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AAP chair slams union for ‘conspiracy theory nonsense’, and says Guardian contributed to newswire’s closure

Australian Associated Press (AAP) chair and News Corp executive, Campbell Reid, has claimed the journalists’ union is peddling “conspiracy theory nonsense” and accused The Guardian of “gobsmacking hypocrisy” for making “decisions [that] have contributed to the closure of AAP”.

Yesterday, The Guardian, an AAP subscriber, reported that the newswire’s staff were told major shareholders News Corp and Nine no longer wanted to subsidise the service for subscription-paying competitors. AAP investment was costing the media owners around $10m and $5m, respectively, per year. Upon its closure, both Nine and News Corp have said they will instead expand their own news teams.

Campbell Reid, both the AAP’s chair and a News Corp executive

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said both companies needed to answer to the “disturbing revelations” they wanted to “hurt their smaller rivals”.

“News Corp and Nine said the reason for shutting down AAP was that it was no longer financially viable and had been damaged by the proliferation of free news on social media and digital content aggregators,” MEAA Media’s federal president Marcus Strom said yesterday.

“However, today’s reports suggest a more sinister motive: the closure is designed to deliberately harm their print and online rivals who subscribe to AAP for news about politics, sport, business, courts and crime, and for breaking news. The fact that they didn’t put AAP up for sale indicates News and Nine simply wanted AAP shut down.

“For months, AAP staff were misled by management that the company was in good shape. Some employees have taken out mortgages or shifted cities in good faith because of the assurances they were given by management.”

Reid, who is group executive of corporate affairs, policy and government relations at News Corp in addition to his AAP role, said Strom’s statement “is conspiracy theory nonsense”.

“The world’s creative industries are being eaten alive by tech platforms profiting from other people’s content and everyone seems to acknowledge that except Marcus,” he said.

“AAP’s predicament was caused by organisations choosing to either reduce or cut completely the amount of money they were prepared to pay for the AAP newswire.”

One of those news companies was, according to Reid, The Guardian.

“Marcus’ statement appears to be in response to reports in The Guardian,” Reid continued.

“For The Guardian to peddle the theory that the newswire was cut in order to punish them is gobsmacking hypocrisy.

“It is one of the very companies that slashed the amount it was prepared to pay for AAP. It is one of the organisations whose decisions have contributed to the closure of AAP.”

Guardian Australia editor Lenore Taylor flatly refuted those allegations, stating Reid’s statement was based on “false premises”.

The Guardian’s Taylor

“I understand we were offered a discount by AAP when we renegotiated last year because we were using fewer services as we expanded our own reporting teams,” said Taylor, who penned an opinion piece yesterday lamenting the loss of the AAP and the impact of digital platforms on such media businesses.

“Our monthly fee was reduced in line with a reduction in our content quotas. We didn’t ‘slash the amount we were prepared to pay’, we were offered a discount because we were using fewer services.”

Reid added that both The Guardian and MEAA “should confront the bigger, tectonic forces our entire industry faces rather than trot out this arrant nonsense”.

“To preserve a vibrant Australian media industry and to prevent more losses then we need the federal government’s proposed codes of conduct between the tech giants and publishers to deliver a genuine framework that means these tech companies start paying for our content,” he said.

Taylor and The Guardian, in addition to MEAA, have been vocal about the impact of digital platforms on news businesses, including throughout, and in response to, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.

Yesterday, MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy also proposed levying the likes of Facebook and Google to fund journalism that would fill the gap left by the AAP.

“It is now urgent for the federal government to address the crisis in news media caused by the erosion of revenues through the proliferation of sharing content for free by the giant digital platforms and by the loss of crucial news coverage that was only available from AAP,” he said.

“This could be addressed by a levy on a percentage of the revenue digital platforms like Google and Facebook make from their use of news media content. The levy would then go to a Public Interest Journalism Fund that would help fill the void left by the loss of AAP and promote high quality journalism to ensure the public’s right to know.”

In response to Reid’s admonishment, the union reaffirmed that stance, with a spokesperson adding: “MEAA acknowledges the financial difficulties faced by all media outlets, including AAP, caused by the impact of digital giants undermining media revenues, which is why MEAA has publicly advocated, on numerous occasions to various inquiries into the media and journalism, a levy on Google and Facebook to fund public interest journalism.”

The AAP newswire’s last day will be 26 June.

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