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Hywood slams ABC over damage to news media

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Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood has criticised the ABC at the Senate inquiry into the future of journalism for using taxpayer funds to push its content ahead of news media companies on social media platforms, such as Google.

Mr Hywood said that the ABC’s spending on search optimisation through Google was damaging the ability of private media organisations to perform.

The ABC currently uses its taxpayer funding to prioritise its content over news media via Google AdWords, which boosts posts with specified keywords. Some of these include “Sydney News”, “Breaking News”, “Political News”, International News”, and “National News”.

This makes it harder for online readers to find news articles from traditional news companies that rely on advertising revenue to support journalism, he said.

Mr Hywood also put blame on online digital publishers, saying: “Aggregators such as Google and Facebook have broken the traditional journalism model on which [media organisations] rely”.

Following his submission, Mr Hywood was asked to justify his earnings to the senate committee, who questioned his salary and bonuses in light of recent $30 million in editorial staff cuts announced this month.

Mr Hywood said that all employees at Fairfax were paid market rates and that discussion of his $1.6 million salary was not instrumental to the inquiry. He also said that recent executive bonuses were in part due to the success of property business Domain

The restructure under which 125 staff members would be made redundant was necessary for the business to move towards a sustainable model. He hoped the latest round of cuts would be the last.

Despite the staff cuts, Mr Hywood assured the inquiry Fairfax’s print products would be around for some time to come. He also refused to comment on the speculation of a buyout.The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance raised the issue of the reduced number of journalistic voices, calculating that since 2011, 700 journalists had lost their jobs. This number did not include those who willingly left and were not replaced. The union suggested that government support through tax relief or subsidies was one way to ensure a healthy media landscape.

Mr Hywood criticised this suggestion, indicating that government subsidies could lessen a publisher’s independence

The inquiry, chaired by Labor’s Sam Dastyari, was announced last week to examine the current media environment, including fake news, the rise of clickbait and impact of Facebook and Google on established masthead revenues.

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