Fairfax Media has accused News Corp of gutter journalism, after The Australian claimed the company bought advertising space on pornographic and illegal download websites for its property portal Domain.
The report by media editor Darren Davidson said Fairfax purchased the space for Domain’s Commercial Real Estate site to boost its analytics.
“Fairfax Media’s property portal, Domain, is buying advertising space on pornographic and illegal download websites to inflate its audience figures and push through big ad rate increases under chief executive Antony Catalano,” The Australian reported on Monday.
The paper claimed Fairfax had advertised on hardcore pornography websites featuring “young Asian women in various stages of undress being subjected to masochistic acts”.
It said the company is “using greasy tactics to lure internet users from sites advocating pornography and other illicit actions”.
In response, Fairfax Media described the story as “bile” and a reflection of News Corp’s “endless appetite for gutter dwelling”.
“News Corp has never had any shame about using their media platforms for attacks on competitors,” Fairfax Media director of communications Brad Hatch said.
“They dress up their bile as news and bore the rest of the industry with their seemingly endless appetite for gutter dwelling.”
Mr Hatch said Fairfax had undertaken a review of its advertising following the claims.
“We did not authorise any advertising, re-targeting or redirections and believe it is a malicious scam/bot,” he said.
“Our technical partners have confirmed that no advertising from us has been placed on porn or illegal sites.
“We have this morning [Monday] asked News Corp’s lawyers to provide us with any and all information they have on this matter so our technical people and independent advisers can more fully investigate the matter.”
Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood said News Corp’s story was “wrong” and said the company would not ignore the claims.
“We told The Australian it was wrong,” Mr Hywood said.
“We note they printed our quote. But they still had no hesitation in running the yarn. We generally ignore it. Not today.”
Property website war
The publishers’ bitter war of words delved deeper into said flaws of the other’s real estate portals.
Domain‘s main competitor, REA Group, of which News Corp is the majority shareholder, has seen its market share plummet because of Fairfax, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
“The rise of Domain has seen REA Group’s share price plunge,” it said.
“From a peak of $65.77 in July this year, the company’s share price had dropped to just $45.50 by November. That wiped more than $1.6 billion from the value of News Corp’s holding in REA Group.”
Meanwhile, News Corp also claimed Domain and Commercial Real Estate used “pop-unders”, a form of pop-up ad, to inflate traffic.
“Further evidence that users arriving at Domain and CRE are finding their way there via “pop-unders” is a huge fall in time spent, a key measure of engagement,” The Australian‘s Mr Davidson said.
“Time-on-site is now only 1.14 seconds, which means people are only briefly looking at the site before leaving, an indicator they did not want to go there, and had not sought out CRE in the first place.”
News Corp and Fairfax Media have both seen a significant decline in the circulation of their major mastheads in recent years.
According to the Australian Bureau of Circulation data, Fairfax’s best selling paper, The Sydney Morning Herald, has declined from 204,421 readers in July-September in 2010, down to 95,733 by July-September in 2016.
News Corp has also witnessed a steady decline in circulation, with the Herald Sun dropping from 500,800 to 317,517 over the same period.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp also tops the Nielsen metrics for online publications with news.com.au ranked No.1 with a unique audience of 5,519,000 in October this year.
Meanwhile, Fairfax Media’s SMH is rated No.4 with an audience of 4,145,000.