John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Transtasman turbulence

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Gina Rinehart, Australia's richest woman, has been trying for a place on the Fairfax board. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson
Gina Rinehart, Australia's richest woman, has been trying for a place on the Fairfax board. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

Cynics might say it is the payoff for being a low-wage economy, but moves to edit Aussie papers in New Zealand illustrate some major upheavals in the print industry.

Fairfax journalists in Australia go back to work this morning after a 36-hour strike aimed at stopping several newspapers being subedited by the Fairfax hub here.

The Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age are the biggest. Also affected are the Illawarra Mercury on the South Coast and the Newcastle Herald north of Sydney which, along with seven associated community papers, would shift about 56 jobs across the Tasman.

The Australian journalists union, a part of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), says its wider concern is that cross-Tasman production will undermine journalism by breaking the link between reporters and production staff.

Yesterday afternoon MEAA federal secretary Chris Warren said he would talk to Fairfax about outsourcing to subediting hubs in Australia near to the papers to reduce problems.

He said that the idea of outsourcing subediting - started by APN News & Media in New Zealand - had not had all the problems ironed out, but having reporting and subediting in different countries exacerbated them.

Warren said lower costs in New Zealand were a factor.

And Kiwi journalists' pay was lower, especially when currency exchange rates were taken into account.

Fairfax metropolitan papers are already outsourcing to Australian operations of Pagemasters.

UNION BONDS

The move to New Zealand could test relations between the MEAA union and the EPMU, which represents many New Zealand journalists.

The two unions are quite close. But at what point will self-interest in welcoming new jobs to this country clash with international solidarity in the union movement?

These are volatile times in newspapers and the MEAA is already battling hundreds of job losses at News Ltd titles such as the Australian.

The MEAA came to public attention in New Zealand when its actors union arm took over Equity New Zealand and pressed for better treatment of New Zealand actors, taking on Peter Jackson and The Hobbit.

Some union people said the MEAA's hard-nosed approach in the sector was needed.

But many also felt that the dispute was mishandled by the Aussie union bosses, a claim the Australians reject.

PAGEMASTERS

Fairfax already owns 44 per cent of Pagemasters but there has been speculation it may be selling down its stake.

Warren says the system works okay but he believes there has been an issue on treating quick-moving news stories. News agency AAP Group owns 44 per cent and 12 per cent is held by West Australian Newspapers. Pagemasters had been subbing content in Australia for the London Daily Telegraph, but recently opened an office in London.

GINA NEEDS A TONIC

You have to wonder what Fairfax's biggest shareholder thinks of the strike, given her strong views about business and the role of the media.

The West Australian mining heiress who Forbes magazine estimates to have a net worth of US$ 18 billion now owns about 13 per cent of Fairfax. She has been trying for a place on the board, whose oversight she has criticised.

It is in some ways a classical Ayn Rand-style clash between old and new money - the confident and driven outsider versus Fairfax, the venerable centre of the Australian business establishment.

Gina Rinehart missed out on the board and reportedly Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett resisted her joining it for fear the tenacious billionaire would seek to influence the editorial direction of Fairfax papers. Critics have pointed out that that is easier said than done. But like many rich folk before her, Rinehart has taken an interest in media and is unlikely to go away.

She is a fascinating figure in Australian business life to rival Kerry Packer. Incidentally, she owns 10 per cent of the Australian Ten Network that recently hired Paul Henry for its Breakfast Show.

COLOUR CONSULTING

Viewers have been calling in aghast that One News is trying to colour co-ordinate Simon Dallow and Wendy Petrie. It isn't just Wendy Petrie and her canary yellow outfits. On Wednesday Pippa Wetzell had on a dayglo outfit and Dallow had a matching fluorescent tie.

A TVNZ spokeswoman said colour co-ordination was not as common as some say. It was important that the co-anchors did not clash with each other or with the set.

However a veteran newsman said there had been a change in attitude from avoiding clashes between anchors to actively co-ordinating them.

By the way, it was interesting to see Wetzell filling in for Petrie recently. A TVNZ source said she is very popular in focus groups.

RIDGES BACK

It appears TV3 reconsidered the reality series about Sally and Jaime Ridge after the idea - pilloried by many - got plenty of news coverage.

The media celebrity machine is working overtime."We thought there may be something in this," said TV3 publicity boss Rachel Lorimer, who insisted that the show had not yet been given the final go-ahead.

It would mark the first time a Kiwi TV channel has put money into a show about famous people who are famous for nothing other than being famous.

Lorimer said the shooting of the pilot programme around Auckland had led to publicity, and that boosted its prospects. However a television industry veteran said leaks of the show to gossip columns - leading to a charity boxing match between Jaime Ridge and a cast member from another reality show, The GC - was part of creating a profile and personality for Ridge where none existed. Lorimer said the boxing match was being filmed.

AFRICAN SKY

Sky's decision to hire a South African broadcaster to head its sports production arm has created angst, a source says. Tex Teixeira has been appointed to the post vacated by veteran sports production boss Kevin Cameron, who is stepping down after the Olympics.

Sources say Tex is a pleasant enough bloke. But Sky asked all its sport executive producers including Martin Crowe, Tui McKendrick, Alex Lewis and Andy Fyfe to apply, then hired out of country. Sky chief executive John Fellet said that Sky often promoted from within, but he had met Teixeira at the Rugby World Cup.

Teixeira is head of channels at SuperSport in South Africa, having been with that company since 1991. He had leading roles in SuperSport's host broadcast of the Fifa World Cup in 2010.

UNDERCOVER COMMISSIONER

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner and former newspaper editor Judy McGregor has been applauded in media for going undercover in a rest home, to report on conditions in the industry.

The former Sunday News editor's report comes across as a ripping yarn about the life and devotion of staff. But did anybody else think it was a bit odd for a commissioner to go undercover like this? And would the elderly patients mind if they had known they had been showered by the EEO commissioner.

We asked the former editor and member of the Broadcasting Standards Authority if she had used a false name and whether she had access to personal medical records on her undercover stint. We asked what physical tasks she performed but got no answer.

We also wonder if the Privacy Commissioner was involved. After several attempts to get details of the undercover arrangement, the Human Rights Commission refused to comment.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

Read more by John Drinnan

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