COMMENT: Despite having easy access to some of the most senior News Ltd executives, journalists at Rupert Murdoch owned publications seem to be avoiding one of the biggest stories of the year after the Australian Financial Review claimed that News Corp had promoted the pirating of its international pay-TV rivals, including Foxtel.Even when Federal Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy stepped into the fray late this morning claiming the allegations against New Ltd were “serious and allegations of any criminality” should be investigated by police, news Ltd journalists at The Australian, Telegraph and on their New Ltd online portal failed to report the story.
If the issue did not involve News Ltd who is known for trying to manipulate stories in their own interest, the news journalists at the Murdoch owned publications would have been all over this story. Instead most Murdoch owned publications chose to write about Apple and their 4G iPad problems rather than a story that goes to the very heart of the subscription TV industry in Australia.
“These are serious allegations and any allegations of criminal activity should be referred to the Australian Federal Police for investigation,” a spokesperson for Senator Conroy said.
Even Treasurer Wayne Swan got in the act claiming that the allegations of News piracy were “concerning”.
Earlier today in a story splashed across several pages of the Financial Review, the results of a four year investigation claiming that News Corp had used a special unit, Operational Security, set up in the mid-1990s, to sabotage its competitors including Foxtel, a company in which News Ltd owns 25% of the shares.
Fairfax Media, who are often beaten up by News Ltd journalists, writing in the Australian Media section delivered page after page of evidence including hundreds of online emails to support their story.
They claimed that their actions devastated News’ competitors, and the resulting waves of high-tech piracy assisted News to bid for pay TV businesses at reduced prices – including DirecTV in the US, Telepiu in Italy and Austar. These targets each had other commercial weaknesses quite apart from piracy, the AFR says.
In Britain, Murdoch’s TV media empire is being accused of corporate espionage, computer hacking and piracy in a campaign that allegedly destroyed a rival to the lucrative satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
News Corporation’s then-software security arm, NDS, recruited a hacker to unlock its competitors’ smartcards in 1996, the BBC’s investigative program Panorama has claimed.
The cards have a microchip and pay-TV subscribers put them into a set-top box to allow them to receive pay-TV channels. If pirated, they allow viewers to get the channels free and the pay-TV provider loses hundreds of millions in revenue.
Witnesses on Panorama alleged that NDS hired a top computer hacker to crack the codes of a rival company, ONdigital, which eventually collapsed amid a bonanza of counterfeiting.
This left the pay-TV field in Britain clear for Sky, which is 39.1 per cent owned by News Corp.
Journalism is all about transparency and accuracy. It’s also about there being two sides to a story. When this story broke late last night News Ltd journalists had two choices: they could write a straight forward story highlighting the allegations which I believe they should have done, or they could have gone to senior executives like CEO Kim Williams (who for many years was the CEO Foxtel) to get a response to the claims.
Neither happened which raises the question as to whether New Ltd journalists are in fear of writing a negative story about their owner or whether they have had a directive to not repeat the allegations in News Ltd publications.