The AFR’s legal affairs writer Michael Pelly was not wrong when he wrote that the media is “still reeling from the spin” following Christian Porter’s announcement on Monday.
We couldn’t agree more. The former attorney general’s attempts to portray the end of the defamation suit as a “humiliating backdown” for the ABC actually worked with some outlets.
Despite failing to secure an apology or retraction from the public broadcaster, Porter sought to claim victory in a bullish press conference outside the court. He looked, Pelly wrote, “more like a politician arguing black was white than a litigant claiming victory”.
The Australian reported numerous negative stories about the ABC, all of them denied by the broadcaster, including that the managing director David Anderson apologised to Porter outside the mediation room. Earlier the Oz claimed that ABC lawyers had been forced to apologise for a “an ill-timed — and inaccurate” tweet by Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour.
Weekly Beast understands the legal note the Oz claimed was an apology had nothing to do with Neighbour, a point she made on Twitter.
As for Anderson apologising to Porter, we understand the MD did not apologise but he did shake Porter’s hand as a sign of good faith. The handshake somehow translated into a “face-to-face apology to Christian Porter” in the Australian as the spinners went into overdrive.
An ABC spokesman told Beast: “The ABC entered into mediation with Mr Porter in good faith. There are confidentiality obligations concerning the mediation process and we are disappointed with some of the inaccuracies that have been reported by other media outlets in recent days.”
Back in March the Australian’s legal commentator Chris Merrit was so certain the ABC would lose the defamation case he committed it to print.
“The big issue is not whether the national broadcaster will lose; that’s almost a given,” he wrote. “It’s how badly it loses, how much material comes to light in court and whether the Federal Court will declare that the national broadcaster and one of its most famous journalists were motivated by malice.”
This week Merritt, the vice-president of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia, didn’t revisit his bold prediction but he did say the settlement can only be explained “in political and possibly financial terms”.
“Without a clear winner and loser, neither side will be able to put this behind them,” he said on Friday. “It will haunt Milligan and the ABC, just like their unprovable smear, will haunt Porter.”
We can add that his March prediction of a Porter win may just haunt him too.
ABC gets ‘opportunity’
Fresh from two days of mediation across the table from Porter, Anderson will appear before Senate estimates on Monday after he was recalled to be questioned about the Porter defamation suit.
He already spent three hours before the senators last week, fielding questions about everything from Porter to the ABC’s coverage of Gaza.
Anderson is expected to be grilled about the details of the confidential agreement with Porter after the Australian reported that Porter would receive “a sum in the vicinity of $100,000 from the ABC” – a claim the ABC denies.
“The ABC has not and will not pay any amount to Mr Porter,” a spokesperson said.
“ABC Managing Director David Anderson has been asked to appear before the Senate Estimates Committee on Monday 7 June and will have an opportunity to respond to a range of issues,” a spokesman told Beast.
“The original reporting on this matter remains unaltered on the public record and we stand by our journalists and the work they do in the public interest.
“Our staff are aware of their responsibilities under the ABC’s Personal Use of Social Media Guidelines and the processes in place to ensure compliance with those guidelines.”
We imagine there will be questions asked about the ABC staff’s use of social media, in particular Twitter, which has caused a few dramas this week.
Great message, ‘staggering’ presentation
It started as an industry-leading public service promo from the Nine network to encourage Australians to get vaccinated against Covid.
A parade of Nine stars including Georgie Gardner, Scott Cam, Karl Stefanovic and Richard Wilkins faced the cameras to say they were getting a jab for the #GetVaccinated campaign.
But the promo was tone deaf. It contained not a single diverse face, and was immediately lampooned on social media. As one critic said: “the message is great but the lack of cultural diversity is staggering”.
Where was Gamilaroi woman and Today entertainment correspondent Brooke Boney in the “Our shot” promo? How could they choose a uniformly Anglo line-up of Liz Hayes, Eddie McGuire, Rebecca Maddern, Tom Steinfort, Allison Langdon, Tara Brown, Leila McKinnon, Erin Molan, Peter Overton, Shaynna Blaze and Hamish & Andy without noticing the glaring omission?
Nine’s director of television Michael Healy said there would be “a number of promos rolled out during this campaign”.
“As we are in the midst of a global pandemic, 9Network is continuing to support community awareness regarding COVID and to be informed about the vaccination, this is our shot for Australia to be connected again,” Healy said.
By late Wednesday there was indeed another promo, or more accurately a hastily-edited original promo. The updated one featured two Asian Australians, Kev and Teng from Nine show Travel Guides, Syrian born 60 Minutes reporter Sarah Abo and Boney.
The embarrassing promo came a week after Nine impressed the industry by launching an on air campaign with the hashtag #GetVaccinated as a community message.
‘Of all the times’
We reported in April that the Morrison government’s new broadcasting bill allowed Foxtel to halve its commitment to producing Australian drama.
The government legislation, currently being debated in the house, slashes Foxtel’s requirement to spend 10% of its drama budget on Australian content to 5%.
Labor’s arts spokesman Tony Burke unleashed on the plan this week, saying his fury was not at Foxtel which had produced brilliant drama over the years.
“Productions like Love My Way, starring Claudia Karvan, Asher Keddie and Dan Wyllie, really show Australians doing the kind of complex long-form drama which the Americans pioneered with shows like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under,” Burke said.
What Burke was angry about was the government’s plan to reduce the obligation on free-to-air television for scripted drama – and halve Foxtel’s drama commitment in the middle of a pandemic.
“Of all the times!—they wait until an industry is on its knees and then say, ‘Oh, now’s a good time to attack them’,” he told the house. “They do that for free-to-air TV, they do that in cuts to the ABC and then they use the fact that these cuts have been made to say: ‘Oh, now Foxtel is at a competitive disadvantage. We need to reduce their obligation.’”
Foxtel has welcomed the reduction, saying it won’t alter its commitment to Australian production. “We believe reducing the [drama] obligation will provide Foxtel with flexibility for investment in Australian content across a variety of genres,” a spokesman said.
The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill will be further examined at a senate committee hearing on Monday.