News Corp and PM ‘defrauding the taxpayer’ claim is fake news

AAP FactCheck January 22, 2021

The Statement

A Facebook post claims the federal government “defrauded the taxpayer” by giving Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation $50 million to maintain its local and regional newspapers before the company shuttered them.

The post from January 10, shared by the page Truth and Lies and other Liberal Promises, features a screenshot of another post with the headline, “Common Sense Daily – Morrison’s $50 million handout to Murdoch”.

The image features images of News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with speech bubbles. The text reads, Murdoch: “$50 million. NOW. I’ll keep you in govt!”, Morrison: “Yes Boss.” At the bottom are the words, “Defrauding the Taxpayer!”.

Underneath the photos, the post explains how both parties supposedly “got away with rorting your money”.

“Step 1: At Murdoch behest, Morrison creates $50 M fund under pretend purpose of ‘maintaining regional newspapers’. Step 2: Morrison gov gives it to Murdoch supposedly for this purpose. Step 3: Murdoch closes down 112 regional papers, deeming them not profitable & influential enough, and keeps the money!”

At the time of writing, the post had garnered more than 10,000 views, as well as over 210 shares and 250 reactions.

A Facebook post
┬áA Facebook post claims the federal government “defrauded the taxpayer” by giving News Corp $50m.┬á

The Analysis

The federal government did not give News Corp $50 million to “maintain” its newspapers, with the company neither applying for nor being granted any funding from a scheme of that size set up to support regional newsrooms.

News Corp also did not “close” 112 regional newspapers altogether; 36 of its titles were axed, while 76 others became purely online publications.

The Australian government announced in March 2020 a Public Interest News Gathering (PING) fund to support rural and regional news organisations experiencing disruptions and hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Public Interest Journalism Initiative’s Australian Newsroom Mapping Project (ANMP), more than 150 newsrooms shut down between January 2019 and May 2020. Many of these were in regional areas.

The government’s PING program, worth $50 million, provided funding to support “the continued production of high quality news in regional and remote areas of Australia”.

Many major news organisations were granted funding under the program, including Southern Cross Austereo ($10.2 million) and WIN Corporation ($4.4 million), while Australian Associated Press (AAP) received a grant worth $5 million, increasing the fund’s total pool to $55 million.

Neither News Corp nor its regional subsidiaries appear in the list of grant recipients.

News Corp Australia corporate affairs executive Campbell Reid told AAP FactCheck via email that the company did not lobby the government for regional news grants in 2020, and it had not received any related government funding for its local and regional news operations.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications confirmed that News Corp did not apply for any funding under the PING program, nor was it among the 107 regional publishers and broadcasters awarded grants.

An earlier government scheme, the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund (RSPIF) started in 2018 as part of the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package. It provides up to $16 million in grants over three years to regional publishers.

In the RSPIF’s most recent round of grants in 2020, 43 applicants secured funding. News Corp was not among the recipients, nor did it feature in the 2018 and 2019 funding rounds.

News Corp Australia announced in May 2020 it was ending print editions for 112 regional and local news titles. A total of 36 publications were closed, while 76 others became digital-only titles.

News Corp Australia's Holt Street headquarters in Sydney.
News Corp did not lobby the government for regional news funding in 2020, AAP FactCheck was told. 

The Verdict

News Corp did not receive a $50 million grant from the federal government to maintain 112 regional news titles before closing them.

The company did not apply for or receive any funding under a program of the same size, nor did it receive funding under an earlier scheme to support regional publishers. It also did not close down 112 newspapers; 36 local and regional titles were shut, while another 76 became digital-only.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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