News’ Williams rounds on AFR allegations

Kim Williams, the former CEO of Foxtel, has added to the robust rebuttals of allegations in various publications worldwide that companies associated with News Corporation were involved in piracy, undermining pay-TV industry competitors.

Writing to The Australian Financial Review, which made the allegations March 28, Williams describes the coverage as “shameful” and calls on the publication to “put up or shut up”.

Williams, now CEO of News Limited, says: “Your recent coverage of NDS, News Corp and News Ltd is nothing more than an exercise in tar and feathering. Falsehoods, fanciful conclusions and seriously misconstrued evidence characterise your vast stories. These have run over five days and across more than 20 pages of newsprint.

Your central allegation concerning Australia is: News Corp via its subsidiary NDS facilitated piracy to suppress the share price of competitors such as Austar so that Foxtel, which is partly owned by News Ltd, could more easily acquire Austar.

Moreover you have alleged, through manipulated and often misunderstood stolen communications, that NDS systematically aimed to promote piracy to ensure its products were purchased by subscription television companies.

The allegations are false. Your articles make no case at all.

I was chief executive officer of Foxtel for 10 years. During that time Foxtel ran continual investigations into piracy, mounted a multimillion-dollar court case against pirates and argued strongly for policy reform to combat piracy (as it still does regularly). We also ran repeated traps to catch pirates and did a full smartcard changeover to Irdeto (not NDS) satellite cards to address serious systemic weakness caused by real pirates back in 2003 in preparation for our launch of a fully digital platform in 2004.

In all of these anti-piracy actions I did not see a single shred of evidence to support your allegations. Not one shred.

It matters as the reputational damage and the stench you have sought to create is severe in the extreme. No doubt from your public utterances, and those of your writers, that is a dedicated editorial intention. One can draw no other conclusion.

The CEO of Austar, John Porter, and the former CEO of Optus TV, Mike Lattin, who ran the companies that were the supposed targets of NDS activities, have also publicly confirmed they saw no evidence to support The Australian Financial Review’s allegations. None.

Your allegation that News Corp was involved in seeking to damage Austar so Foxtel could acquire it now, or at any time in the past, is also utterly false and is something you should in any sense of decency retract.

I was the News Ltd appointed CEO of Foxtel. I was intimately involved in planning and executing all bids to acquire Austar, including the current bid, which Austar shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of on Friday. During each of these bids, and all the associated forensic due diligence, I saw no evidence whatsoever to support the Financial Review’s allegations.

You yourself conceded that the proposition, as it relates to the current bid, is ‘laughable’ (Financial Review, March 29). Yet you continue to allow your journalists to peddle the same falsehoods. Both Angus Grigg’s and Tony Walker’s columns in the Weekend Financial Review repeat the falsehood.

For instance, Mr Walker claims News Corp’s activities weakened competitors to the point they ‘became fodder for predators’ such as, he clearly implies, Austar. That is untrue and nothing you have published supports it. In my opinion it is shameful stuff and is not borne out in the tens of thousands of words with any substantial evidence at all. Not once.

Moreover your writers suggest in the Weekend Financial Review that in some way piracy is in the past tense. Nothing could be further from the truth. Piracy is a scourge in modern media and intellectual property life and no more so than with video material. Over 60 per cent of video consumption in Australia is of pirated material and Foxtel, Austar, Optus, NDS and Irdeto are vigilant and combative in confronting it every day in partnership with the broader IP-based industry players in Australia. And it costs many millions every year.

You do us all a serious disservice in this type of journalism which is nothing else other than a conspiracy theory in search of a story with innuendo, sly references and unrelated pieces of information being cobbled together as if there is some dastardly bad behaviour lurking within it all. There is dastardly behaviour and it is from the pirates. It is not from News Corp, News Ltd nor from NDS.

If the Financial Review has any real evidence of wrongdoing, you should put your money where your mouth is and take your allegations to the Australian Federal Police. Enough reputational damage on the altar of journalistic prejudice has been undertaken without evidentiary substance. Enough. It is time for you to put up or shut up.”

While CEO at Foxtel, Williams won court cases against encryption violations, and worked on an encryption code of conduct, which is still on-going

Foxtel is currently in the process of acquiring Austar in a A$1.9 billion deal, subject to regulatory approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Austar shareholders voted March 30 to approve the deal.

 

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