Clive Palmer buys huge News Corp ad pushing malaria drug as possible coronavirus cure

Amanda Meade
Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

On Friday the Australian published a double-page advertisement paid for by the mining magnate Clive Palmer, promoting his plan to fund 1m doses of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure for Covid-19.

The bright yellow ad took over pages two and three of the national broadsheet. The former politician had already placed Facebook ads touting his appearance on Sunrise, where he talked up his plan to launch a large-scale manufacturing plant for the drug.

But as Guardian Australia reported on Wednesday, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been approved as treatments for Covid-19, and may have potentially severe and even deadly side effects – including heart failure and toxicity – if used inappropriately.

Tests for its use in treating the coronoavirus are in their early stages, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration has said it is concerned about shortages of the drug for people who need it for other conditions after an increase in off-label prescribing as a result of the Covid-19 reports.

A man in Arizona has died from drinking a small amount of a chloroquine phosphate product, after the US president, Donald Trump, touted hydroxychloroquine as possibly “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine”.

The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Dore, has been approached for comment.

Crisis across the media landscape

Journalists at News Corp Australia will be forced to take take leave, even if it’s unpaid, and work a nine-day fortnight to keep the Murdoch empire afloat during the economic downturn. That was the blunt message to staff across the mastheads on Thursday as the business reeled from a collapse in the advertising market and imposed unprecedented conditions on the workforce for the rest of the financial year.

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The media union has told staff not to agree to anything until emergency talks with management are held. With newspapers already under pressure many are asking if the coronavirus will finally spell the end of some mastheads. One daily non-Murdoch newspaper, the independently owned Sunraysia Daily, will stop publishing on Saturday.

The cuts being forced at News Corp are not unique. Southern Cross Austereo, which owns 86 radio stations, including the Triple M and Hit networks, is imposing a 10% pay cut on staff earning more than $68,000 and everyone is taking 10 days’ leave.

The irony is audiences have never been so big and so hungry for news, with News Corp reporting a 48% increase for the Australian and the Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, the Courier-Mail and the Advertiser last week. Digital subscriptions have also grown by 21%, but not enough to make up for the slump in advertising revenue as travel, entertainment, retail and other major businesses close down.

As News Corp’s chief executive, Michael Miller, said in an internal email: “While the public are turning to our trusted news brands in huge numbers, falling business confidence is impacting the advertising revenues of all media businesses.”

Audiences for television news are also booming. Channel Nine reported its highest-rating bulletin since 2015 on Wednesday as 1.26m viewers tuned in at 6pm.

ABC comes home

Although the ABC has pressed pause on job cuts during the pandemic, a handful of news and current affairs shows will be affected and some foreign correspondents have been ordered home.

The Jakarta, Bangkok and Port Moresby posts have already been vacated for safety reasons, ABC News has confirmed.

The National Press Club regular program has stopped and will now be broadcast only “in special circumstances”; the Signal podcast is now Monday, Wednesday and Friday instead of five days a week; the Asia Pacific newsroom has combined Pacific Beat and Pacific Mornings into a single 55-minute Pacific Beat program, seven days a week; the Mix will cease production and move to “best of” programs from 19 April; and Planet America’s Fireside Chat on Fridays will not air on 10 April or 17 April.

Huge story, smaller staff

So how will News Corp cope with covering the fast-moving Covid-19 crisis with a smaller workforce while everyone takes enforced leave – including four days at Easter and at least 20 days’ long service leave for those who have it? Well it will print fewer pages and use more syndicated copy dressed up as a special Covid-19 section called “HiberNation” or “the most significant newspaper content initiative in living memory”.

Announcing “HiberNation” the chairman of the editorial board at News Corp Australia, Peter Blunden, said: “No story we’ve ever told has been so big, so rapid to evolve or so widespread.” The eight-page section will “provide practical advice and tips to help Australians with their lives during this crisis health”, as well as TV guides, recipes and puzzles.

TV shutdown

Most drama and reality TV shows have now shut down production, including Nine’s The Block, which was still soldiering on days ago.

A few builders are staying on the job at the Melbourne site, Nine said.

Network Ten’s Neighbours and The Bachelor, and Foxtel’s The Real Housewives of Melbourne, have stopped filming.

But Seven West Media’s rebooted reality show Big Brother is still filming because the cast has been in isolation for weeks. Filming was paused when a crew member had to be tested for coronavirus, but they came back clear.

Fans can reach for the Sky

But it’s not all cutbacks. Some news outfits are introducing products to meet demand. Sky News fans will be pleased to know the pay TV outfit is launching a dedicated Sky News Covid-19 channel on Monday on Foxtel Channel 604, featuring press conferences from around the world, live and in-full, as well as in-depth government announcements. It will also be made available free across skynews.com.au and News Corp masthead websites.

SBS has launched its multilingual coronavirus portal, a dedicated online information hub for multicultural communities to easily access accurate and trusted news and information about Covid-19 in their language.

The portal provides one place where the many Australians who speak a language other than English can go to for the latest news and resources across more than 60 languages, produced by SBS Radio and SBS News.

Putting humans first

We hope our favourite columnists don’t take too much leave because we’ll miss their takes on the news, like this from the Australian’s veteran Canberra commentator Dennis Shanahan.

While many people thought Scott Morrison’s press conferences were confusing, Shanahan was full of praise.

“Scott Morrison’s forthright rhetoric quells public anxiety over coronavirus,” was the headline” on an article which argued the PM was “cutting through”, a view not shared by most commentators.

But for much wilder takes you can’t go past former Labor leader Mark Latham and rightwing commentator Prue MacSween who talked about bats on Twitter.

While both MacSween and Latham targeted the black creatures of the sky and their role in coronavirus we can’t fathom what they were trying to say.

The Institute of Public Affairs is also putting in its two cents’ worth about how we should cope the coronavirus, in a new daily email.

On Wednesday the executive director of the rightwing thinktank, John Roskam, was not happy with the government’s handouts to the unemployed. “Not all this extra spending has to be new money and debt,” he said. “There should be a 20% reduction in public service pay until the crisis is over. There needs to be a sense of shared sacrifice from the public service. We have seen a disconnect of bureaucrat elites from the productive economy.”

Watch and learn

The ABC is working hard on a plan to help educate Australian children at home when schools close down because of the coronavirus – but is waiting for an official nationwide shutdown to reveal it.

In the meantime ABC Kids has released a list of what is already available in terms of free curriculum-linked programs and resources for primary and secondary students and teachers.

Related: News Corp finds someone to blame after pulling the plug on AAP (hint: it's not News Corp) | Weekly Beast

On ABC iview you can access educational programs including BTN: Classroom, The Storybuilding Tool Kit, Ecomaths, ScienceXplosion, Citizen Code, Numberblocks and English on the Go.

Online at ABC Education you can watch 4,000 free videos, interactive resources and fun games mapped to the Australian curriculum across subjects such as English, mathematics, science, history, geography, media literacy, financial literacy, health and physical education and the arts and technologies, including Stem.

Last day dawns

Friday is the last day for some Australian Associated Press journalists and photographers in the first round of redundancies ahead of the probable closure in June.

Last week management asked some of those scheduled to leave on Friday to stay on for a few weeks after several 11th-hour bids were made to buy the business, but as the economic crisis worsened any hope the wire service could be saved seemed to be evaporating.

In a cruel twist, some staffers who were made redundant were asked to stay on last week, only to be told a few days later there was nothing for them after all. Talk about a rollercoaster.

Bauer takes five …

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission finally gave the go-ahead for the country’s two major magazine publishers to merge, but it may have come too late.

After five months the ACCC ruled that merging Bauer Media and Pacific Magazines “was not likely to substantially lessen competition in relevant markets” despite the similarity between Bauer’s Woman’s Day and Take 5, and Pacific’s New Idea and That’s Life.

But the German media giant has not responded to the competition regulator’s announcement, raising doubts that the deal will go ahead.