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Australian News

Seven West Media launches Federal Court action against Cricket Australia over summer broadcast


Seven West Media has launched legal action in the Federal Court against Cricket Australia (CA), as the broadcaster continues its move to reduce its contract or get out of it altogether.

Seven has lodged an affidavit to uncover CA documents in an attempt to prove the governing body breached its contract with the free-to-air broadcaster.

Seven is seeking to prove that CA gave preferential treatment to the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India and Foxtel by pushing the four-Test series against India to the back of the summer.

Seven claims the value of its contract has been reduced because the first men’s internationals of the summer have been broadcast behind a paywall on Foxtel and Kayo.

The first and second one-day internationals against India drew a peak audience of 400,000 and 448,000 Foxtel viewers respectively.

The numbers for the second game on Sunday grew to 585,000 when you add in the viewers watching on streaming service Kayo, making it the third most watched sport program ever on subscription TV in Australia.

Foxtel has praised the summer schedule, with executive director Steve Crawley saying in a statement: “It’s a ripper schedule and already the fans are loving it.”

The original summer schedule, which would have started with the Test series, has been turned around so India can return home to prepare for a Test series against England.

Steve Smith with his helmet and his bat i nhis hands smiling
The first two ODIs have been ratings winners for Foxtel and Kayo.(AP: Rick Rycroft)

In 2018, Seven bought the free-to-air television cricket rights for six years for $450 million after Channel Nine had held them for decades.

Seven has since posted a $444 million loss.

The network has been waging open warfare with CA in recent months, arguing the value of its product has been diluted by changes to the schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Test against Afghanistan was cancelled and a one-day series against New Zealand was postponed.

The decision to stage three ODIs and three T20 matches before the Tests also means India’s captain and biggest drawcard, Virat Kohli, will play only the first Test in Adelaide on December 17 before returning to India to be with his pregnant wife for the birth of their child.

Seven is hoping to prove CA breached its contract, which could lead to the contract being torn up or other forms of retribution.

Cricket rights presser standing
The lucrative new broadcast rights deal with Seven has turned sour within two years.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

CA has offered Seven West Media a contract reduction, but the network is not accepting.

CA has used the “force majeure” clause in its contract with Seven to argue the pandemic that forced the schedule changes was an act of god.

The Federal Court action is separate to another dispute Seven has launched in the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration for Independent Valuation over the contract.

CA says the body does not have the authority to settle the contest.

Throughout all of this, acting CA chief executive Nick Hockley has consistently maintained that it will offer a high-quality summer of cricket.

A CA spokesman said the organisation had no comment to make “at the moment” about the latest court action.



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Australian News

Facebook, Google should not be allowed to evade news laws, Australian media argues


Facebook and Google must be forced to pay Australian media organisations for using their content so the industry can “survive,” according to an open letter issued by 10 major news firms today.

The warning, which comes just weeks before the Australian parliament is expected to debate the laws drafted by Australia’s competition watchdog, also hit back at widely publicised claims from Google that the laws would give media companies “special treatment,” and set out a list of conditions they considered necessary to prevent tech giants evading the new rules.

Facebook has already threatened to remove all news stories from being seen by millions of Australian users to avoid paying for news, while Google Australia vice-president Mel Silva said the company was willing “to help support the news industry” but only if big changes were made to the proposed laws.

In the open letter, signed by executives from organisations Nine, Seven West Media, The Guardian, News Corp, Channel 10 and Commercial Radio Australia, the groups said global tech firms were making money from content produced by Australian organisations but “the financial ledger in producing the content is currently very one-sided”.

“Australians can search for news on Google and share stories with their family and friends on Facebook and Instagram partly because of investment by local news media businesses in quality journalism,” it read.

“Google and Facebook generate significant revenues by collecting data on those users and turning it around in highly targeted advertising. This makes news content hugely valuable for the digital platforms. Yet Google and Facebook do not currently pay Australian media companies for this valuable content.

“To survive, local news media businesses must be able to negotiate a fair contribution to the cost of creating content that directly contributes to significant local profits made by Google and Facebook.”

The group also called for the Government to protect four elements of the news code, ensuring it would cover all digital services from the companies, that they would provide information required for fair negotiations, that it would include final offer arbitration to limit delays, and that the code should protect Australian organisations being discriminated against to avoid paying for news.

Free TV chief executive officer Bridget Fair said a news media code had first been recommended by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in July last year after its 18-month investigation into digital platforms.

She said there had been delays, and many closures of Australian news media organisations since that time, as well as prominent campaigns against the proposed code from Google and Facebook.

“Since (the draft law was released), there’s been a lot of misinformation about what’s in the code and how it might impact various players,” Ms Fair said.

“We thought since now is the time for final consideration as media organisations we should come together and make a strong statement about what the key elements of the code must contain to achieve its stated purpose.”

The open letter, which will be sent to all Australian members of parliament, also states that the proposed laws will not require the tech firms to “provide any additional user data to media companies” and will not “require special treatment for news media businesses” — a claim Google promoted to its YouTube video creators worldwide, saying they could “earn less” as a result.

In a blog post last week, Ms Silva said Google still had “serious concerns about the way the draft legislation is framed,” and wanted to see changes to financial negotiation and for the laws to put a price on web traffic Google sent to media organisations.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the code would be introduced to parliament before the end of the year.



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Business

Government forces tech giants, media companies to sign NDAs


The code was initially devised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission at the request of Treasury following a year long inquiry, and is designed to force the internet giants to pay publishers for news content.

Tech giants have fiercely opposed the draft version of the code, with Facebook declaring that it would be forced to ban news in Australia if it became law, and Google threatening to quit Australia altogether.

The search advertising giant is expected to reiterate its concerns about the code in a blog post tomorrow, but that it is also prepared to make concessions.

The draft version would give digital platforms three months to strike deals to pay news organisations for their content before they would be forced to enter a binding “final offer” negotiation process. In the “final offer” process, an arbitrator would select one of the negotiating parties’ proposals – whichever it deems more reasonable.

It also requires Google and Facebook to provide data to media companies and advance notice of changes to their algorithms. The tech giants have objected to these requirements as unfair and unworkable. The internet giants have also argued that the draft code does not take into account the value of the referral traffic they send publishers.

But media companies have been pushing the government to urgently legislate the code to fight the tech giants’ market power and are concerned it is being delayed to accommodate their demands.

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If a final version of the code is agreed following the final, confidential consultations with Treasury, the code could reach parliament in the last two sitting weeks of the year. Treasury was approached for comment.

ACCC chair Rod Sims handed his final policy advice to government in late October. While he originally told this masthead there would only be minor changes to the final version, industry sources have said that it could now be substantially different.

Mr Sims did not rule out winding back the “final offer” arbitration process in comments in October.



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Business

How Sky News quietly became Australia’s biggest news channel on social media


He didn’t. Only a week into his tenure, Alan Jones had fewer than 60,000 viewers. By comparison, the ABC’s flagship news program 7.30 gets more than ten times that and both Seven and Nine’s evening news bulletins regularly reach more than a million viewers.

But the coverage of Jones and Sky News ratings was missing a much more interesting story.

Sky News Australia had successfully built a Fox News-like online operation in Australia, making it one of Australian media’s digital leaders with a reach that dwarfs its terrestrial audience numbers.

Remarkably, it has taken just over a year to cement its place as one of the nation’s loudest online voices, despite having a significantly smaller operation than its competitors. On YouTube, its videos have been viewed 500 million times, more than any other Australian media organisation.

Facebook posts from its Page had more total interactions last month than the ABC News, SBS News, 7News Australia, 9 News and 10 News First Pages – and they’ve had more shares than all of them combined.

University of NSW’s Associate Professor David McKnight, a media researcher who’s written books including “Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power”, said he was surprised to hear about the size of Sky News Australia’s digital audience.

“Most people look at the live viewership and they see very small numbers on these shows. What these numbers show is the possibility of a very big audience in Australia and beyond,” Dr McKnight said.

Sky News has grown this audience by focusing on producing highly partisan opinion content targeted at a global audience.

A new approach to digital

When former editor-in-chief of the Australian Paul Whittaker took over as head of Sky News Australia in late 2018, he was told to “continue expanding Sky News to reach more Australians”.

The channel had already changed from a 24/7 cable news channel best known for being consumed by politicians and their staffers to a station increasingly watched by average Australians, particularly as it began to broadcast on free-to-air in regional areas.

Sky News chief executive Paul Whittaker has made crucial changes to the company since his arrival.

Sky News chief executive Paul Whittaker has made crucial changes to the company since his arrival.

“Most people see Sky News’ impact as its effect on business leaders, politicians, the political class, which is very influential but is small,” Dr McKnight said.

Its television audience has grown since Whittaker took over. Sky News Australia is one of the top channels on Foxtel, reaching more than 800,000 unique viewers. Still, the channel’s ratings pale in comparison to its free-to-air competitors. But the real growth has been happening on the digital side.

According to current and former Sky News Australia employees, two things happened in mid-2019 that changed the course of the channel’s digital operation.

The first was hiring digital editor, Jack Houghton, previously at the Daily Telegraph. The second was more intense discussions with tech companies about their digital strategy. In August the company announced new partnerships with YouTube and Facebook. (As part of these partnerships, the company also stopped posting videos to Twitter.)

Following these discussions and partnerships, there was a push to produce a specific type of video that would perform well on these platforms. Specifically, that meant videos longer than three minutes.

This favoured opinion such as editorials or panel interviews over news content, which is generally shorter and more expensive to produce.

According to one former Sky News Australia employee, the digital side of operations “gained credibility in News Corp” as videos were cross-posted across different News Corporation websites and were embedded in articles.

The channel now puts out dozens of videos every day which are between three and six minutes in length on average, primarily taken from their ‘After Dark’ opinion coverage produced each evening.

Sky News Australia goes viral

Following this shift in strategy, Sky News Australia has experienced explosive growth.

According to social media analytics tool Social Blade, the YouTube channel had fewer than 70,000 subscribers in June 2019. The channel didn’t upload a video between February 2017 and April 2019.

Today, it has more than 900,000. This puts it second among Australian news publications behind only ABC News, which has more than 1.2 million.

But Sky News Australia’s videos have been viewed 500 million times – 60 million times more than ABC News’ total views. Their videos are being watched more than 3.7 million times a day on average — more than their monthly numbers halfway through last year.

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Social Blade predicts Sky News Australia’s total subscription numbers will overtake the ABC in early 2021 if current trends continue.

Sky News Australia’s Facebook following is the smallest out of all of Australia’s television news channels’ main Pages, except for Channel 10. It has accumulated just 730,000 likes, far behind ABC News’ 4.13 million.

But its reach likely beats all others. Facebook doesn’t offer publicly accessible reach or viewing metrics, but interactions — reactions, comments and shares — offer an idea.

And on that metric, Sky News Australia had 5.69 million interactions in October 2020 out of the 16.06 million recorded by Australia’s major broadcast television’s Facebook Pages. The account had more than 890,000 of the 1.6 million shares across all the Pages.

Sky News Australia’s videos are also hosted on their website. Metrics for these views aren’t publicly available, but in July it was reported that the website had recorded an average of 50 million views per month in 2020, up more than 400 per cent year on year.

The secret to Sky News Australia’s enormous number of interactions isn’t posting frequently.

The Pages’ interaction rate — a metric that shows you how engaging a post is by dividing the number of interactions an average post gets by the account’s follower count — is off the charts compared to other news media outlets.

Sky News Australia’s average interaction rate is 0.19 per cent. The average for its peers is between 0.04-0.05 per cent. Second to Sky News Australia is 10 News First at 0.07 per cent.

Part of the reason for their success appears to be their close coverage of international affairs, particularly the topics favoured by America’s right-wing media ecosystem.

Culture war content for a global audience

Unlike cable or terrestrial television, Sky News Australia’s digital content isn’t limited to Australian audiences. In fact, part of the strategy has been to try to cater to a potentially much larger global audience.

Not a single one of their top 10 videos on YouTube by views is about Australia. Of those videos, five are about US politics, three are about COVID-19, one is about Jeffrey Epstein and another is about bears wandering into shops. Each of them have millions of views.

Although there are more Australian videos in their top fifty, it’s still dominated by videos about non-Australian issues.

Their most popular videos are primarily about politically contentious, culture war adjacent figures like Donald Trump, Greta Thunberg and Meghan Markle.

And many feature intentionally misleading or sensationalist content. Three of the Sky News Australia’s 15 most viewed videos contend or imply that Joe Biden is suffering from cognitive problems — something not supported by evidence.

Alan Jones has been among the most sensationalist out of all the hosts — and he’s been rewarded with views.

His September video downplaying the risk of COVID-19, “Australians must know the truth – this virus is not a pandemic – Alan Jones” has been viewed 2.2 million times on YouTube. (A pandemic was declared by WHO in March and the virus had killed nearly a million people worldwide, including 800 Australians, by the time the video was published).

Alan Jones' commentary is widely watched on social media.

Alan Jones’ commentary is widely watched on social media.Credit:Sky

Another video implying that the Democrats had committed election fraud, “There is ‘something odd about postal votes which have magically materialised’ for Biden” had been viewed more than 330,000 times in 18 hours on YouTube. The video had been reviewed by Facebook’s third-party checker Politifact and found to be ‘partly false information’.

Two of the biggest periods of growth in YouTube subscribers and views since the middle of last year have been in May this year, when the channel extensively covered allegations of China covering up COVID-19, and in September, during the channel’s pro-Trump coverage of the lead up to the US election.

According to Dr McKnight, the far reach of opinion content online challenges what he calls the “hopeful description” that Sky News Australia is balanced between news and opinion.

“This upsets the way that Sky News Australia is being ‘straight up’ news in the daytime and right-wing after dark,” he said. “In digital, the right-wing material is 24/7.”

And this digital growth is introducing new types of audiences to the brand as well as earning them money, according to Sky News Australia’s Whittaker.

“[YouTube]’s a growing channel, both for in terms of reaching a younger demographic, as well as in terms of a source of revenue,” he told Mediaweek.

A US presidential campaign exclusive on Sky News Australia

Sky News Australia host Sharri Markson conducted a 20-minute interview with former White House adviser and Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon several weeks ago.

Bannon is awaiting trial on fraud charges and is accused of being part of an effort to spread misinformation about the US election and COVID-19. He was recently suspended from Twitter and had content deleted off YouTube for saying he’d like to see National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci’s head on a stick.

In the interview, filled with unproven allegations left unchallenged by Markson, Bannon made a new claim regarding the Hunter Biden laptop saga.

Nearly 5 million people have watched the interview on YouTube. Clips have been reposted on Facebook and Twitter and been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. News articles about the interview’s claims had been written — including by other Australian News Corporation publications — and widely shared.

Why Bannon decided to make what he considered an impactful announcement to do with the US presidential campaign on a Australian television station with small viewership numbers wouldn’t have made sense viewed through the lens of traditional reach.

But Sky News Australia isn’t just a small Australian television station anymore.

Quietly, almost without anyone noticing, Sky News Australia had cemented itself as an Australian digital juggernaut broadcasting to the whole world.

This story was first published on businessinsider.com.au.

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Local News - Victoria

Bail, curfew, no social media for five boys charged with teen’s murder


Last week Justice Coghlan said he was leaning towards granting bail to the five boys because of their young age, the expected delay before their trial and their previous good compliance with bail.

The bail was set with a number of strict conditions.

Justice Coghlan warned the boys that they should become familiar with the rules as they will probably have to abide by them for several years.

“This process is going to be a relatively long one and you’re going to be on those conditions for something like two years, but if you don’t keep the conditions, you won’t remain on bail,” he said.

“In particular you need to understand you can’t associate with anyone else who is charged with this offence, with the exception of the pool of brothers who can associate with one another.

“That’s where trouble will come from. If you breach that association condition, that will lead to trouble and the police won’t hesitate to bring the matter back to the court and potentially apply for revocation of your bail and I might be left in a position where I don’t have any option but to revoke bail, which you might all think is pretty undesirable in the circumstances.”

The boys are required to reside at a nominated address with a curfew and have been ordered to abstain from alcohol or drugs of dependence.

Solomone Taufeulungaki died outside Brimbank Shopping Centre on June 16.

Solomone Taufeulungaki died outside Brimbank Shopping Centre on June 16.

They are not allowed to leave the state of Victoria and cannot contact or associate with prosecution witnesses, including those accused of Solomone’s murder.

To address concerns about the boys’ potential involvement in gang activity, Justice Coghlan set a condition of bail which prohibits the teens from gathering in groups of more than five unless it is for school or youth justice programs.

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They are also not allowed to access social media, which Justice Coghlan recognised was a “tough condition” but was necessary in the circumstances.

Last week, the prosecution opposed bail, arguing that the group had failed to demonstrate exceptional circumstances justifying their release, although prosecutor Mark Gibson, SC, conceded they faced a considerable delay before trial.

Mr Gibson also raised concerns some of the boys had previously breached bail – when they were charged with affray – by not abiding by curfews and associating with each other. One boy spent a night at his girlfriend’s house, the court heard.

Some of the accused boys were charged with affray after Solomone’s death but had the charges upgraded to murder last month.

Justice Coghlan said last week he was concerned that “gang activity” surrounded Solomone’s death.

He also said that a murder trial for 11 accused people might require a newly built courtroom.

The four other charged boys remain in youth detention.

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Australian News

AFL rumour mill serves media during trade period but doesn’t always prioritise player welfare


They say nature abhors a vacuum. Nature’s got nothing on the AFL.

Such is the insatiable desire for AFL titbits, the playing and winning of an exceptional grand final is merely a blip in a year-round drip feeding of football fans by the AFL and its associates.

No more so than at this time of the year, the AFL’s trade period.

In trade period, which officially begins today, the drip feed becomes a tsunami of rumour, speculation, and conjecture — with the odd nugget of fact thrown in.

It makes sense, of course. One team has won the premiership, leaving behind the 17 others and their millions of fans with one thing to cling on to — hope.

That hope is fed by the huge amounts of football media across newspapers, websites, TV, talkback radio, and podcasts.

But the clear leader of the pack at this time of year is the ubiquitous AFL Trade Radio, a streaming service hosted on the league’s website that runs for almost three weeks starting from the Monday after the grand final.

AFL Trade Radio is a joint venture run by the league and Sports Entertainment Network (formerly Crocmedia), a sports broadcasting and production company that also owns SEN radio stations in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, racing stations and produces many podcasts.

The company’s chief executive and managing director, Craig Hutchison, began AFL Trade Radio more than a decade ago and his since successfully built interest in his product.

It has gained hundreds of thousands of listeners, while also ramping up interest in the trade period itself, such that it is now a major period on the AFL calendar.

AFL Trade Radio employs some excellent analysts, including experienced former AFL list managers and recruiters like Stephen Silvagni and Matt Rendell, as well as former players such as Matthew Lloyd, Adam Cooney, Brendon Goddard and the forthright Kane Cornes.

That group is backed by a team of experienced AFL journalists, including Damian Barrett, Sam Edmund, and Mitch Cleary.

If you love people talking about the AFL and you are looking for that dollop of hope about your footy club, it can be incredibly addictive.

Jeremy Cameron winds up for a set shot on goal as he drops the ball.
The trade period is set to decide where AFL players such as Jeremy Cameron end up next year.(AAP: David Moir)

The problem with Trade Radio is the same faced by any continuous news service: how do you fill all that time?

AFL Trade Radio had already been broadcasting for seven days before the trade period began today, with just a few free agency transfers to report on.

Amidst the analysis of team lists (and interminable commercials) are often revealing interviews with players on the move.

Then there is the strange dance with player managers and club list managers, who have specific agendas to talk up or down a player’s value, as they fly kites and put up their straw men.

‘Rumour and innuendo’

But where AFL Trade Radio becomes particularly problematic is the broadcasting of rumour and unattributed stories.

Take the case of star Collingwood midfielder Adam Treloar.

Last week, unattributed stories began to emerge in the football media suggesting Collingwood no longer wanted Treloar — one of the Magpies’ best players — because his wife, Kim Ravaillion, was going to move to Queensland to play for the Firebirds in Super Netball, taking with her the couple’s daughter.

Treloar and Collingwood have not spoken on the record about the speculation that the club was worried about him splitting his time between Melbourne and Brisbane or that they wanted to unload his sizeable salary.

On Monday, SEN radio journalist Sam Edmund reported on AFL Trade Radio as “absolute fact” that Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley had phoned Treloar and told him that “that the senior core of the group didn’t want him around anymore”.

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Buckley responded via a Twitter post, writing: “‘Absolute fact’ … news to me Sam. The constant rumour and innuendo is disrespectful to Adam, the club and supporters.”

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Edmund said he had multiple sources, stating: “I am 100 per cent that this conversation took place.”

A lack of attribution generally reduces a story’s credibility, but doesn’t discount the possibility of its accuracy.

So, who to believe? The short answer is that we simply do not know.

For more than a week, Treloar’s life, relationships and future have been dissected by all and sundry through relentless talkback radio calls and broadcasters with endless hours to fill.

It is not unfair to say that Treloar, who has previously gone public about his anxiety disorder, has had his mental health and wellbeing placed at risk.

Separating truth from fiction

The problem for the football media during trade period is one of its own making.

When rumour, speculation and unattributed stories become a regular part of the diet, it is impossible to separate truth from fiction.

ABC Sport reporter and retired AFL footballer, Tony Armstrong, said trade period was hated by most players.

“Players hear stories about themselves that they have no idea about,” he said.

Mason Cox clenches both fists and yells in celebration
Mason Cox has been vocal about his uneasiness with the AFL’s rumour mill.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

As Treloar’s Collingwood teammate Mason Cox tweeted this week: “This time of year is when media loses all respect from me. Rumours become facts and the constant need to be first outweighs validity entirely too often.”

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Cornes tried to address that criticism on Tuesday by saying: “The reason rumour becomes fact is because of the lack of information [from clubs].”

But rumours are not fact.

Cornes’s point seems to be that if something is repeated often enough it becomes the accepted truth.

Within all this is a quandary for the AFL. It devised a system in which clubs, managers and players are all trying to get the best for themselves or their clients in a highly competitive market. That is why they all keep their cards so close to their chests.

And yet, the AFL is also exploiting that system through the marketing and publication of a product that feeds off trade intrigue and speculation — not to mention numerous stories on its website.

This week, the AFL’s platform simultaneously published a story that was “absolute fact”, as well as another shooting it down.

But the league is also ultimately the body responsible for player health and welfare.

Does its position as a publisher and broadcaster contradict its duty of care to players?



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Business

How much influence does the Murdoch media have in Australia?


How influential is Rupert Murdoch’s media empire? According to Kevin Rudd, extremely, and not in a good way. The former prime minister has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the Murdoch family’s media company, News Corp, which he says has the power to sway public opinion to protect its own agenda and to damage its political enemies.

On October 10, Rudd created a petition to establish a royal commission into the strength and diversity of Australian news media – he called it a #MurdochRoyalCommission on Twitter. High on his list of concerns was that “Australia’s print media is overwhelmingly controlled by News Corporation” and “this power is routinely used to attack opponents in business and politics by blending editorial opinion with news reporting”. As of the afternoon of October 15, the petition had attracted 247,693 signatures.

Rudd’s latest blast against News Corp (which he describes as a “cancer on democracy”) coincided with a rare media interview by James Murdoch, who told The New York Times he left the company because he was concerned its newspapers were disguising facts and endorsing disinformation.

Rudd’s push is the latest to raise questions about the influence the Murdoch family has over the public and politicians in Australia. On the one hand, News Corp owns more Australian newspapers than any other company. On the other hand, in an era where there are more local and international online sources of news and many consumers get their news via Google and Facebook, can a traditional media company really shape public opinion to the extent that News Corp’s critics believe?

What publications does News Corp own in Australia?

News Corp is easily the country’s biggest newspaper owner. Its titles include national broadsheet The Australian and Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Brisbane’s The Courier Mail and Adelaide’s The Advertiser. But it isn’t just the large capital cities where News Corp has a big audience – it has a newspaper in nearly every state and territory, owning the major newspaper in the Northern Territory, The NT News, and Tasmania’s Mercury as well as a large number of online suburban and regional titles. And it runs Australia’s second-biggest digital website, news.com.au, according to August figures from measurement provider Nielsen.

News Corp is also the controlling shareholder of pay TV company Foxtel; and it owns 24-hour channel Sky News in Australia. Sky’s mostly conservative commentators include Alan Jones and Peta Credlin. Some of Sky’s coverage appears on free-to-air regional channel WIN. And Nova Entertainment, the radio network that broadcasts Nova FM and Smooth FM across Australia, is a privately run company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan.

There is only one other commercial news organisation that has scale comparable to News Corp in Australia – Nine Entertainment Co, the owner of this masthead. Nine, which bought Fairfax Media in 2018, owns the Nine television network; The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, The Australian Financial Review, streaming platform Stan and radio stations such as 2GB in Sydney, 3AW in Melbourne and 4BC in Brisbane.

National broadcaster the ABC is the third major player through television, radio and the nation’s most visited website. Like News Corp and Nine, it has a footprint that gives it the ability to communicate with the majority of the population daily.

The industry term for this is “reach”.

Rupert Murdoch before his wedding to Jerry Hall in 2016 with sons Lachlan (left) and James.

Rupert Murdoch before his wedding to Jerry Hall in 2016 with sons Lachlan (left) and James.Credit:Getty Images

How much ‘reach’ does News Corp have?

Derek Wilding, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Media Transition, says it is difficult to work out just how much reach News Corp – or any media company – has because of the way the industry measures audiences.

“It’s very difficult to actually pin down precisely the reach,” he says. “We’ve tended to look just within existing markets – i.e. print or broadcast. That problem is exacerbated in an environment where there’s increasing digital reach and people get their news not just directly from the news supplier but from digital platforms.”

A 2016 study by academics Franco Papandrea and Rodney Tiffen on media ownership and concentration said News Corp owned about 65 per cent of print newspaper readership across Australia. That study was based on data from 2012, before News Corp owned a range of regional newspapers it acquired from APN News & Media but, given News Corp has now stopped printing a number of these publications, it’s unlikely there is much change in how much print readership News Corp controls. (This was the report cited in a study commissioned by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission of how much market power Google and Facebook have.)

In information it provides to advertisers, News Corp says it reaches 16 million Australians each month across its news outlets. Nine says it reaches 70 per cent of Australians through its television network each month. It says that it has 2 million listeners to its radio stations and that its mastheads have an average of 12 million news readers across print and digital each month. In its 2019 annual report, the ABC says it reaches 68.3 per cent of the population with its different platforms. Reach also exaggerates audience. To qualify a person only needs to interact with a media company’s journalism as little as once a month.

The other caveat about News Corp’s reach is the conversation tends to be shaped by its print dominance. The fact that the total number of people reading physical newspapers is shrinking is often ignored. Decades ago, the influence of a print edition would be considered much greater than it is now with the fragmentation of the media industry that has occurred because of the internet.

Is the media industry more competitive than in the past?

Before the internet, media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch dominated the media landscape. Today it’s very different. Social media sites such as Facebook and tech giants such as Google have changed the way consumers read news, and the internet has allowed people to access articles from international news outlets. This has meant that traditional media such as newspapers don’t hold the same kind of influence they once did because there is so much choice for readers.

The New York Times and The Economist, which previously would have struggled for global reach, have been able to find Australian readers. Other global mastheads such as The Guardian and Daily Mail employ large numbers of journalists and have established big online Australian audiences. Industry superannuation funds set up The New Daily website while universities fund The Conversation. Meanwhile, digital-only websites such as Junkee Media and Crikey make up a small portion of the media industry but their content resonates with Australians.

Wilding says it would be wrong to assume that these outlets have diminished the strength of large local players such as News Corp, the ABC and Nine.

“While some of those international sources and local startups add to the range of accessible news, the bigger the existing large media players get … the greater the challenge for smaller players to compete.”

How influential is News Corp?

News Corp’s influence is perhaps best articulated by one of its former senior executives. “News Corp has no influence with the public but an acute influence with politicians,” says Kim Williams, who ran News Corp in Australia between 2011 and 2013.

Being able to speak to a large amount of the population is one thing. But influence is different – it requires news articles and analysis to have an effect on people or to sway a point of view.

Murdoch is one of the world’s most successful media proprietors and his conservative views on politics and business are well known. His son Lachlan, who is co-chair of News Corp and runs the family’s other US-focused business, Fox Corp, is said to share a similar world view.

But while right-leaning politicians have often aligned with News Corp on policy, there is a fairly long list of left-leaning politicians in the English-speaking world who have attempted to curry favour with Murdoch to further their leadership ambitions. The list includes former prime minister Paul Keating (who allowed Murdoch to buy the Herald & Weekly Times in the 1980s) to former UK leader Tony Blair (godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch’s children with Wendi Deng. Blair tried to win over News Corp’s UK tabloid The Sun before he was elected in 1997). Even Rudd, who had a long-standing relationship with The Australian’s former editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell before he entered politics, was famously taken by former New York Post editor Col Allan to a New York strip club).

Murdoch papers have swung support behind left-wing parties: in federal politics, Keating and Rudd as well as Bob Hawke. News Corp mastheads have backed former premiers Neville Wran and Bob Carr in NSW, Wayne Goss in Queensland, and at times, Steve Bracks in Victoria.

But at times the newspapers have shifted their view and have rallied against political leaders. In 2007, after backing prime minister John Howard for years, The Daily Telegraph splashed with the headline “Sydney walks away from PM”.

The tables also turned on Rudd, who blames his downfall as prime minister on News Corp and the Murdochs. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull also believes he was ousted because he was not “News Corp’s man”.

Politicians certainly think News Corp has influence. Under Hawke and Keating, Murdoch took control of two-thirds of the newspaper industry’s daily circulation. Rudd was so close to Chris Mitchell, editor-in-chief of The Australian, after his election victory that the editor used to sound him out about journalist hires.

Rudd told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age: “My job as Labor leader then was try to maximise our positive coverage.”

Under Turnbull, media ownership laws were relaxed – something that News Corp had lobbied for for decades, and that allowed for a potential takeover of Network Ten (Lachlan Murdoch was a major shareholder until it was bought by ViacomCBS). Despite efforts, Murdoch was unsuccessful and News Corp has not gained much from this change.

There is some merit to Rudd’s concerns. In some instances, News Corp has successfully lobbied the government. A compulsory code being created to make Google and Facebook pay for the use of news content is just one example of an issue News Corp lobbied hard for. But whether it succeeds will be a test of just how influential News Corp is with politicians.

News Corp has also not been successful with changing some federal policy. The one rule that News Corp has wanted removed for years – anti-siphoning (the mandatory requirement for certain sport matches to appear on free-to-air television) – has never been removed. Foxtel, owned by News Corp, wants the laws to be relaxed to allow it to be able to run sports matches exclusively, a move that would gain it subscribers.

Whether News Corp can overthrow a prime minister could also be contested. Newspapers combine news reporting with commentary and analysis and this is often the sticking point among News Corp’s critics. It is also one of the driving reasons behind James Murdoch’s abrupt exit from the board of News Corp’s parent company on July 31.

Wilding says in areas where News Corp owns the only major print newspaper, there is an ability to shape opinion.

“The element that is often overlooked is the influence of the print circulation on the radio sector and the extent to which News Corp publications do drive radio agendas,” Wilding adds. “The fact that there’s so many markets in which there’s only a News Corp local publication means that they have that added reach via commercial radio. Particularly in Adelaide and Brisbane, where there’s only one daily newspaper … the influence of whoever owns that newspaper is enhanced.”

But sometimes, no matter what The Australian or The Daily Telegraph says, they do not affect outcomes. In Queensland and Victoria, Labor leads the state despite critical coverage of their leaders, Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Influence also requires an audience of all ages. Because of the wide range of choice on the internet, younger audiences do not tend to read newspapers in the same way they may have done decades ago.

News Corp critics say owning the majority of Australia’s newspaper industry allows the Murdoch family to push their views out into the world, to mislead the public and ultimately shift perception of politicians and issues. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are successful in their attempts to influence.

It’s more likely that the influence News Corp wields is not from galvanising the public but rather lies with politicians seeking approval or trying to appease editors with policy changes.

Wilding argues it’s hard to measure how much influence News Corp has – but says the influence of media proprietors on public policy is well documented.

“It’s still very much the case that media owners are taken seriously by governments of any political persuasion and decisions on media policy have routinely been made with a view to the potential effects for governments and political parties,” he says.

A piece that appeared in this masthead by academic Rodney Tiffen, who has written extensively about Murdoch, says News Corp gains much of its power from the enthusiasm of politicians who indulge it. Reviewing the evidence, he does have a point.

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Local News - Victoria

the new Netflix documentary turning teens off social media


“It just makes you want to stop and throw your phone in the bin it’s so eye-opening.”

The documentary premiered at Sundance Film Festival early this year but hit Netflix this month and is trending online and among parents who have long worried about the impact social media has on kids’ self-esteem.

In it, many of the co-creators of global platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and others reveal they are so concerned about the harms of social media that they ban or severely restrict their kids’ use.

Social psychologist and New York University professor Jonathan Haidt notes a “gigantic increase” in depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide among pre-teen and teenage children, Gen Z, who have been on social media since mid-primary school.

He says numbers of teenage girls admitted to hospital for self-harm including cutting were stable until around 2011-13, but in the US these have risen 62 per cent for 15-19-year-olds and 189 per cent for pre-teen girls; “that is horrifying”.

“We’ve seen the same pattern with suicide,” he said. In older teen girls it’s up 70 per cent compared with the first decade of this century and “in pre-teen girls, who had very low rates [previously] it’s up 151 per cent and that pattern points to social media.”

Watching the documentary, Catherine Manning, who runs self-esteem workshops for young people, said the revelations about the methods used by social media platforms to get into people’s minds and the statistics around the resulting self harm left her “in tears”.

Catherine Manning, a self-esteem educator, was "in tears" watching the Netflix documentary in which social media's creators outline its harms to young people. Her daughter, Lucinda, has changed her ideas about the platforms after watching it.

Catherine Manning, a self-esteem educator, was “in tears” watching the Netflix documentary in which social media’s creators outline its harms to young people. Her daughter, Lucinda, has changed her ideas about the platforms after watching it.Credit:Jason South

“I was just thinking about how abducted our kids have been and how much it [social media] is already causing them so much pain and anxiety. But at the same time, it is such a great tool for our socialisation,” said Ms Manning, CEO of SEED workshops.

“The statistics presented about the rise in self-harming behaviours and suicide among young people certainly correlate with those around the increase in things like body dysmorphia [a mental health condition in which physical defects are imagined] across the board,” she said.

“The powerful thing for kids to identify is that something they care about so much has no care for them other than as revenue … there is nothing new in this, but it makes it a whole lot more personal.”

Teens including Neisha Biviano, her friend Mia Quinn, also 15, and Ms Manning’s daughter Lucinda, 18, are saying the documentary’s revelations have been so affecting it will influence their real-world relationships with social media.

I was just thinking about how abducted our kids have been and how much it [social media] is already causing them so much pain and anxiety.

Catherine Manning, CEO SEED workshops

Mia Quinn, an aspiring visual artist and photographer, said despite the value platforms such as Instagram offer, especially showing her other young people’s art, after watching The Social Dilemma she immediately told her friendship circle she wanted to delete the app.

“I had just watched The Social Dilemma and said [to my friends] guys let’s all delete Insta and Snapchat, I said ‘Insta isn’t working for me I don’t want to be here anymore, this isn’t right’.

“Then again, I don’t want to leave it and move to a different platform without my friends [who did not want to abandon it entirely].”

She unfollowed large numbers of people, including all “influencers”, and stuck only with those offering creativity.

She said this “confused the algorithm” on Instagram – which guesses what individual users might like and curates personalised streams and targeted ads – and “it now only shows me new people to follow that are mainly art students, and that’s really good”.

“I think the best thing you can do is buy books, unfollow influencers who make their money from social media – they bring more harm than good to everyone – turn your notifications off … and follow more of your hobbies and interests rather than people.”

Ms Biviano says despite the instinct to disconnect, the fact many positive things come into her world via social media means it is worth continuing with. “It has two possibilities: there is a really amazing virtual place that’s filled with acceptance and it can be a lovely creative outlet and inspiring.

“But the other is this breeding zone full of self-destructive energy and hate and this increasing amount of political, polarising views getting thrown up, and also an increasing amount of negative and really toxic, unreachable standards that have been created.”

Julie Inman Gant, eSafety Commissioner, has "lived" The Social Dilemma and believes the will by giant platforms to lead the creation of a safe social medial culture is not there.

Julie Inman Gant, eSafety Commissioner, has “lived” The Social Dilemma and believes the will by giant platforms to lead the creation of a safe social medial culture is not there.Credit:Janie Barrett

The national eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, has insider experience of tech corporation culture and says the will to create a safe environment is not there.

“I worked in the tech industry for more than 20 years and actually lived the Social Dilemma,” she said, “I tried to serve as a ‘constructive safety antagonist’ from within the industry, but it only got me so far because the corporate will and leadership was not there.”

The film particularly illustrates the influence of social media on children who may not yet have developed sufficient critical reasoning skills to stay safe online and combat fake news, she said.

“If the tech giants are building the digital roads they must also be installing the virtual seatbelts and stop signs and policing theses roads to keep users safe.”

Given Facebook has 2.5 billion users and YouTube has 1.5 billion, and algorithms create and recommend content, “the frightening reality is that they [users] could spend this critical early part of their lives only hearing one viewpoint”.

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Melbourne University senior social sciences lecturer Dr Lauren Rosewarne has written two books on social media and says revelations about activities of big tech companies shock users but they generally do not cause widespread user-behavior change.

The impression given in The Social Dilemma that developers were “babes in the woods” who had no idea features they built could become harmful or addictive were “laughable”, but members of the generation that has known no life before social media are equipped with more media literacy than older peers.

“What we need to do culturally is think about how do we become more savvy users and how do we control the tech we use rather than letting it control us,” she said.

Lucinda Manning, 18, said though parents may believe kids did not question the dark arts of social media platforms competing in what the film dubs the “attention extraction” industry, they do and will be even more selective now.

Friends have deleted apps like Facebook and Instagram as they’re very aware of the negative impacts it has on their mental health.

Lucinda Manning, 18

“I do believe my generation is becoming very aware of the impacts social media has on them. I think many parents think young people don’t care and aren’t paying attention but the reality is we are, and we really do care.

“Many people my age are changing the ways they use their devices, including friends of mine who have deleted apps like Facebook and Instagram as they’re very aware of the negative impacts it has on their mental health.

“The documentary definitely encouraged me to think more about the amount of time and effort I put into social media and I believe just watching the documentary is a step towards change.”

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Conor McKenna’s criticism of Melbourne’s AFL media puts its integrity under the spotlight


The now former Essendon footballer Conor McKenna is from what AFL recruiters like to call a “non-traditional football background”.

This is the catchphrase for the diminishing number of players who were not identified by private school scouts playing for their local under-12s, awarded scholarships aimed at promoting lavish sports programs then drafted a few months after skolling their first legal drink.

Those who undergo this process are groomed from an early age to adhere to, and publicly advocate, the expectations that come with their apparently privileged and lucrative position.

This includes a relatively strict behavioural code, the contractual obligation to go to the club that picks them rather than one they might favour and a tacit agreement they will become public property subject to the harsh judgement of fans and the constant scrutiny of the media.

This is why McKenna’s uncomfortable experience in the AFL this season and his strident sentiments upon retirement were significant. Occasionally, it is illuminating to see what we have come to take for granted through the eyes of an outsider.

McKenna, a 24-year-old from County Tyrone, Ireland, grew up playing Gaelic football, which is the subject of obsessive media coverage and ferocious fan debate despite not offering the same substantial wages available in the AFL.

So when McKenna came to Australia he was at least partly prepared for the constant thrumming media noise created by the AFL in the heartland states.

Unlike his “traditional pathway” teammates, however, McKenna did not expect to be subjected to the kind of public vilification that occurred when he had the audacity to record what turned out to be a false negative test for COVID-19 in June.

That McKenna’s test led to the postponement of Essendon’s game against Melbourne saw him portrayed as an almost comic book villain in some sections of the media, particularly after it was revealed he had visited his former host family while in quarantine.

McKenna’s advocates believed there was a strong case this visit was valid on compassionate grounds, given his isolation and homesickness.

But he accepted a one-week ban that allowed the AFL to demonstrate it was taking a tough stance on quarantine infringements to the various states with whom it was negotiating about hubs.

Yet even allowing for what was, at worst, a minor infraction and the ongoing concerns for his health, McKenna was subjected to scathing criticism, constant intrusion and false reporting before, and even after, his negative test was revealed.

‘Why would they change?’

Some more obsessive elements of the AFL media, in the now popular guise of the amateur epidemiologist, literally studied the saliva as it came from his nose at a training session.

This experience clearly left the already homesick McKenna rattled and disillusioned; although his beef was not with the right of the media to report on his case but the lack of integrity by a section of it.

Conor McKenna holds a red AFL ball in both hands
McKenna wants the AFL media to come under greater scrutiny.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

“No matter what job you have in life there are always repercussions, but the way the media works in Melbourne there doesn’t seem to be,” McKenna told ABC reporter and Offsiders panellist Catherine Murphy this week.

“There’s just a free-for-all to say whatever you want. If there are no repercussions, they’ll just continue to do that and treat players like a piece of meat.

“If there are no repercussions, why would they change? I think it’s something that the AFL should look at.”

The idea that the AFL might fine journalists for intrusive, unflattering or even misleading reporting is obviously far-fetched.

As much as some reporters like to consider themselves part of the “football industry”, they work for their media companies, not the game.

Then there is the AFL’s complicity. By seeking to dominate every conceivable date on the sports calendar it has encouraged and even driven the frenzied reporting of the competition without apparent consideration of the less fortunate implications for players.

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McKenna’s playing brethren were also complicit, with North Melbourne’s Luke McDonald mocking the Irishman’s plight by raising his hands over his face as if wearing a mask, a gesture for which he later apologised.

But McKenna’s parting words still make it worth considering how the proliferation of AFL reporting has contributed to the sometimes-punitive coverage of the stars of the show, and the consequences for their wellbeing.

“The reality of it is I had a deadly disease … but people were more worried about the AFL being put off than my actual life,” McKenna told Murphy.

Significant boundaries now exist between athletes and media created by clubs fiercely guarding their “messages”, some outlets adopting a “get it first even if you don’t get it right” approach and the sheer size of the media itself.

The result has been a steady decline in the amount of meaningful personal contact and a subsequent lack of mutual understanding and empathy. The athlete is that “piece of meat” and the media the predator.

This is not to say there is no place for reasoned and even harsh criticism of those athletes who might compromise an entire season by seriously and wilfully breaching COVID-19 protocols — rather than merely by apparently suffering from COVID-19.

But you can’t help feeling McKenna is making a wise decision to return to Ireland, at least for a time, where his performance for County Tyrone will be fiercely debated but not his very motives.



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Conor McKenna criticises treatment by Melbourne AFL media after coronavirus diagnosis


Conor McKenna has called for the AFL to consider penalties for Melbourne media that report in an inaccurate or unethical way after his time in the spotlight after a positive coronavirus test in June.

McKenna said there should be “repercussions” and labelled the behaviour of some sections of the football media “disgraceful”.

The Irishman, who played 79 matches for Essendon, is retiring with immediate effect and returning home after battling homesickness for much of this year.

“No matter what job you have in life there are always repercussions, but the way the media works in Melbourne there doesn’t seem to be,” McKenna said.

“There’s just a free-for-all to say whatever they want.

“If there are no repercussions, they’ll just continue to do that and treat players like a piece of meat.

“If there are no repercussions, why would they change? I think it’s something the AFL should look at.”

McKenna said the urge to be the first one with the story superseded accurate reporting.

“It’s not on and there’s no real consequences for people,” he said.

“They’re willing to say whatever they want so they can be the first person to say it, rather than being right. I definitely think they should be held accountable.”

Nose blowing analysis a baffling affair

McKenna was particularly disturbed by the use of footage of him clearing his nose at training, which some media attempted to medically assess.

“They’re not specialised in that so I don’t understand why they’d speak about that,” he said.

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“Speak about what you know. If you don’t know anything, don’t speak about it.”

The talented defender was surprised by the lack of reporting on his physical condition.

“They put AFL football before me. No matter who it is, they should never be treated like that … one thing I won’t miss about Australia is the majority of the AFL media. I think they’re harsh and negative and don’t take into consideration how people might deal with it.”

McKenna said he feared for the mental health of young players, who sometimes faced intense scrutiny through no fault of their own.

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“It’s OK for me because I don’t care what the majority of the media think about me, but if someone else was in that position it could affect them in a very bad way,” he said.

“The way the media acted for two or three days after [the positive test] was disgraceful.”

A beanie-wearing AFL footballer sits on the ground at training with his hands touching his feet.
McKenna’s COVID-19 diagnosis took the league by storm — and he was stuck in the centre of it.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

The hub didn’t help

The 24-year-old also opened up on his decision to retire and admitted that this year’s season, away from Melbourne, had contributed to his feeling that it was time to go home.

The former Gaelic footballer has always been open about his battle with homesickness, saying the hub made it even worse.

Conor McKenna trains with Essendon Bombers AFL teammates.
McKenna says he felt guilty for taking up a spot in the team when his heart wasn’t in it.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

“When I’m back in Melbourne, I enjoy my football but also my time away from football,” he said.

“I always enjoyed meeting up with Irish friends on a Saturday night, just to give me that feeling of home.”

McKenna first started seriously thinking about ending his AFL career this season about six weeks ago “because I didn’t feel like I wanted to play AFL”.

He tried to motivate himself with a positional change, from defender to forward, but it didn’t work and he eventually took himself out of contention for selection.

“I enjoyed it for a game and then in the second game, I just had no motivation,” McKenna said.

He said he appreciated the support of coaches John Worsfold and Ben Rutten, who did everything they could to support him, including allowing the switch to the forward line.

McKenna spoke to the team’s coaches a few days ago and they all agreed there was no point in McKenna struggling through the rest of the season, especially if he was not going to return in 2021.

What’s next for McKenna?

Despite homesickness bringing an end to his stint in Australia, he is not ruling out a return one day, “in two or three years’ time”.

“I don’t think the book is fully closed, but for now I just want to be home and around friends and family,” he said.

Just like Tadhg Kennelly did with Kerry in 2009 — four years after winning the AFL premiership with the Sydney Swans — McKenna is now eyeing off an All-Ireland title with his native county, Tyrone.

“That’s always been the dream. Hopefully that’s something I can do at some stage,” he said.

“I’ll be going back to my club first. I’ll have to quarantine again, but after that I’ll be back out on the Gaelic pitch and I’ll take it from there.”



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