Online news site Crikey has responded to legal threats by agreeing to destroy leaked accounts indicating a steep decline in News Corporation’s Australian newspaper business.
Crikey published what the Rupert Murdoch company calls internally “the blue book”, the company’s operating accounts for all its businesses.
The documents, which date from last year, show News Corp’s print and digital publications were suffering from large falls in revenue, with flagship paper The Australian losing $27 million.
Late on Thursday afternoon Crikey removed hundreds of pages of the documents.
News Corp’s chief executive Julian Clarke has dismissed the revelations as “yesterday’s news”.
“The Australian is our premium product, we love it dearly, it’s doing very, very well and quite frankly, what [has been] published is 14 months old, ask me about what’s happened in the last 12 months,” he said.
“Just have a look at our assets though … if you didn’t want to own The Australian, there would be something wrong with you. It is the absolutely the go-to newspaper in this country.”
News Corp’s chief executive until last year, Kim Williams, has rejected suggestions he is the source of the leak.
He has also poured cold water on the current management’s suggestion that things have improved since.
“I’d be very surprised if the trends have not continued, because the trends were pretty indelible when I arrived at the company,” he said.
News Corp accused of hypocrisy over leaks
Media academic Associate Professor David McKnight, who has authored a book about Mr Murdoch, says News Corp is being “extraordinarily hypocritical”.
“Coming from a media company that frequently publishes leaks, you really only have to imagine what News Corp would do if they had their hands on an equivalent document on Fairfax’s internal operations, it would have been spread all over the front page with half a dozen gloating articles inside,” he said.
“I can’t imagine that News Corp would go ahead with the suggestion that there would be legal action, I mean it would just be the most extraordinary hypocrisy.”
Media analyst Steve Allen from Fusion Strategy has looked over the documents and says Mr Murdoch will soon have to make some tough choices.
“The first set of decisions would be how could we substantially slim down, how can we make all of our operations more efficient?” he said.
“Because the trend says they won’t be making money in a year or two.”
Independent financial analyst Mark McDonnell says he is staggered at how inaccurate News Corp’s own internal forecasts are.
“Pretty much for every area of their business, their internal forecasting is woeful,” he said.
“It’s very surprising, it’s even more surprising that external analysts can get a better fix on the companies performance than people internally.
“The rate of decline in those titles – the Herald Sun, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney – is well into the double digits and in earnings terms is highly material and very concerning.”