Australian summer of tennis becomes a new media battleground

Amanda Meade
Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Daily Telegraph has been nothing if not balanced this past week. On Saturday the Sydney paper published a double-page advertising feature promoting careers in mining, paid for by the Minerals Council of Australia. On Tuesday it followed up with a full-page ad from Greenpeace, which warned that mining coal would lead to the end of the Australian summer tradition of tennis tournaments.

The Greenpeace ad, which mimicked the Australian Open’s blue and white branding, cheekily invited readers to attend the “last Australian Open” before extreme weather forced it to close.

“Scott Morrison is directly contributing to the death of the Australian way of life through his support of coal,” is not the messaging you would typically expect to find in the Murdoch press. The ad appeared on Tuesday when advertising and cover price profits from all the News Corp metros were donated to bushfire relief, so the Greenpeace fee went straight to the $11m the empire donated to charity.

But this is where it gets interesting. The same full-page ad was rejected by the Age, owned by Nine Entertainment.

Nine is, of course, the official broadcaster of the Australian Open and certainly does not want to promote the idea that the money spinner is a threatened species.

The managing director of Nine publishing, Chris Janz, said his decision came down to the similarity between the Greenpeace ad and the Australian Open’s blue branding, which made it look like an official tennis announcement. Greenpeace said it removed the Australian Open logo on the artwork, but it was still rejected.

“We declined to run the advertisement on legal grounds,” Janz said. “Any relationship between Channel Nine and Tennis Australia had no bearing on the decision.”

We are pleased to report Nine has not rejected all the campaigns by environmentalists. The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Brisbane Times and WAToday did run the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Tennis Australia climate petition later in the week.

Split screen

The media has been sharply divided in its approach to the sports rorts affair, with some magnificent soft-ball interviews contrasting with some excellent grilling of Coalition members.

The former sports minister Bridget McKenzie stands accused of directing a $100m slush fund to marginal seats, or seats the Coalition was targeting in the last election. While some interviewers, such as 2GB’s Ray Hadley and Sky’s Peta Credlin, had access to Scott Morrison and failed to press him hard on the matter, ABC News Breakfast’s Paul Kennedy attracted plaudits for two persistent interviews with Coalition ministers, even saying “that’s not true” to Michaelia Cash.

Hadley was openly sympathetic to Morrison, opening with “Jeez you copped a hammering while I was away” and sharing that he “felt some sorrow for you” when the PM was criticised for holidaying in Hawaii during the bushfire crisis.

Hadley did ask some questions about the sports rorts, saying “it’s not a good look” when the minister “usurps” the process, but Credlin, in a half-hour TV interview with Morrison, failed to raise the McKenzie issue once.

Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff instead criticised the media’s bushfire coverage for “focusing on international climate change agreements” instead of the “issues that matter”, such as fuel loads.

“You know, fuel loads in national parks, who has responsibility for what,” Credlin said. “Because I think some of those lines we’ve seen over the summer are grey. And what exactly are you doing on the ground for individuals affected? Because that’s what people want to hear about, not all the argy bargy about climate change.”

Cowboy messaging

It was unfortunate timing for the Nationals to release a badly-produced, syrupy ad celebrating the centenary of the party, amid the calls for McKenzie to be sacked. The deputy Nationals leader features heavily in the ad, talking about honesty and integrity and delivering for members, inexplicably sitting in front of a shelf decorated with dolls dressed in country attire and cowboy hats.

Leys renewed

Nick Leys is returning to the ABC as head of communications next month, 18 months after he quit as head spinner for Michelle Guthrie to climb the corporate ladder at the Energy Council. The managing director was sacked three months later, halfway through her term, but not even Leys could have saved her from that fate. A former media writer for the Australian, Leys was hired by Mark Scott and the late ABC executive Michael Millett in 2014. He is one half of the Melbourne-based media power couple with Four Corners reporter and author Louise Milligan, and has worked for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sunday Telegraph, the Herald Sun and Media Watch. Leys is an expert at wrangling News Corp – which is constantly at war with the public broadcaster – and will be welcomed back to Aunty by publicity staff who have had to deal with hostile requests from the Australian over summer. Leys will work alongside government-relations gun Kevin McAlinden, who was performing both roles last year. McAlinden and Leys both report to the director of strategy, Mark Tapley.

Coming for Nine

The battle between News Corp and the ABC has been overshadowed recently by a new target in the sights of those at the Holt Street headquarters of Rupert Murdoch: Nine Entertainment.

As Nine has increased its power and reach in the Australian media market, after taking over Fairfax Media’s influential newspapers and Macquarie Media’s radio stations, News has increasingly targeted it with negative coverage. Every move made by the “ailing” Today show and the “resurrected” Karl Stefanovic is scrutinised, no matter how piddling.

A couple of negative tweets about Nine’s tennis coverage this week resulted in the damning headline: “Viewers irate over Nine’s ad barrage during Australian Open tennis coverage”.

Wisdom of the ancients

If reading Dennis Shanahan’s political musings in the Australian sparks joy for you, we have some exciting news. Fans of the veteran political editor can now voyage to the holy lands and the ancient kingdoms with him and gain even more insights into his career as a Murdoch loyalist in Canberra.

Passengers will pay between $8,990 for a basic suite and $29,490 for a balcony suite to sail with Shanahan and hear himdeliver an engaging insight into the current state of politics in Australia” and “provide a fascinating talk about some of the colourful personalities in Canberra: politicians, public servants, journalists and business men”.

“Dennis looks forward to chatting with you during the cruise and over dinner each evening,” Travelrite says. And if Shanahan is not your cup of tea, there is an alternative cruise with shock jock and Sky News host Chris Smith, another conservative commentator who may appeal to an older demographic.

New year, new ABC

News junkies will be pleased to know the ABC’s regular schedule kicks in in the first week of February – and there are lots of changes. There are new hosts for Q&A and Insiders, with Hamish Macdonald and David Speers joining the ABC, and the Monday night staple has a new executive producer in Erin Vincent, and a different approach.

Former Insiders host Barrie Cassidy is coming back from retirement to host a season of the interview show One Plus One, and news presenter and author Indira Naidoo is back after a long absence to host ABC Radio’s Weekend Nightlife, replacing Sarah Macdonald, who is hosting the NSW and ACT Evenings show following Chris Bath’s exit.

ABC managing director David Anderson says the budget is under severe pressure from the biggest emergency event ever covered by the ABC – the bushfires – coupled with the “indexation pause” or budget cut imposed by the Coalition. The MD has to find savings of $14.6m this financial year, $27.8m next financial year and $41.2m in 2021-22.

He told ABC Radio on Thursday announcements about staff and/or programming cuts would be made in March and that content would be affected but he was “trying to minimise that”.

Anderson told Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck that the one thing he wished they had during the bushfire crisis was more staff. “We’d always welcome more boots on the ground,” he said. “We’ve been stretched without a doubt when it comes to people, and we’ve relied on the goodwill of a lot of ABC staff who have just pitched in.”