JULIA GILLARD has blamed the Arab Spring, not her government's feud with News Ltd, for the last-minute decision to change the tender guidelines for the $223 million Australia Network television contract. With the new contract scheduled to take effect next month, federal cabinet shifted the goal posts a fortnight ago, delaying the process by six months and asking the successful tenderer to say how it would meet Australia's national interest in light of rapidly changing world events. The Australia Network service, which has been provided by the ABC, broadcasts news and drama into 44 Asian and Pacific nations. When the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, called for tenders in November last year for a 10-year contract, Sky News, which is part-owned by News Ltd, put together a bid to rival the ABC. The Herald reported yesterday that a four-member panel of public servants - one each from Treasury, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Communications - was leaning towards the Sky bid. The Gillard government has had a hostile relationship with News Ltd, which also publishes The Australian and the Daily Telegraph, believing it has been the subject of unfair coverage. Recently, the Communications Minster, Stephen Conroy, made the unprecedented move of emailing to rival news outlets, including the Herald, questions sent to him by News Ltd journalists on such topics as the national broadband network and free set-top boxes for pensioners. At the same time cabinet changed the guidelines for the Australia Network tender, Mr Rudd, who was to have sole discretion on picking the winner, was removed from the process and replaced by Senator Conroy. The final decision will now be taken by the whole cabinet. The new guidelines asked the bidders to take into account the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa and the increasing influence of key emerging markets on the global economy, such areas in which the ABC is already well resourced. Ms Gillard stood by the process yesterday and sidestepped when asked whether she felt News Ltd treated her government fairly. ''My only view as Prime Minister is that news reports should be accurate and they should be balanced,'' she said. Ms Gillard said the Arab uprisings, and the increased demand on Australian missions abroad to get information to Australians in difficult circumstances, were the reasons for the change. ''We are talking about the voice of Australia to the world. It pays to do it comprehensively and carefully, and we are,'' she said.