Digital platforms ‘should be subject to Australian jurisdiction’ says News Corp’s chief executive at senate hearing

In an appearance at the media diversity in Australia senate hearing this morning, global chief executive of News Corp, Robert Thomson said digital platforms “are publishers, they publish information”.

“We clearly make mistakes, and we should be accountable for mistakes […] There are ways to hold publishers to account. Unfortunately, that’s not yet the case for the big digital platforms.”

“I think if anybody operates in Australia, and plays a role as a content provider, and wants to make money, they should be subject to Australian jurisdiction.”

News Corp global chief executive, Robert Thomson

Thomson said that Google and Facebook have the power to “undermine a digital brand’s equity” overnight with an algorithm change, and that he would speak to Facebook, regarding the issue of smaller and rural publishers failing to agree to a deal as a part of the media bargaining code.

Thomson appeared through a video conference, as the senate committee sat for the fifth time, to answer questions regarding News Corp’s influence on the Australian market, with questions heavily centred around regulating digital platforms, and the recent company-wide policy shift on climate change at News Corp Australia, ahead of the Glasgow COP26 Summit this year.

He said that newspapers have become a “significantly smaller proportion of News Corp, and the words, digital disruption, and big digital are both euphemisms. In Australia, newspaper sales have unfortunately  suffered a pronounced fall  in the past decade”.

Thomson affirmed that the climate campaign, seen across News Corp mastheads this month was locally driven, rather than a trickle-down policy from the listed company’s New York headquarters, and that local editors have the autonomy to drive these campaigns.

He did confirm that “clearly as a company we have a ‘philosophy’, while each publication maintains editorial independence, pointing to the range of outlets across News Corp’s global portfolio.

Senator Kim Carr out questions to Thomson

When asked how editorial independence could be explained across News Corp publications, following each paper running the same, or similar 16-page wrap-arounds, in a calculated change of policy campaign, Thomson said it was the result of a national meeting of editors across the publisher.

Thomson also rejected the presumption that the policy shift was a result of News Corp being heavily lobbied by big advertisers, due to its previous rejections of adopting progressive climate policy, and that News Corp has pursued a policy consistent with Rupert Murdoch’s 2006 statement that “the planet deserves the benefit of the doubt”.

On the timing, Thomson said that there has been an evolution in the discussion on climate change, alongside technological evolution in the space, and that the imminent Glasgow UN Summit has provided a moment of reflection.

The change came just weeks after the News Corp chief executive met with Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison in New York for “after dinner drinks”, in which he confirmed many topics were discussing, including a brief conversation about the COP Summit.

Andrew Bolt, prominent Sky News Australia presenter called the 16-page climate page wrap-around “rubbish” and “global warming propaganda” providing political cover for Scott Morrison, as reported in the Guardian Australia.

The media diversity in Australia hearing first sat in February, and was most recently recalled after Sky News Australia’s YouTube account received a seven day ban after the platform deemed it to have breached its COVID-19 misinformation policies.

During last month’s hearing, CEO of Sky News Australia, Paul Whittaker said that the initially reported change in News Corp’s editorial policy towards climate change was “not as advanced as reported”. This occurred prior to the nation wide masthead campaign, in which Thomson stated he only found out about when it was published.

In regards to the current regulation of digital platforms, Thomson said: “The recent publication of the Facebook files has presented challenges to legislators around the world. We are obliged to have amore sophisticated debate about the impact of social media and the potency of digital platforms.

“Australian media code is so crucial. And has served as an inspiration to countries around.”

As the sports streaming marketplace is increasingly expanding in Australia, Thomson has “no doubt” that digital platforms will soon be present in this area, potentially vying for the AFL and NRL rights, which currently are free to access for Australian consumers.

In referencing Lachlan Murdoch’s past rejection of his invitation to appear in front of the committee, Thomson affirmed that he is “absolutely the right person” to be speaking on behalf of the company, as CEO, as he has the most clear oversight of the day-to-day operations.

In a story published on The Australian last week, the publication stated that “the inquiry has yet to hear from a number of the country’s largest media organisations”, despite appearances from then-Nine CEO, Hugh Marks, Guardian Australia’s Lenore Taylor, Win TV’s CEO, Andrew Lancaster and Prime Media Group’s CEO, Ian Audsley to date.

Speaking today at a Global Competition Review webinar about the ACCC’s Digital advertising services inquiry, ACCC chair, Rod Sims said that a competitive ad tech supply chain is important for Australian advertisers, publishers and ultimately consumers.

He also said that without strong competition in the ad tech supply chain advertisers and publishers pay more for ad tech services. When publishers receive less for the advertising space on their websites or apps, this is likely to lead to less and poorer quality online content for consumers. Increased fees for advertisers results in consumers paying more for advertised goods, Sims said.

The ACCC published its final report on the ad tech inquiry last month, in which it identified significant competition concerns and likely harms to publishers, advertisers and, ultimately, consumers.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.