TOM PULLAR-STRECKER/FAIRFAX NZ
Sky Television has accused the news media of bias, suggesting media companies had been influenced by the legal action Sky is taking against them.
The accusation was rejected by Fairfax NZ.
Sky TV boss John Fellet said in commentary accompanying its annual result that media companies had spent “a lot of effort running every negative story they could find” about Sky.
Fellet linked that to Sky’s decision to prosecute Fairfax Media, MediaWorks, NZME and Television New Zealand over their use of Sky Sports clips on their websites, which Fellet described as “a subtle form of piracy”.
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Sky launched High Court action against the four firms in March, after last year failing to secure an interim injunction against Fairfax Media over its use of clips from the Olympics with Justice John Fogarty saying the issues were too complex to be decided at a short hearing.
The media companies have maintained the use of Sky Sports clips in their reports is allowed under a “fair use” provision of the Copyright Act which allows an exception to copyright protection for the purposes of news reporting.
The legislation does not spell out in any detail where the line between legitimate news reporting and illegal infringement might be, and the court action has been regarded as a test case that could provide guidance.
Fellet said the decision to take legal action over what Sky regarded as the “exploitation” of its rights was not easy.
“The American humourist Mark Twain once said ‘never pick a fight with people who buy their ink by the barrel’. I certainly understand this quote now more than ever,” Fellet said.
“The media companies in question have spent a lot of effort running every negative article they can find about Sky, some of which sadly are justified, but many are not.”
He invited investors bear that in mind “the next time you read an article or opinion piece that appears to have a strong bias against Sky”.
Sinead Boucher, the newly-appointed chief executive of Fairfax NZ – which publishes and is being renamed as Stuff – rejected the accusation of bias.
“One thing we should all have learned in the last few months is that labelling something fake news might be a distraction technique but doesn’t make something true,” she said.
“We and other news businesses in this country act with integrity, a high ethical standard and within the law,” she said.
TVNZ spokeswoman Emma-Kate Greer said it had as much interest as Sky in fighting piracy and it was incorrect to call news coverage piracy.
“TVNZ’s use of sports footage is well within the definition of fair dealing under the Copyright Act and what we provide in news bulletins could not reasonably be viewed as an alternative for Sky subscribers,” she said.
“It appears that John Fellet’s accusations of editorial bias were directed at ‘the newspaper industry’. We have not received any complaints from Sky relating to bias, she said.
MediaWorks and NZME have also been contacted for comment.
Sky expected its dispute with the media firms to go to trial next year.