May 24, 2017 Last Updated 8:25 am

Pressure from family finally gets Fox News to back off; PEs to look at Fairfax Media books next week

Morning Brief: EU ministers approve proposal to force social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to tackle hate speech video content on their platforms

The Seth Rich story is a sad one, and it is even sadder that the media (or, at least Fox News) used it to pump up ratings. But with the fate of his Sky News deal in jeopardy, the owner of 21st Century Fox may have said now is not the time to get involved in another scandal like that which hit the News of the World and led to its shuttering. And so the story will simply go away.

It must drive Sean Hannity crazy that he has been put on a leash. For several days he flogged the Rich story, using it to “prove” that the whole Russia-Trump collusion story is, itself, fake news. But this time, there were people willing to push back. Not just the parents of the slain Rich, but the media itself, that sees that there are simply some things Fox News will not be able to get away with now.

The Washington Post, Mary Rich and Joel Rich:

We’re Seth Rich’s parents. Stop politicizing our son’s murder.

Imagine living in a nightmare that you can never wake up from. Imagine having to face every single day knowing that your son was murdered. Imagine you have no answers — that no one has been brought to justice and there are few clues leading to the killer or killers. Imagine that every single day, with every phone call you hope that it’s the police, calling to tell you that there has been a break in the case.

Imagine that instead, every call that comes in is a reporter asking what you think of a series of lies or conspiracies about the death. That nightmare is what our family goes through every day.

The Washington Post, Dave Weigel:

The life and death of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory

Hannity had invited Dotcom to appear on his show for what he said on Twitter would be a “#GameChanger” interview. The implication: that Dotcom would finally offer evidence of his claim that Rich had sent internal DNC documents to WikiLeaks before his death.

All that began to unravel Tuesday afternoon, when Fox News retracted a story that had claimed the same Rich-WikiLeaks connection, telling readers that the article was “not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.”…

The episode also demonstrated how fake news can be flung from fringe media to the mainstream. A conspiracy theory that began on pro-President Trump message boards — a theory that Rich was actually a mole who wanted to expose corruption at the DNC — was fed by Russian news outlets including RT and Sputnik. The Daily Mail, Fox News’s website and a number of other mainstream outlets with large audiences churned through false information and leading questions, sowing confusion that Rich’s family struggled to combat.

Fox News:

Statement on coverage of Seth Rich murder investigation

On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich. The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.

We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.

Things are likely to quiet down a bit in the Fairfax Media saga. But unlike similar stories of regarding media M&A, this story probably end with an actual closed deal on the Australian publisher. With two American-based private equity companies competing to win the prize it is hard to see that both would walk away.

But then again, if they do, it will be because both looked at the books and didn’t like what they saw.

But I doubt that will happen. PEs make money through fees, selling off assets, and other schemes beyond simply buying low and selling high. I think this is one deal that will come to a successful conclusion.

The Australian Business Review, John Durie:

Fairfax Media to open books to rival bidders TPG and Hellman & Friedman

The due diligence is expected to last at least one month after which final bids, if any, will be considered by the board.

Fairfax Media chair Nick Falloon faces criticism for allowing Domain property classified chief Antony Catalano to remain as an executive after disclosing he had conferred with TPG about the nature of its bid.

Catalano told TPG he would remain at the company and said this was a precondition for TPG pursuing its offer.

Some stories develop over a long period of time and so generally don’t garner front page features while they are happening. One such story is about Europe’s effort to reign in the giant US tech companies that control much of social media, Facebook and Google.

Here in the US, there is much talk about the corrosive effect hate speech and fake news has on the body politic, but other than bad publicity, and the occasional Congressional hearing, not much action can be expected.

But in Europe, they are more comfortable with regulating the media, often attempting actions that ultimately have to be rolled back. I am thinking of the attempt to get Google to pay newspapers for publishing snippets of content within search results. That effort was stopped when Google called the publisher’s bluff by actually withdrawing the content from search results, with the effect that news organizations saw a decrease in their web traffic.

Now the European Union is going after Facebook, Twitter and Google owned YouTube, telling them they need to do more to block certain content.

Reuters, Julia Fioretti:

EU states approve plans to make social media firms tackle hate speech

European Union ministers approved proposals on Tuesday to make social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube tackle videos with hate speech on their platforms. The proposals, which would be the first legislation at EU level on the issue, still need to be agreed with the European Parliament before becoming law.

The Guardian, Julia Powles:

The EU is right to take on Facebook, but mere fines don’t protect us from tech giants

The essential issue is that companies are able to graze on, and observe, our data assets with abandon. Yet this situation is neither natural nor inevitable.

If we are really to change the dynamics of the modern data economy, it is going to take more than just targeted arrows and small-fry fines. The true response to Facebook is to see it as a company that ruthlessly monetises every aspect of our everyday lives…

…For the future to offer anything more than resignation to the power of Facebook and its ilk requires dedicated finance for sustainable, civic-oriented technology, strategies to incentivise growth and for people to vote with their feet. How many lies will it take until we hit that point with Facebook?

Reason, Scott Shackford:

The European Union Wants to Censor Hate Speech on Social Media

In America, civil libertarians frequently have to remind citizens that there’s no “hate speech” exemption to the First Amendment. But our First Amendment doesn’t fly in Europe, and now the European Union (EU) may be about to mandate censorship rules for social media…

…It’s not entirely clear whether Facebook or YouTube will have to censor videos posted by platform users in the United States to remain in compliance with the law. We do know that EU countries like Germany are just itching to levy huge fines—tens of millions of euros—on social media companies that haven’t been quick to suppress hate speech. That kind of pressure would certainly encourage a very broad censorship regime on the part of the companies…

…This will be the EU’s first attempt to adopt this sort of platform censorship. If the European Parliament approves the regulations, don’t be surprised to see more.

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