John Drinnan on business
John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Murdoch looms larger on our horizon


Rupert Murdoch is stepping closer to Sky TV and the Kiwi media world by taking over as chairman of News Limited, the Australian business from which he launched his global empire.

Murdoch, who is the chairman and chief executive of parent company News Corporation, announced on Wednesday that longtime News executive John Hartigan had stepped down as chairman and CEO of News Limited, which owns a controlling 43 per cent share of New Zealand's Sky TV.

The chief executive of the Australian pay TV giant Foxtel, Kim Williams, becomes chief executive of News Limited, but Murdoch will take over as chairman, giving him more direct oversight of the Sky investment.

Given the scale of the issues facing Murdoch, nobody expects him to take a big interest in the relatively insignificant New Zealand investment.

Sky has been trouble-free for News, providing solid returns in dividends and winning an astonishing degree of bi-partisan support from politicians, ensuring its unencumbered growth.

Sky TV plays down its links to Murdoch but it has a close relationship especially with the global arm, which includes BSkyB in Britain. It recently gave News Limited and other shareholders a substantial special dividend.

Murdoch's new role will bring Sky more closely into the orbit of the global operation and - indirectly - closer to the firestorm over its future.

His interest in his foundation market - a stake in New Zealand's INL newspaper chain was his first overseas investment - comes amid pressure from shareholders at News Corp for Murdoch family interests to relinquish some of their control.

Murdoch's son, James, is chief operating officer at UK arm News International and is at the centre of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. James Murdoch faced more questioning in the British parliament yesterday.

There is no suggestion of hacking by News Limited titles.

Tom Mockridge - a New Zealander and former head of INL before its sale to Fairfax - has taken over as chief executive at News International, replacing Rebekah Brooks who faces charges over her alleged role in phone hacking.

Elder Murdoch brother Lachlan is acting CEO of the Australian Ten Network, which has hired Paul Henry to front its news breakfast show.

Separately, News Limited is in the firing line from politicians on Australia's left, who have set up a review that is ostensibly about media standards but appears to have the Murdoch empire in its sights.

In New Zealand, Sky has had a limited role in news gathering and so has been detached from the crises facing the British and international divisions of its biggest investor.

There is growing debate in New Zealand over Sky TV's dominance in an unregulated pay TV industry.

TV programme-makers have also raised concerns about the secrecy over the commercial relationship between state broadcaster TVNZ and Sky TV.

The issue is raised in an article in the Weekend Herald business section tomorrow.


Plans for Paul Henry to broadcast his RadioLive drive time show from Sydney are far from certain, he has acknowledged this week.

RadioLive owners MediaWorks claim continuation of the radio show until March was part of the settlement for Henry to take up his role as co-host for a new breakfast show on the Ten Network there.

The new Ten show starts in January or February and Henry will have to prepare. Is he serious about keeping up the RadioLive show?

"At this stage - as long as logistics work out - absolutely," he said.

It would be clear "whether it would work out" by Christmas or January.

As part of the deal between MediaWorks and Ten Network, TV3 will also be making its 7pm Sunday weekly Paul Henry Show in the Ten studios in Sydney.

Henry said it would definitely go ahead and it would not be a short-run series - it might even stretch to 40 episodes.

It is understood MediaWorks was completely blindsided by negotiations between Henry and Ten behind the scenes.

A RadioLive insider said MediaWorks chief executive Sussan Turner had convinced owners Ironbridge to sign up Henry, who was being paid $400,000 to $500,000 a year.

A well-placed source said MediaWorks so badly wanted Henry after his departure from TVNZ that he was able to secure a provision that allowed him to exit from his contract.

But deserting MediaWorks would have been a lot more costly in the New Year.

Henry insisted that Ten had called him - not the other way around.

He thought acting CEO Lachlan Murdoch might have noticed his approaches to the Murdoch-controlled Fox TV Network - which Murdoch formerly ran.

More to the point, Anthony Flannery - the TVNZ head of news and current affairs who created the TVNZ Breakfast show and was a big fan of Henry - was recently named head of news and current affairs for Ten.

Aussie TV audiences are notoriously xenophobic, but Henry doubted they would hate his accent.

One contributor to a TV blog had other ideas after seeing a clip of Henry in an industry blog.

"Hill huv te wurk un hes iccint furst," said the Ocker. "I can barely understand the guy."


A while back, I suggested Mike Hosking might be the only broadcaster who could have moderated TVNZ's John Key versus Phil Goff political debate on October 31.

I should have included Sean Plunket, from TV3's The Nation.

Key's minders have avoided putting him up for an extended interview with Plunket on The Nation - as they did when Plunket was chief inquisitor at Radio New Zealand's Morning Report.

The Nation producer Richard Harman said he had made several requests during the past three months but all had been declined.

"We said we were infinitely flexible on time and place ... and we got a reply saying the interview was declined for a variety of reasons," Harman said.

There has been a lot of discussion during the election campaign about Key's approach to media. He loves the quick short questions of media scrums but can look fragile in the face of rapid-fire direct questions.

He was clearly rattled when he came under sustained media questioning after quoting an unnamed source to tell Parliament that ratings agency Standard & Poor's preferred National to Labour.

A Beehive insider told me that Key's choices were based on whether he would reach uncommitted voters.

Decisions were made by campaign manager Steven Joyce and chief of staff Wayne Eagleson. The source said National Radio listeners were seen as set in their voting patterns, so there was little chance of attracting swing voters.


Political editor Guyon Espiner plans to stay in journalism with an on-air job at TVNZ.

The upcoming election will be Espiner's last and he plans to leave his current role at the end of the year.

Espiner has been speaking to TVNZ about options but his skill set as a strong and serious interviewer is not in hot demand nowadays at TVNZ.

Where would he would fit in an increasingly tabloid TVNZ?

Espiner is already the star of Q&A. Even if he considered replacing his mate Mark Sainsbury on Close Up, he would probably be regarded as too intellectual.

TVNZ has spent several months searching for a corporate executive - a PR-man-cum-lobbyist - to replace Peter Parussini. Espiner is not interested, saying it was not going to happen.

He does not dismiss the option of replacing head of news and current affairs Anthony Flannery. But he seems an unlikely appointment and a colleague doubted he would apply.

"But you just don't dismiss the idea, do you? It would look like you lacked ambition," the journo colleague suggested.

- NZ Herald

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