Sky News Australia fans are in for a treat next week: a special one-hour investigation from self-styled investigative journalist Peta Credlin into Victoria’s hotel quarantine failures.

“Peta explores the terrible human cost of the botched quarantine program, revealing devastating new details of how Victoria’s COVID crisis has impacted grieving families and small business owners who no longer have an income due to the lockdown,” the Sky blurb for Deadly Decisions: Victoria’s Hotel Quarantine Catastrophe claims.

Credlin is of course better known as Tony Abbott’s chief of staff turned rightwing TV pundit than she is as an intrepid reporter, but she has been exercising her reporting muscles lately.

The News Corp columnist came out from behind her Sky After Dark desk to join the press at Daniel Andrews’s daily update, attracting as much attention for sometimes not covering her nose with her mask as for her aggressive questioning of the premier.

Credlin’s colleagues at Sky are gushing. Host Sharri Markson said she “gave the premier an interrogation” and the results were “lethal”. Liberal MP Tim Smith told Markson that Credlin’s performance was “magnificent” and fellow Sky host Alan Jones thanked her for the “wonderful work she’s been doing in prosecuting the case on behalf of all those people who had died as a result of hopeless administration in Victoria”.

Andrews saw it differently, refusing to accept the premise of her statements. “I’m not going to stand here and have things put to me in an attempt to perhaps have them put to me so often that they become the truth,” Andrews said.

Others had less patience, saying she should not be given press credentials given her agenda.

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Parent trap

Nine Entertainment has slowly been rationalising what drives revenue for the media company and what doesn’t, including offloading websites and smaller newspapers. Now, almost two years after buying Fairfax Media, Nine has made another cut.

The parenting website Essential Baby, which sits across the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Brisbane Times, has had a popular readers’ forum for more than 20 years. The forum predates Facebook and is a place for parents to discuss everything from pregnancy to breastfeeding to toilet training.

But parents will have to gather elsewhere because the forum is closing at the end of the month to save money on moderators.

Essential Baby editor Letitia Rowlands said it has been a place “where parents have come searching for information and understanding”.

“Many who arrived found much more,” Rowlands said. “One-time strangers have become lifelong friends whose support of each other has stretched well beyond the trenches of parenthood and into every part of each other’s lives.”

Cultural criticism

The ABC managing director, David Anderson, certainly adopted the right tone in his opening statement at Senate estimates on Wednesday night when he said the ABC was under an ideological attack.

“Our critics relentlessly try to make us part of a cultural debate most Australians do not find relevant or helpful,” he said. “The ABC is bigger than this debate. And yet public broadcasters around the world face a similar challenge, an assault on their very existence by commercial enterprises that claim that such public services are no longer necessary. The vast majority of Australians disagree.”

He was right. It wasn’t long before Coalition senators were lining up and waging a culture war in real time, asking tedious questions about why the national broadcaster had transgender leave and whether its diversity policy meant staff were no longer hired on merit. At one stage the committee chairman, David Fawcett, shut down Liberal senator David Van for “tedious repetition”.

But the most painful part was the insistence the ABC’s budget had gone up and not down. Anderson said that a total of 229 staff had been made redundant as a direct result of the indexation freeze, but senators weren’t having a bar of it. The ABC’s annual report shows the cost of payouts to this group was $31m alone.

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It is true there is an increase in the global budget figure allocated to the ABC – because it includes transmission costs – but once the fixed costs are removed there is $880m of operational funding to spend across all the ABC’s services.

As chairwoman Ita Buttrose has explained, the 2018 budget papers clearly state that the government’s savings measures reduce funding to the ABC by $14.623m in 2019-20, $27.842m in 2020-21 and $41.284m in 2021-22. This reduction totals $83.75m on its operational base.

Anger management

It was an emotional day when seasoned political reporter Laura Tingle let her anger over the loss of so many ABC colleagues boil over on social media.

Tingle's tweet

The trigger was the departure from Aunty after 30 years of senior reporter Philippa McDonald, one in a long procession of well-known ABC talent to walk out the door.

Tingle retweeted McDonald’s farewell video and added that the cuts to the ABC were the result of “government ideological bastardry” and she hoped Scott Morrison was feeling “smug” about it.

It wasn’t a good look for 7.30’s chief political correspondent and she quickly deleted it.

But nothing gets past Senate estimates and the Liberal senator Andrew Bragg asked Anderson if Tingle had breached the ABC’s code of conduct and would be punished.

“Certainly, Laura, I think was contacted by her executive producer,” Anderson said. “I am satisfied that no more action needs to be taken.

“Laura Tingle is a veteran of over 30 years of outstanding journalism. Certainly has been for us. With regard to that tweet, I think, well I know, that Laura deems that to be a mistake.

“I think it was an error of judgment as I think clearly does Laura as she took that tweet down.”

Twice the price

One interesting revelation from estimates was that the ABC has to pay Foxtel for the rights to show some women’s sport. Nothing unusual about paying for content except that Foxtel has been the recipient of two grants totalling $40m from the federal government, so taxpayers are effectively paying twice.

In July, the Morrison government gave another $10m to the Murdoch-controlled Foxtel to boost women’s and under-represented sport, bringing to $40m the total handout to the subscription TV service since 2017.

Under questioning from the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Anderson explained the public broadcaster does not receive specific funding allocations for showcasing women’s sport.

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“I’m happy for you to take on notice the details but let me just get clear: the federal government has provided money to Foxtel to provide coverage of women’s sport, which the ABC then has to go to Foxtel to pay for?” Hanson-Young asked.

Reality bites

The Seven network chief executive, James Warburton, admitted it had been a tough year for the network when he unveiled the 2021 schedule via a livestream on Wednesday.

“We had to delay the filming of our longest running drama in Seven’s history, Home and Away,” he said. “We weren’t expecting to lose the AFL for eight weeks and we weren’t expecting an Olympiad without the Olympics.

“Covid didn’t single us out but it sure as hell affected us more than our competitors.”

Seven’s comeback is based on new reality formats piled on old reality formats.

“We’re de-risking the schedule by commissioning proven, powerful formats around the world for our 7.30pm slots,” he said. “We’re not in the programming development game any more. We’re about proven formats.”

Adding to the slate of The Voice, Holey Moley, Ultimate Tag, Big Brother, Farmer Wants a Wife, Australia’s Got Talent and SAS Australia, Seven is bringing back Australian Idol, which last screened on Ten in 2009.

Changing with the Times

Under editor-in-chief Anthony De Ceglie, the West Australian has been focusing on Indigenous disadvantage in a state where children aged 10-17 were 45 times more likely to be jailed than their non-Indigenous peers last year.

De Ceglie told Weekly Beast the National Indigenous Times asked if the West could help the website reach a wider audience. “We suggested a national broadsheet paper insert and this week we produced the first of these special editions of the NIT,” he said. “The NIT produces the content and then my team does the layouts, subbing, design work and helps with pictures. It means the NIT gets in front of our 400,000-plus newspaper readers and it’s a chance to help their website grow.”

The insert on Wednesday followed the incorporation of Aboriginal art into the masthead during Reconciliation Week, signing on proud Yawuru man Brenton McKenna as a cartoonist with his comic strip Ole Champ and Annabel Hennessy’s Walkley-winning investigation that saw a domestic violence victim wrongfully imprisoned freed from jail. The print edition of the National Indigenous Times, edited by Hannah Cross, will be inserted every six weeks.



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