Pay The Bully? Townsville paper hits peak nasty as Rupert Murdoch demands bail-out

by | Feb 16, 2021 | Business

Hiding behind a pay wall and in hoc to its advertisers, The Bully, The Townsville Bulletin, is a law unto itself in Queensland as its owners demand subsidies from the Government. Should we pay? asks Kim Wingerei? Meanwhile, Seven Network gets the first forced payment from Google for its “journalism”.

​A young woman killed in a car crash is above all a tragedy for her, her family and her friends. But when the crash is allegedly caused by a vigilante chasing a car thief, it becomes front-page news for the tabloids. For days on end.

The Townsville BulletinThis is what happened in Townsville on February 5th, as a 22-year old woman was riding her motorbike and was hit by the vigilante’s car. Not only did The Townsville Bulletin splash the story over the one quarter of the front-page usually reserved for actual news, but the newspaper continued to milk it for all it was worth, feeding the oft-repeated narrative that Queensland politicians are “soft on crime”.

Last year, four Indigenous youths lost their lives in a stolen car being driven at excessive speed after it hit a signpost, launched into the air, and crashed into the top part of a traffic light. Another series of front-page stories in “the Bully” ensued.

News Corp-owned The Townsville Bulletin is the only local newspaper available to the residents of Townsville. It’s published Monday to Saturday and most Townsville people buy the paper at their local stores. With a week-day circulation of 84,000 in a town with a population of 195,000 (2020), plus 20,000 daily visits to the website, most people of reading age will read at least some of the headlines every day.

With its obvious political bias that favours the LNP, the newspaper seized on the tragedy to further attack the Labor Party and its alleged inaction on juvenile crime in the town.

The Townsville Bulletin also uses Facebook to advertise their stories to attract traffic (for free) to their digital editions. All stories, including those that may be of benefit in relation to safety of the community, are behind the paper’s pay wall.

As one Townsville resident said to Michael West Media:

“Yes, I agree that The Townsville Bulletin is not a charity, they are a business. However, being the only newspaper in the region, they should be subject to moral responsibility as well as the responsibility to provide impartial news and editorial, because of their dominant position.

“These deaths are the result of inaction and lack of accountability of politicians by the Bulletin, who refuse to change their ways.

“Furthermore, as they utilise Facebook not only to market their digital platform, but also to cause further division, anger, hate and vigilantism, they are responsible for the chain of events that have led to the death of this innocent woman. And for every single item relating to this young woman’s death, you are required to (be a subscriber) to read the article.”

The Townsville Bulletin claims they moderate comments on their Facebook page. But there is little evidence of that as anger, accusations and threats are posted with abandon.

This is also another example of the folly of the Digital Media Code which may soon become law, potentially forcing Facebook to pay publishers like The Townsville Bulletin for content they post for free to drive subscriptions and eyeballs to their advertisers.

Google & Facebook laws just a back rub for News and Nine

Not only do the people of Townsville have just one source of local news, they have to pay for it in a newspaper peppered with advertisers who also seem to thrive on the old adage that bad news sells. Otherwise Harvey Norman for one would not be so prominently displayed.

But go to the classifieds section online and it is a different story. Or rather no story at all; my search for a plumber in Townsville rendered not a single result. The rivers of gold that these papers could once rely on have run dry.

There are many towns like this in Australia. The lucky ones may still have an independent publisher still running a paper and a website on a shoestring budget and the passions and perseverance of their owner. But most are like Townsville. With a single paper owned either by News Corp or by Antony Catalano’s Australian Community Media.

This is an area of much greater concern for the protection of media diversity and quality journalism than what goes on in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. This is a level of media concentration that the ACCC should be concerned with; not whether Facebook and Google should share crumbs of their revenues with the old, but still so dominant, mainstream media.

And when such media concentration leads to the exploitation of the death of a young woman purely for commercial gain, we should all be concerned.


Kim Wingerei

Kim Wingerei

Kim Wingerei is a businessman turned writer and commentator. He is passionate about free speech, human rights, democracy and the politics of change. Originally from Norway, Kim has lived in Australia for 30 years. Author of ‘Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change’. 


  1. Avatar

    Last night I watched both currently available episodes of ‘The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty’ –

    fascinating and revealing – quoting Paul Keating as telling someone that Rupert was a ‘hard bastard’ whose priorities were 1. Rupert, 2. Rupert, 3. Rupert.

    I liked the quote this morning – ‘“Murdoch will say anything and do anything to win regulatory approval, and then do the reverse in practice,” Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia’ –

    And I saw this as a holder of NewsCorpse shares for over 25 years – so have watched fairly closely the machinations and twists and turns into Fox Fake News and then Disney WTF – I farquinate it and feel dirty everytime I think about it [shudder]

  2. Avatar

    Good, most people in cities have no idea of how hollowed out, consolidated or even disappeared, regional media including the ABC, has become via salami tactics and economic challenges over a generation allowing Australia to have a media landscape comparable with Russia, Turkey and Hungary…. slow NBN internet, talking about supporting independent journalism and campaigning against BigTech; like fossil fuels and global warming simply delaying tactics…..

    Further, how news is presented in such a biased way in Australia when a victory over Google/Facebook has been claimed for NewsCorp, 9F and 7West; with media interests being catered to by the LNP also making much noise.

    However, the ambit claims that started were talking $billion+ yet for all intents and purposes it’s a victory for Google as not only has it promoted its new product roll out globally (announced in 2020) i.e. Google News Showcase, Australian media are falling into line and accepting far lower levels of compensation to participate; spinnning it otherwise.

    While we have legacy ‘media’ which defunded itself years ago by selling off classifieds and now fishing for subsidies (while promoting libertarian economic ideology including smaller government, lower taxes etc.), its influence will fade into the sunset…. it will be good to see more promotion and/or inclusion of independent/smaller media outlets’ content via Google and Facebook.

    Why the latter? Many people now complain that between the legacy print media outlets online, there is nothing of interest or quality to bother clicking through i.e. too much political , corporate and sociocultural agit prop embedded in opinion and commentary from contributors with axes to grind…..

  3. Avatar

    What I find funny is how utterly dumb the likes of Murdoch must be. They had masses of finance and a front row seat and insider knowledge to the changing media landscape and they still get blindsided. The irony is that if Murdoch hadn’t used graft and corruption to get where he is he’d have been broke and forced out of the market years ago. Just goes to show the right sort of crime does pay! I mean, who’d be idiot enough to buy Myspace ha haahahaa…

  4. Avatar

    If you only ever eat junk food, you become sick. Most media in Australia is the written equivalent of junk food. If you eat out of the rubbish bins out the back of a junk food shop you will soon pick-up a botulism. The Townsville Bulletin is the equivalent of the rubbish in a junk food bin. The Townsville Bulletin is a daily pamphlet for Hervey Norman and the LNP, with a few “txt the editor” rants and something about the NQ Cowboys NRL team. Yet these local fools consume it daily, as though it’s a eucharist.

  5. Avatar

    The WHOLE of South Australia is beholden to Uncle Rupert. What is this thing called choice and why are we always left out?

  6. Avatar

    I am crying with joy right now, thankyou for calling this horrible paper out! keep doing it! I live in Townsville and I hate this paper, it really drags our city down and never seems to promote any of the daily good that goes on and I think the real change for the worse happened when editor was changed, the editor moved from Bundaberg and the Bundaberg Newsmail had become just like the Townsville Bulletin so much so the Bundaberg Council developed its own news publication called Bundaberg Now. It promotes only positive aspects of the Bundaberg region to act as a dilution to the constant vitriol the News Mail vomited on a daily basis, Bundabergs Drug Crisis, Hoon Crisis, Crime Crisis, Joblessness Crisis… note the similarity in headlines and the ones the Bulletin has started vomiting in recent years? It is embarassing and I refuse to have anything to do with them, they have been bleating to former subscribers in emails today really complaining about the ban and trying to get people to go to their Twitter page, time for Twitter to fuck them off too.

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