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Thursday, 28 February 2013

Conroy vs the Murdochs, Part XVIII

News Ltd head Kim Williams (left) with
Lachlan Murdoch in 2010.
It seems that the battle between News Ltd and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is as heated as ever. Today, the Australian has published a story that contains a heck of a lot of anonymous comment from somewhere in Canberra that deals with a mooted tie-up between Network Ten, the ailing free-to-air TV channel, and News Ltd, publisher of that newspaper. In a nutshell the latest stoush is about this:
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is understood to have put ... proposals to Julia Gillard on Monday night in an attempt to stop the Ten Network from working with News Limited to produce a Sunday current affairs program.
Rupert Murdoch, who owns News Ltd through the US-based News Corporation, is the father of Lachlan Murdoch, who sits on the Network Ten board.

The story today also notes that the Greens are against the mooted program. Changes to ownership rules have been talked about before now in respect of new realities in the Australian media landscape but it is a bit surprising that Conroy should want to stymie a programming move that can hardly alter the media scene in Australia in a profound way. The story mentions the launch last year of a program on Ten featuring News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt. It also spends a good deal of time talking about programming that has been aired on the ABC that was made by Fairfax journalists; Fairfax is a direct competitor for News Ltd. Sour grapes?

What is most troubling about the story, though, is the reliance it makes on unattributed sources. When the reporter approached the minister's media officer for comment, nothing was said about Conroy talking with the prime minister about blocking such programming, and instead it was merely noted that the minister was "considering the recommendations of the Convergence Review and Finkelstein inquiry", which makes sense. The reporter's suspicions that Conroy was trying to stop a free-to-air network from working with News Ltd might indeed be correct, but the story does not substantiate them.

The story also goes to some lengths to point out that the program, Meet The Press, only attracted about 74,000 viewers last weekend. The ABC's competing program, Insiders, had 99,000 viewers and Channel Seven's blander, less controversial program, Weekend Sunrise, had 362,000. The reporter's implication is, clearly, "What's all the fuss about?" Indeed. But given the total absence of credible sources in his story, the same question can be asked of News Ltd. Conclusion: it's a beat-up.

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