Reading comprehension concerns deepen at News Ltd
by Jonathon Oake
An absolutely extraordinary editorial today in The Australian, which followed an equally extraordinary piece of editorialising by News Ltd carnival barker David Penberthy a few days prior. The response by senior News Ltd editorial staff to Australian Financial Review journalist Neil Chenoweth’s impressive investigation into a Pay TV smartcard hacking scandal raises serious questions about their ability to read/understand words of the English language.
I encourage you to read Chenoweth’s amazing investigation, but the essence of it is this:
A secret unit within Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation promoted a wave of high-tech piracy in Australia that damaged Austar, Optus and Foxtel at a time when News was moving to take control of the Australian pay TV industry.
The piracy cost the Australian pay TV companies up to $50 million a year and helped cripple the finances of Austar, which Foxtel is now in the process of acquiring.
The Australian editorial suggested the AFR editor, former No.2 at The Australian, “send his reporter, Chenoweth, on a plain English course,” while the famously hard-of-thinking Penberthy said he needed “a couple of cracks at reading it.”
I myself found it relatively easy to understand. I now offer my assistance to The Oz/Penberthy and believe I can help allay many of their concerns about the AFR’s editorial standards:
- According to The Oz and Penberthy’s reading of the AFR piece, the alleged smartcard hacking sponsored by News Corp ”was, apparently, a plot to damage Austar’s business so that News Limited could pick it up for a song more than a decade later.”
No. At no point does the AFR argue that the late ’90s/early ’00s piracy activity was related to Foxtel’s attempted 2012 acquisition of Austar. This is made quite clear when editor of the AFR said “Our report in no way suggested that NDS-related piracy in the late 1990s and early 2000s was done with the purpose of helping Foxtel to buy Austar now.”
- The Oz said “If there was a conspiracy to damage Austar, you would expect Austar’s chief executive, John Porter, to be screaming from the rooftops…”
No, you would not. In fact, you would think the exact opposite. The piracy allegations go back to the early ’00s and smartcard piracy has long since stopped weighing on the share prices of Pay TV companies like Austar. Foxtel is now, however, in the process of negotiating a friendly takeover of Austar. These new piracy allegations will ring alarm bells with the government and the ACCC, and could thus complicate or delay the takeover, which is the last thing the Austar CEO would want.
- The Oz attempted to explain the piracy scandal in a way that exposes their near-total misreading of the issue. “Think of NDS as a lock company (let’s call it Yale) which wants to prove its product is the safest in the business. If it took a hammer to its competitor’s product, to demonstrate its fragility, we doubt even Chenoweth would describe it as ‘dirty tricks.’”
Incorrect. If a lock company such as Yale took a hammer to competitor products in the context of a demonstration to customers of the weakness of the products, then yes, that’d be OK. If, however, Yale established a unit of ex-police and security personnel to go into hardware stores and take a hammer to enough locks that it would degrade the competitor’s share price, then (a) that’d be a more comparable analogy and (b) yes, I would call that a ‘dirty trick,’ actually.
- The Oz goes on to say, “On the other hand, if a newspaper company (let’s call it Fairfax) set out to trash its rival’s reputation by running a series of baseless stories in one of its premium titles (let’s call it The Australian Financial Review), we doubt anyone would call it ‘independent journalism.’”
I am not sure how an investigation into a Pay TV operator, Foxtel, ‘trashes’ the reputation of The Australian newspaper (the AFR’s rival), which is not mentioned once in Chenoweth’s report.
I do hope this is of some help to News Ltd’s senior editorial staff.