Last year Samantha Maiden won the Gold Walkley, Australian journalism’s highest honour, for her reporting for news.com.au of the Brittany Higgins story. Maiden is the national political editor for the Murdoch-owned masthead, which is the most popular news website in the country.
But being a star reporter for a News Corp outlet does not, apparently, mean much when another News Corp outlet has an exclusive story that involves your leaked private texts with a source.
It’s been more than two years since the Australian Financial Review did its infamous “hit job” on Maiden.
But days ago in the Weekend Australian, columnist Janet Albrechtsen wrote a feature suggesting Maiden was “too close to Higgins” based on a selection of their text messages she had obtained.
“If these were simply exchanges between two friends, they should remain private,” Albrechtsen wrote. “But these are texts between a woman who alleged rape and a political cover-up, and a journalist who chose to tell the story and pursue many angles of the story as told to her by Higgins and others.” She concluded it was “not a sign of healthy journalism”.
Weekly Beast understands Maiden’s editors and other senior News executives were in contact with the Australian’s editor-in-chief, Michelle Gunn, to ensure Maiden got a proper right of reply. News Corp did not respond to a request for comment.
Maiden, a former reporter on the Australian, was given a separate panel for a 350-word response, and she used it to great effect with a pointed final line: “In fact, I caught up with Higgins recently, and I was struck by the fact that the kind and thoughtful woman I spent time with bears no relationship to the person who emerges in some of the reporting by those who have never bothered to pick up a phone and speak to her”.
Stranger than fiction
Many people thought an exclusive story in this masthead by reporter Henry Belot had to be satire. Now we have proof. “Finance department hires consultant to advise on hiring consultants in move compared to ABC’s Utopia” was the headline on the Guardian Australia piece which said the finance department had entered into a $32,000 contract with an external consultant to provide advice on how it should engage other external consultants who also provide advice to government.
The guys from the satirical news website The Shovel have revealed they came up with the idea 10 months ago, well before the government.
No lifeline for Millionaire Hot Seat
Eddie McGuire’s Millionaire Hot Seat, which was a spin-off of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, has been axed after 25 years. The Channel Nine gameshow, which has been a major plank in the broadcaster’s schedule, debuted in 1999 and ran for 17 seasons, before morphing into Hot Seat in 2009.
McGuire took to Nine radio station 3AW on Friday morning to announce his last show would air in January. As is the way these days, he didn’t use the word axed, preferring the less brutal “hiatus”. “It is with great pride and joy, but also sadness, that I announce this morning that Millionaire Hot Seat will go into hiatus,” he told 3AW’s Ross and Russel.
TV Tonight editor David Knox told Beast: “‘On hiatus’ is an industry face-saving word to avoid the ignominy of saying the show is axed. McGuire has done a great job for Nine, but if the show were to return in 2034, for example, you can bet it would be with a new host. Eddie may need to phone a friend.”
State backlash against ABC cut
David Anderson surprised ABC staff on Wednesday by going back on a plan to abolish the local 7pm Sunday TV news bulletins in favour of a national one. With Sunday pay rates for eight newsrooms in play, the news department aimed to save the cash for a digital expansion. The managing director blamed his backflip on “audience feedback”. But Weekly Beast understands the audience feedback was not just unhappy punters, it was state premiers, ABC staff, Friends of the ABC, the Greens and ultimately the ABC board.
Critics-in-chief of the move were the South Australian premier, Peter Malinauskas, and his Western Australia counterpart, Roger Cook.
“I am concerned the decision to remove the South Australian 7pm Sunday night television bulletin will diminish state political coverage, which is critical to an informed debate in our local political discourse,” Malinauskas said.
“The local Sunday night 7pm bulletin remains the most-watched ABC News program in South Australia by some margin. I am among the more than 62,000 South Australians who regularly tune-in.”
Cook met with Anderson to discuss the issue last month, making it clear “the key role for our national broadcaster is to make sure that we have resources in the regions and in the state, so they can continue to report on issues of the day,” he said.
Sadly, the ABC is now looking for other programs, services or staff to cut in order to make up the expected savings.
Hot mic lab leak
Canberra press gallery journalists may be a bit more circumspect when shooting the breeze with colleagues after Sky News Australia host Sharri Markson this week aired hot mic audio in which she was called “unhinged” and a “pit bull”.
“She’s such a pit bull and she’s so unhinged, and yet she might still be right [in her reporting on the origins of Covid],” the ABC’s foreign affairs reporter Steven Dziedzic said in a private conversation at a press conference that was picked up and aired by Markson.
Dziedzic was waiting for a press conference to start and chatting with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Matthew Knott and the Australian’s Ben Packham about Markson’s reporting on Covid.
Markson seized on Dziedzic’s comment about his attitude to the idea that Covid escaped from a lab as evidence of ABC bias.
“I feel like I remember being super dismissive of that …” Dziedzic said.
“And I reckon it was overly influenced by the fact that there was some truly nasty and crazy people who were already deep down the rabbit hole. I probably didn’t look at it dispassionately enough.”
Markson claimed it was a “stunning admission” that the ABC reporter made “because of ideological reasons”.
Not the News Corp files
New South Wales Liberal senator Hollie Hughes, who is a regular critic of the ABC at Senate estimates, asked a series of questions on notice about the ABC’s Correcting the Record statements. Hughes asked if it was proper for Auntie to keep a “dirt file” on its media competitors and to use it largely against News Corp journalists.
“Correcting the Record is produced by the ABC’s communications team to address specific external media stories concerning the ABC that are inaccurate, misleading, unbalanced, unfair or lack relevant context,” the answer to the question on notice said. “It does not include ‘dirt files’.”
The ABC added that it does not only focus on News Corp publications. But given that News Corp, in particular the Australian’s media section, repeatedly targets the ABC it’s not surprising many of the responses involve Murdoch outlets.