Sydney Morning Herald caught in the Crikey crossfire as letter to Lachlan Murdoch knocked back | The Weekly Beast

The SMH and Age refused to accept Crikey’s ad citing competition for subscriptions. Plus: Bolt gets behind Avi Yemini

As Lachlan Murdoch filed proceedings for defamation against Private Media’s Crikey this week, a third media organisation got caught in the crossfire.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s report 10 days earlier about the legal letters that had been flying between the News Corp co-chair and the independent news site featured heavily in Murdoch’s 40-page statement of claim.

“Multiple media sources, who requested anonymity to speak freely on the matter, said Lachlan Murdoch has issued a concerns notice and fired off multiple legal letters to Crikey since June,” the SMH reported on 14 August.

In the writ filed in the federal court on Tuesday, lawyers for Murdoch allege either the Crikey editor-in-chief, Peter Fray, or Crikey political editor, Bernard Keane, or their lawyer, spoke to the Herald and that they were “seeking to publicise that Murdoch had complained about its content”.

It was all “part of a scheme to give Private Media, Keane and/or Fray an excuse to, among other things, criticise and cause harm to Murdoch”, according to the statement of claim. Private Media is yet to file a defence but has launched a GoFundMe to raise $3m for legal costs.

Behind the scenes, the SMH and its sister paper, the Age, were reluctantly drawn into the legal stoush again when the newspapers refused to accept a paid advertisement from Crikey in the form of an open letter to Murdoch challenging him to take court action against it. The letter eventually ran in the New York Times and the Canberra Times.

“We await your writ so that we can test this important issue of freedom of public interest journalism in a courtroom,” the letter said a day before the writ was served.

When Nine knocked the ad back Fray told trade publication Mumbrella it was because they were a competitor and “they didn’t want to upset Lachlan Murdoch or the Murdochs”, a claim Nine denied. The ad was rejected by the metropolitan dailies because Crikey is a competitor for subscriptions, sources told Weekly Beast. The ad could have run in the Australian Financial Review which is not a direct competitor.

The Age readers may have been surprised to read that the small independent website employed “40-odd journalists”, in an analysis piece by chief reporter, Chip Le Grand, which took a swipe at the Keane article as “an opinion piece which offered no unique insights”.

Dying at the fact chip le grande thinks there are 40 journos working at Crikey

— Amber Schultz (@AmberMaySchultz) August 24, 2022

While Private Media employs 40 journalists across its multiple websites, Crikey has just 11 journalists including production staff, Fray confirmed.

Inflated ideas

With commercial networks increasingly relying on competition-style reality shows such as The Block and Lego Masters to fill their schedules, they need to keep coming up with new varieties of the winning format.

Seven announced this week that a Dutch format created by Endemol Shine, Blow Up, is going into production next month. The show features “balloon experts” blowing up balloons to create large sculptures. Co-host Stephen Curry talked up the idea this week, telling the Herald Sun this was not “balloon animals and pirate swords”. “This is full scale, high-art balloon sculpture,” he said.

Publicity shot of a new Channel 7 show about blowing up balloons called Blow Up
Channel Seven announces another competition-style reality show – this time with balloons. Photograph: Channel 7

Will the balloons go the way of Holey Moley, the 2020 mini-golf format starring Greg Norman which didn’t end up being as popular as Seven had hoped and was not renewed?

Prize fight

The Guardian revealed in June that the reason the Judith Neilson Institute blew apart was management’s plans for a “massive vanity project” in the form of a $10m-a-year international prize for ideas.

Sources said the prize was the final straw for the billionaire philanthropist and she lost faith in the institute’s former executive director Mark Ryan, who has since resigned.

On Friday the Australian Financial Review confirmed in an interview with Neilson the $10m-a-year prize was at the heart of the dispute.

“I was told I had to give $50m for this project that’s got nothing to do with journalism,” Neilson told the AFR. “And if I didn’t give it, my credibility around town would be lost.”

Neilson told the AFR she “never interfered” in the institute and visited the office only twice but did brief management to “leave China and climate change to those qualified”.

“I had no idea what they did,” she said. “Other than having parties. They don’t have a journalist, but they have three people for events!”

Judith Neilson looks at The Ship Of Time by Jinshi Zhu which contains a myriad of xuan (rice) paper sheets, pieces of fine bamboo and cotton threads during a preview of A Fairy Tale in Red Times: Works from the White Rabbit Collection exhibition at NGV International
Judith Neilson told the Australian Financial Review a $10m-a-year prize was central to her dispute with the institute’s management. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images for the NGV

Teacher’s Pet finale

One of the media’s most intriguing stories, first raised in Hedley Thomas’s Teacher’s Pet podcast in the Australian, will reach a conclusion next week when a verdict is handed down in the murder trial of former Sydney teacher Chris Dawson. Thomas won a Gold Walkley for the podcast, but it was taken offline when Dawson was charged.

Justice Ian Harrison, who heard the trial without a jury, will deliver a judgment on 30 August.

The Crown alleged during the trial that the ex-Newtown Jets player killed his wife, Lyn Dawson, and disposed of her body on or about 8 January 1982. Dawson has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers told the court the prosecution’s case was “nonsensical”.


Pay claim on profits

It was good news for Nine Entertainment on Thursday when they posted a 35% lift in profits to $315m, driven by growth in subscriptions and a buoyant advertising market. But it was also terrible timing.

Journalists at the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, the Australian Financial Review, Brisbane Times, and WA Today are in tense negotiations for a new enterprise agreement with Nine and are smarting at the latest offer which at 3.5% is less than the current rate of inflation.

More than 82% of Nine’s Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) members voted “yes” in a ballot to take protected industrial action in pursuit of their claims.

The MEAA media section director, Adam Portelli, said despite the millions it received from Google and Facebook under the news media bargaining code, management had offered less than half the annual increase in the cost of living.

“After this bumper result today, it is time for those profits to be shared as a fair pay rise with the journalists whose work delivered them,” Portelli said.

Union members are also seeking a commitment to employment diversity in newsrooms and formal recognition of the charter of editorial independence in the new agreement.

Bolt takes up Yemini’s cause

The far-right figure Avi Yemini has been denied entry to New Zealand due to a criminal conviction for throwing a chopping board at his ex-wife.

But the Rebel News personality, who describes himself as a journalist but apparently has trouble spelling the word, blamed an online article for the ban.

A screenshot of a tweet by Avi Yemeni saying he has been denied entry into New Zealand. In the post he spells journalist incorrectly
‘Jounalist’ Avi Yemeni complained in a tweet about not being allowed into New Zealand but forgot to use spell check. Photograph: Twitter/ Avi Yemeni

Sky News Australia’s Andrew Bolt turned it into a free speech issue and invited Yemini on his show, prompting him to thank Bolt for “having the courage to stand up to the mob”.

Frosty relations

Media in Perth are relishing a spat between 60 Minutes reporter Liam Bartlett, who also hosts a radio program on Perth’s 6PR, and the local council, over his demand a housing development use frosted glass on its balconies so he doesn’t have to see their washing.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m not fond of looking out on to people’s balconies and their bikes and their washing or whatever else they want to stick up on their balcony or what they’re doing behind their balconies,” Bartlett said.

6PR radio host Liam Bartlett has scored a win in his battle against his neighbours having clear glass on their balconies — while sensationally insisting he’s ‘no Genghis Khan’.

— The West Australian (@westaustralian) August 24, 2022

“I can’t understand why we paid rates for 29 years at that property. The first I hear about this is an email saying administration has recommended it.”

The West Australian has mocked Bartlett as a nimby, prompting the TV reporter to defend himself at a council meeting: “Despite the best efforts of some of our commercial media competitors to paint me as a cross between Genghis Khan and Thurston Howell III, I’m actually here as a private property owner.”


Amanda Meade

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