie’, who rarely weighs in on the perennial battle, said it’s a result which should be acknowledged and celebrated, before he had an uncharacteristic dig at his rivals over at Today.

“It is a real milestone and one we take a lot of pride in,” Koch, who has one year left on his Sunrise contract said.

“We are really grateful for the support and loyalty of our viewers who have allowed us into their households.

“We are very proud of what we achieve as a team so you get pretty annoyed when others
try and rewrite history when you know that they haven’t been No. 1 in 18 years.”

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Why streamers are stalling on sharing data

Back in 2019, WarnerMedia struck a deal for its soon-to-launch streaming platform HBO Max that secured exclusive domestic streaming rights to The Big Bang Theory for five years. The pact, which sources pegged in the billions, also included an extension of an existing syndication deal with TBS in which the comedy will continue airing on the WarnerMedia-owned network through 2028, report The Hollywood Reporter‘s Tatiana Siegel and Rick Porter.

While the syndication side of the deal allows creators, profit participants, reps and even industry observers to gauge how big the TBS audience is, just how many people watch the show on HBO Max remains a mystery.

That’s because syndication viewing numbers, as they’ve always been, are readily available through third-party measurement services, while streaming numbers remain under lock and key. Platforms like HBO Max, Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon’s Prime Video, Hulu and Paramount+ continue to keep a vise-like grip on their data, and, nearly a decade into the streaming era, the lack of transparency is making it nearly impossible for dealmakers, and even viewers, to define what is a hit and what is a bomb. Unlike traditional box office and ratings numbers, streaming data lives behind an opaque wall, with little chance of reliable metrics emerging anytime soon.

According to the current modus operandi, streaming platforms gather reams of data about their users — whether certain titles drive subscriptions, how long people watch a show or movie, how many people finish once they start and cost per user (the ratio of a show’s cost to the size of its audience, among other things).

All of those figures are kept in-house, and in most cases streamers don’t even share basic viewing data publicly. There’s no industrywide currency for viewership data on SVOD platforms in the way that Nielsen ratings have served the traditional TV business for decades or box office figures have measured the performance of features.

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