The Australian editor reveals ‘$30m loss’ last year as ABC stoush rumbles on

Chris MitchellThe editor of News Corp Australia’s national broadsheet The Australian has revealed it lost $30m last year during an ongoing feud with the ABC’s Media Watch program which has raised questions amongst company insiders.

The ABC Media Watch yesterday issued a correction on its website addressing claims on the program ten days ago The Australian is losing around $40 million to $50 million a year, and published correspondence between editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell and host Paul Barry which shows the newspaper lost $30m last financial year and hopes to halve that loss to $15m this year.

In a carefully worded statement on its website Media Watch said: “(it) accepts that the insiders’ figure of $40 million to $50 million was too high. However, we do not accept it was ‘absurd’ or ‘hopelessly wrong’ as The Australian’s Strewth column claimed on 18th February, or that it was ‘ridiculous’, as Chris Mitchell asserted on 24th February. Nor does Media Watch accept Chris Mitchell’s claim that Paul Barry deliberately misled his audience.”

News Corp Australia insiders have told Mumbrella that many senior people inside the company have privately questioned the wisdom of Mitchell’s decision to engage Barry in a stoush over the size of the loss. One executive described it as: “A complete own goal – God only knows what Chris was thinking.”

The company has traditionally been very reluctant to talk openly about market speculation of losses by its newspapers. This most recent dispute, between the two sides, began after Barry ran an episode on February 17 highlighting the ongoing decline of newspaper circulations and revenues in which he stated: “Insiders tell Media Watch that the Australian is losing $40m to $50m a year. The Daily Telegraph is also losing money. And even Brisbane’s Courier-Mail – which was once a goldmine – has hit hard times.”

While Barry in understood to have sought comment from News Corp about the broader story he did not seek comment from Mitchell on the size of the The Australian’s losses.

This drew an angry response from Mitchell who appeared in a video with The Australian’s media editor Sharri Markson on Monday saying he would be complaining to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) about this.

In the video Mitchell also spoke openly about the newspaper’s financial struggles since the Global Financial Crisis, and in a subsequent interview that day with Mumbrella Mitchell admitted the newspaper had not been profitable since 2008.
In a subsequent video editorial Markson quoted her editor saying it was: “on track to halve its loss this year and that it would be a quarter of what Media Watch alleged”.

The next day in an email exchange between Barry and Mitchell over whether Media Watch would correct its original allegation the newspaper editor said: “My budget for this year is minus 15 million in total across print and digital. My CEO Nicholas Gray is happy to agree.” Barry then used the previous day’s video to draw out the $30m figure and issue the correction.

It is understood the ACMA has received Mitchell’s complaint and will now be required to assess whether it is a valid complaint. If it is deemed a valid complaint the ACMA will be required to open an investigation in into whether Media Watch breached the relevant codes in regards to seeking comment from The Australian.

This latest feud comes amid ongoing tension between the ABC and News Corp and in particular its broadsheet The Australian. In recent times, The Australian has sought to focus attention on the ABC and its treatment of news on issues such as asylum seekers and the Edward Snowden NSA leaks.

Earlier this week ABC managing director Mark Scott confirmed the corporation was looking at ways to more effectively display clarifications and corrections to its audience.

In a statement an ABC spokesman said:

“The ABC is currently designing a new way to communicate clarifications and corrections to its audience. ABC managing director Mark Scott started this process last year in discussion with the Head of Editorial Policy, Alan Sunderland, who will oversee the new measures. More details will be made available when appropriate.

“Mr Scott told the Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday night the ABC adheres to a comprehensive set of editorial guidelines and policies in line with international best practice. These editorial policies are more stringent and rigorous than those applied to other media organisations.

“As is long running ABC practice, details of any corrections are available to the public at The ABC also broadcasts and publishes corrections where appropriate.”

Nic Christensen 


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