Roundup: Tech Giants v Aus Government, Sam Frost, Foxtel, Today

• Seven Upfront, Guardian Australia, Norman Swan, Craig McLachlan, Juanita Nielsen doco, Kyle Sandilands, SCA and NRL

Business of Media

Paul Fletcher says tech titans ‘falling short of community expectations’

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has pledged to “lean into” reforms that would put the legal onus on the tech giants for defamatory material published on their platforms, as he accused the digital behemoths of “falling short of community expectations”, report News Corp’s James Madden and Greg Brown.

Fletcher told The Australian there was growing support for stricter, government regulations on the digital platforms, as flagged by Scott Morrison’s pledge last week to crack down on the tech ­titans.

The High Court in September ruled publishers could be liable for defamatory posts posted by commentators on their social media pages – even ones they do not know are there – with the decision opening the way for a complaint against major media organisations from former Northern Territory youth detainee Dylan Voller.

Fletcher said in the Voller case, the High Court didn’t look at the question of whether Facebook itself was liable “as a consequence of the fact that the plaintiff in the case wasn’t seeking to sue Facebook, but was seeking to sue various other media outlets”.

But he also confirmed the government was considering defining social media companies as publishers, opening them up to the same defamation laws faced by media companies.

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Australia urges US to follow its lead in regulating social media giants

Australia has intervened in the global push to regulate tech giants, writing to the US Senate to urge it to follow the nation’s lead to make social media companies deliver safer products, report The Sydney Morning Herald’s Lisa Visentin and Caitlin Fitzsimmons.

In a letter to the chairs of the Senate hearings this week, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the issues the US committees were grappling with “are ones of truly global impact”, adding that Australia’s “leading regulatory approach” had been internationally recognised.

The letter included an offer for Inman Grant to give evidence to the committees on Australia’s actions, noting that the World Economic Forum in June had recommended that other nations should consider forming a body specific to online safety, “such as Australia’s eSafety Commissioner”.

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Nine newspapers also ran an extract from Paul Fletcher’s new book: Governing in the age of the internet.

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How Barnaby Joyce sent the ‘fear of God’ through Big Tech

Barnaby Joyce phoned the Prime Minister on Thursday morning and demanded that the government act to impose accountability on the US social media corporations, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher.

The government already had work under way to try to advance the accountability agenda, but Joyce insisted it move faster and, if need be, unilaterally.

Joyce also wrote an opinion piece for Friday’s issue of the Herald and Age: “Twitter, it is not the trolls that inspire the devastating mental health issues. The trolls don’t have a voice unless you give them one, and you do!” And: “The public has reasonable grounds to ask that these companies, supporting the lifestyles of billionaires, do not make their money by dropping character bricks on the heads of innocent private individuals.”

Joyce tells me that he wants the Commonwealth unilaterally to legislate to make Twitter, Facebook and the rest held liable for any defamatory material published on any of their platforms available in Australia. His ministerial colleague, Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, had already written to the states to consider this area of law, but Joyce is pushing her to act faster and unilaterally if necessary. He wants legislation passed before Parliament is prorogued for the election due by May next year.

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Tech giants beef up controls as misinformation fury sparks calls for tougher regulation

The Australian lobby group for tech giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter has moved to strengthen a voluntary code aimed at reducing misinformation online as fresh global calls mount for tougher regulation of internet platforms, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios.

Tech industry association DIGI will establish an independent board to police a voluntary code for misinformation and disinformation it launched in February at the request of the government. DIGI members Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft and viral video site TikTok have all signed up to the code, which requires tech companies to tell users what measures they have in place to stop the spread of misinformation on their services and provide annual ‘transparency’ reports detailing their efforts.

“When we launched the code in February, DIGI made a public commitment to introduce independent oversight in order to strengthen its governance, which we’ve been developing over the last few months,” DIGI chief executive Sunita Bose said.

The moves to strengthen the voluntary code come amid fresh fury from politicians in both Australia and the United States over the tech giants’ failure to police false information on their platforms and other issues, such as targeting vulnerable users with problematic advertising.

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Seven to push ratings success as it lays out plan for 2022

Seven will celebrate its return to ratings success after two years struggling to connect with audiences and outline its plan to capitalise on audience growth in its annual upfront event on Tuesday, reports AFR‘s Miranda Ward.

The event, which is used to sell the company as the best place for a company’s ads, is traditionally used to announce the following year’s TV offering and Seven will use the moment to lay out its $30 million to $40 million investment in content, including returning shows, new formats and how an old favourite may be resurrected.

“Whilst Seven had a challenging start to the year, Seven will talk to the momentum they have driven across the year,” said Publicis Media Exchange managing director Anthony Ellis.

“Even without the boost that the Olympics gives to audience, Seven have been able to increase their share of linear viewing demographics, which means that their content strategy is having an impact on their competitors. This has been an impressive achievement, so no doubt they will have this up in lights.”

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News Brands

Foxtel to introduce Flash streaming news service and hi-tech Sky Glass TV

Australia’s subscription television viewers will soon have access to enriched content and technology, with this month’s launch of the Foxtel Group’s news streaming service Flash following the company’s announcement of a global partnership to roll out smart TVs, reports News Corp’s Sophie Elsworth.

The Foxtel Group’s one-stop shop for news streaming, Flash will feature more than 20 local and global live news services and is the first of its kind in Australia.

Flash will be the third streaming service launched by the Foxtel Group in as many years – following on from sports platform Kayo, and entertainment service Binge – and will be led by former editor-in-chief Kate De Brito.

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Foxtel to launch smart TVs in new global deal

News Corp-controlled Foxtel is planning to sell smart TV devices to customers in coming years under a new global agreement announced with Comcast-owned Sky that could eventually mark the end of the traditional set-top box, reports SMH’s Zoe Samios.

Foxtel is the first global syndication partner for Sky Glass, which is a smart television that will feature 4K TV. It is expected to be made available in late 2023.

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Freelancers lobby the Guardian Australia for pay rise

Scores of freelance journalists who contribute to the Guardian Australia have signed a petition seeking a “fair” rate of pay, amid claims the news website’s remuneration scale sits below the industry standard, reports News Corp’s James Madden.

The online petition begins: “All contributors to The Guardian deserve respect and a living wage.

“We want to work with you to maintain a publication committed to transparency, respect and fairness, both in its journalism and its treatment of all workers, whether full-time, part-time, casual or freelance.”

Among the conditions being sought are a “fair” minimum rate for all freelancers, annual rate increases, superannuation payments and timely payment following submissions.

The Guardian pays 70 cents per word for its commissioned news stories and features, $300 for opinion pieces, a $500 daily rate for photographers, and $75 for “single, speculative” pictures.

Pay rates for freelancers vary across the industry, and are often tied to the individual contributor’s level of experience.

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Chris Kenny on Norman Swan: How Aunty’s health ‘expert’ got it so wrong

At the national broadcaster, one doctor-cum-journalist has been given an extraordinarily prominent role for the best part of two years, and many ABC loyalists might be desperately in need of a different pandemic diagnosis, writes Chris Kenny in The Weekend Australian.

Norman Swan is a medico who swapped his stethoscope for a tape recorder almost 40 years ago to become an ABC health reporter, and he has been as ubiquitous as Covid-19 at Aunty since the pandemic hit.

Swan has been alarmist about the potential threat from Covid and a strong advocate for hard lockdowns and draconian measures. It is little wonder this prescription, most notably imposed by Labor premiers in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland, has become the discernible corporate position of the ABC.

The trouble is that it has been the wrong approach.

There have no attempts to correct or audit all this misinformation, and neither MediaWatch nor other current affairs programs – that normally delight in pointing out inconsistencies or erroneous forecasts – have held Swan to account.

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Craig McLachlan to challenge inclusion of new evidence in defamation case

Actor Craig McLachlan is set to challenge the evidence of a new witness being used in a looming defamation trial over media allegations of sexual harassment, reports News Corp’s Heath Parkes-Hupton.

McLachlan is suing the ABC, Nine and former colleague Christie Whelan Browne over claims he acted inappropriately while starring in a stage production of The Rocky Horror Show in 2014.

What is expected to be a four-week trial before a jury won’t start until at least April 2022, more than four years since the Gold Logie-winner first took action in the NSW Supreme Court.

The court was told on Friday the defendants had lodged a notice of motion to amend the defence case several years after it was first filed.

Defence barrister Lyndelle Barnett said McLachlan’s legal team had consented to the additions aside from one aspect, revealed to be evidence from a new witness.

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ABC documentary makers agreed not to ask star witness key questions

The “star witness” in the ABC’s documentary and podcast on murdered journalist Juanita Nielsen demanded that the program makers not ask him crucial questions, including about his criminal record, report Neil Mercer and Peter Rees in The Sun-Herald.

The program makers not only agreed to that condition, but they also agreed not to ask John Innes in detail about an elaborate “cover story” which he claimed put him right in the middle of the Nielsen investigation in the early 1980s.

It is not clear whether the national broadcaster knew he had made such demands as a condition of being interviewed or whether they had been agreed to in writing, in a release deed, by the company involved with the ABC in producing the series, WildBear Entertainment.

The Sun-Herald posed a series of questions to the ABC and WildBear Entertainment as to why an agreement had been reached not to ask Innes crucial questions.

A spokesman for the ABC said release deeds, such as the one signed between Innes and WildBear, were standard industry practice.

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First Covid hits FM radio ratings, now it shuts down Fox & Triple Melbourne

Two of Melbourne’s major radio stations are broadcasting remotely after a positive Covid case forced them to shut down their South Melbourne studios, reports News Corp’s Fiona Byrne.

Fox FM and Triple M have gone into lockdown with staff isolating and undergoing Covid tests.

The move will not impact either station’s output with all shows being broadcast from home studios and offices.

Southern Cross Austereo, the owner of both Fox and Triple M, confirmed it was taking all necessary precautions.

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See also: Radio ratings: How ARN survived the Covid bullet that claimed SCA & Nova

Kyle Sandilands blasted for refusing to allow Dominic Perrottet on radio show

Kyle Sandilands has been blasted for his decision to ban Premier Dominic Perrottet from his radio show with claims it’s “not a crime to be a Christian”, reports News Corp’s Ben Pike.

Maronite Christian Rick Mitry said he was appalled when Sandilands told KIIS FM listeners this week he would be barring Perrottet from his show because he didn’t like his “vibe”.

The comments were made when Sandilands was discussing Perrottet’s conservative Catholic views with a guest clairvoyant.

“Oh this guy’s gotta go, he’s never allowed on the show guys, just so you know,” Mr Sandilands told listeners.

“He’s not allowed, I don’t want that rubbish.”

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Christopher Pyne woos Pauline Hanson for a ‘relaxed’ podcast interview after Jessica Rowe row

It’s amazing what a week of controversy and some advertiser pressure will do. Southern Cross Austereo now appears to be furiously back-pedalling from its headline-making decision to delete Jessica Rowe’s podcast interview with Pauline Hanson — after new claims the radio giant is now “happy” to air a similar chat with the One Nation leader, reports News Corp’s Nick Tabakoff.

Diary can reveal that days after the interview with Rowe vanished, former defence minister Christopher Pyne has made new representations on Austereo’s behalf for Hanson to appear again on Austereo’s LiSTNR podcasting network. As with the canned Rowe podcast, Pyne has told Hanson he now wants a “relaxed” on-air chat to show her human side on Pyne Time.

Text messages from Pyne — obtained by this column — have distanced Austereo from the podcast controversy, and put to bed any fears that a second Hanson podcast could be dumped by the radio giant.

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Channel 7 addresses vaccine stance after Home and Away star Sam Frost refused Covid jab

The Seven Network has addressed questions about its vaccine stance amid controversy surrounding Home and Away star Sam Frost’s revelation that she is unvaccinated against Covid-19, reports News Corp’s Mibengé Nsenduluka.

In a statement to Confidential on Sunday, a Channel 7 spokeswoman said the network “strongly encourages” vaccinations for its staff.

“Seven strongly encourages vaccination for all our people and all Seven productions strictly adhere to the public health Covid-19 safety protocols. All Home and Away cast and crew also undertake Covid-19 testing three times a week in addition to other preventative measures. Sam Frost continues to work on Home and Away and follows the safety protocols in place.”

It comes after Frost, 32, deleted her Instagram account on Saturday after receiving backlash over an emotional video in which she defended her decision not to get the jab.

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The Voice: Rita Ora to rejoin Jess Mauboy, Guy Sebastian and Keith Urban in 2022

After smashing the ratings with a revamped format and new look, all four coaches on The Voice will return in 2022, reports News Corp’s Jonathon Moran.

Despite some speculation Rita Ora wouldn’t come back, the British pop singer will join Guy Sebastian, Keith Urban and Jessica Mauboy when the reality singing show returns next year.

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Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon visit accountant Anthony Bell

He may call Castlecrag, some 18km — or four LGAs — away home, but that didn’t stop Today show host Karl Stefanovic dropping in on his tax agent in Dover Heights on Friday, reports News Corp’s Annette Sharp.

Also photographed visiting Stefanovic’s ubiquitous “main man” Anthony Bell (one of about 1000 we gather) was the Today show host’s TV co-anchor Allison Langdon.

The joint sighting prompted speculation Stefanovic and Langdon’s Nine contracts may shortly be up for renegotiation.

Sources yesterday assured this writer the Nine stars, who are currently enjoying a ratings surge on the nation’s east coast at the helm of Today after beating Sunrise in Sydney eight weeks in a row, have been secured by Nine for at least another year, depriving Bell of an agent’s cut — for now.

Bell, as readers with long memories will recall, acted as agent to Stefanovic during failed contract negotiations with the Seven Network in 2015.

After advancing those negotiations with Seven to the eleventh hour, Bell was left high and dry when Stefanovic decided to re-sign with Nine, in a deal worth millions.

The decision deprived Bell of his lucrative agent’s cut of a new deal.

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Lisa Wilkinson opens up about Karl Stefanovic and how she found out she lost her job on Today

Lisa Wilkinson has revealed the moment she was “humiliated” and “betrayed” by her former employer, Channel 9, when she was ”dismissed” from the network’s breakfast program, reports

The Project host sat down for an interview with journalist Hamish Macdonald to discuss her upcoming memoir — It Wasn’t Meant To Be Like This – when asked about how she found out she’d no longer be a part of the Today show line-up in October 2017.

“I was standing in aisle six at Woolies holding a can of tuna [when she got the call from management],” Wilkinson explained.

“I felt stupid and humiliated and betrayed and pretty pathetic.”

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Sports Media

NRL juggles News Corp, Nine as Seven waits in the wings

About two weeks ago, a conversation between Seven West Media boss James Warburton and powerful sports administrator Peter V’landys got sidetracked, reports SMH‘s Zoe Samios, Michael Chammas and Adrian Proszenko.

The discussion was mainly about Seven’s coverage of upcoming horse racing events including The Everest event in Sydney later this month. But V’landys, who wears two hats – one as chief executive of Racing NSW and the other as Australian Rugby League Commission chairman – was also told about the different ways Seven might broadcast the NRL and how much the network might be willing to pay for it.

Speculative chats with potential broadcasters are a normal part of any sporting administrator’s duties, but the comments can be interpreted as a clear sign Seven is considering an audacious tilt at the NRL free-to-air rights.

Those rights are currently held by Nine Entertainment Co, the owner of this masthead. Nine is still considered a strong frontrunner to renew its longstanding arrangement with the NRL, having been the home of rugby league on TV for decades. But a possible move by its bitter rival to enter the fray would add another twist to its already complicated relationship with the popular sport.

Nine last Wednesday presented its own proposal to the NRL that, if successful, would allow it to continue its relationship with the code for another five years. It was a meeting that V’landys told the NRL’s 16 clubs last Thursday was positive. Nine’s previous presentation, which took place in August, left V’landys feeling infuriated and disappointed.

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NRL pre-season trials to be broadcast on Fox Sports and Kayo in 2022

In a major first for rugby league, fans will be able to watch the NRL pre-season trial matches live from the comfort of their own loungerooms, reports News Corp’s David Riccio.

In what will be a major first for the code, Fox Sports is poised to secure the exclusive broadcast rights with the NRL to televise every club pre-season trial match live next February.

The NRL is preparing for the 32 club pre-season matches to be shown live on Fox League and Kayo on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights from February 18 to 28.

Negotiations have also included a radical plan to include five games on one day.

Under the proposal, the second weekend would include the launch of the NRLW competition with three straight women’s matches and an NRL trial match played before and after the women’s fixtures.

The first game could start at 1pm and the last kick off at 9pm.

A desire to offer greater focus and excitement from the pre-season has been NRL CEO Andrew Abdo’s private mission for almost two years.

And, with the backing of Foxtel CEO Patrick Delaney and broadcast delivery from Fox Sports executive director Steve Crawley, Abdo is close to that goal.

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Nine’s Danny Weidler: Does News Corp have too many fingers in the rugby league pie?

Not for the first time, the concern is News Corp has too many fingers in the rugby league pie, writes Danny Weidler in The Sun-Herald.

News Corp owns a 69 per cent stake in the Broncos and would be happy if Redcliffe landed the 17th licence, something the News Corp papers have been happy to push. News Corp, which has a 65 per cent share in Foxtel, is effectively funding the new team. Foxtel and News Corp will benefit if more Broncos games are on Fox Sports or Kayo, because people will have to pay to watch them.

The ARLC went to Foxtel and originally asked for an extra $30 million a year to allow it to bring in a 17th team. The only way the competition can expand is through additional funding and that is most likely to come from broadcast rights. The NRL has ended up with about an additional $100 million for its five-year deal with Foxtel.

Does Foxtel now get a say in the 17th team? Does News Corp get a say? Do News Corp and Foxtel want the same thing?

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Top-rating Sky Sports Radio host Laurie Daley’s new breakfast radio deal

Laurie Daley has agreed to a new contract as the host of the Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast in the same week that the show scored its biggest ever ratings, reports News Corp’s Phil Rothfield

His co-host, former cricketer Michael Clarke, has also been offered a new deal.

The Weekend Big Sports breakfast hosted by colleagues Ray Thomas and Dean ‘Bulldog’ Ritchie also achieved record ratings on Sunday mornings.

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Sacked Seven cricket commentator Michael Slater hoping for new media deal

Michael Slater has opened up about his shock axing from Channel 7 for the Ashes series, revealing the anxiety of seeing dead bodies on the streets in India was the trigger for his social media attack on Prime Minister Scott Morrison that may have cost him his job, reports News Corp’s Phil Rothfield.

The former Test opening batsman has been in TV and radio commentary for 20 years but faces an uncertain media future with many blaming his behaviour on social media.

Slater insists he has more to achieve in the cricket media.

His agent Sean Anderson is now looking for other opportunities for his client.

“I’m fit and healthy and I’ve got to provide for three kids who go to school and their fees aren’t cheap,” Slater said.

“While it’s disappointing to be leaving Seven before an Ashes series, I’ll soldier on and keep pushing forward.

“I don’t know if it’s related to what I said about Sco Mo but it got a lot of airplay at the time.

“The head of sport said it was a budgetary decision.

“I was on a good wicket but they’ve made a business decision.”

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TV revenue windfall driving support for 18-team NRL competition

There is growing support among NRL powerbrokers to increase the premiership to 18 teams over the next five years, reports News Corp’s Phil Rothfield.

Influential Sydney Roosters chairman Nick Politis spoke of the benefits of further expansion at a meeting of the 16 club chairmen and chief executives on Thursday.

Not one person in the room spoke against it.

“We should have two new clubs in Queensland,” Politis said, “We need to grow and we need new customers. More eyeballs on TV and more product will bring more revenue from the broadcasters and that’s what we rely on more than anything else.

“You do that by increasing the number of clubs, have an extra game and go into new areas.”

A ninth game would increase TV revenue by approximately $250 million over five years. Politis, a self-made billionaire, has support from some of the most powerful people in the game.

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