Kevin Rudd (former Australian Prime Minister) in Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 2020, where the title runs “Murdoch’s sway on politics warrants royal commission” …..https://www.smh.com.au/national/murdoch-s-sway-on-politics-warrants-royal-commission-20201016-p565wc.html
Living in Australia, many now habitually think our national media landscape is normal. It isn’t. No other Western democracy has the level of print media monopoly that Rupert Murdoch has secured for himself in Australia.
A single American billionaire has now seized control of almost 70 per cent of daily newspaper circulation. In my state of Queensland, which determines most federal elections, this monopoly is almost 100 per cent with every newspaper from Cairns to Coolangatta and Australia’s only commercial 24-hour ‘news’ channel.
But Murdoch is not just any old businessman. He’s not just interested in money but also in political power and far-right ideology. For Murdoch, it’s long been his triple-aphrodisiac. And the habits of a lifetime lead him to destroy anybody who gets in his way. That’s why people are frightened of him.
Where would Murdoch like to take Australia? Look no further than Fox News in America, which remains the epicentre of the Trump phenomenon, polluting Americans’ minds with bullshit narratives about widespread voter fraud, climate hoaxes and other wild conspiracies. This parallel-universe model is now unfolding in the pages of his Australian newspapers and on Sky News.
Even Rupert’s previous heir-apparent, James Murdoch, has called out his father’s empire for its hidden agendas, legitimising disinformation and wilfully sowing doubt to obscure facts in public debate. Yet despite this bombshell, not a word of it has been published in Murdoch’s publications. Such brutal censorship of politically embarrassing news is something we’d expect of a one-party state, not a vibrant democracy. Yet in Australia we just brush this off as “normal”, such is the slippery slope we’re on.
Murdoch’s Australian newspapers – including The Australian, Daily Telegraph, Herald-Sun and Courier-Mail – have all been weaponised to protect Murdoch’s commercial and political interests. Politicians, businesspeople and others know that if they cross Murdoch, they will be destroyed. They’ve seen it happen so many times that they’ve lost count. This well-resourced protection racket will also defend politicians who advance his objectives. Exiled News Corp journalists speak openly about their articles being suppressed or re-written.Play Video
James Murdoch has resigned from the board of his family’s company News Corp over “editorial disagreements”.
Over the last decade, News Corp has ceased to be a news organisation. It functions as a political party in coalition with the Liberals and Nationals. It is the government’s primary communications arm. Murdoch dailies have campaigned for the Coalition at every single federal and state election for the last decade – 18 out of 18 elections – and are now onto their 19th in Queensland. News Corp’s executive chairman holds an effective veto over who can, and who cannot, lead the Liberal Party. Look no further than the Turnbull saga and Murdoch’s notorious interventions at the height of the Liberal leadership crisis in 2018.
Some claim News Corp’s power is waning amid the rise of online news. However this is a scam. Despite others’ best efforts, Murdoch’s newspapers continue to set the agenda, the framing of stories and the questions to be asked by the rest of the media – including the ABC and evening TV news. Legitimate news organisations struggle amid collapsing business models and new platforms – like Facebook, Google and Twitter – that reward the most sensational, polarising or outright false news. Yet, despite losing money, Murdoch uses his empire’s enormous wealth to keep these newspapers running and therefore maintain political and commercial influence.
A free, independent and balanced national media is the essential infrastructure of democracy. And that infrastructure is now under threat. That’s why a royal commission, with full powers and independence, is needed to examine our entire media landscape, weigh alternative regulatory models and make recommendations to ensure a strong, diverse news media for the future. There is no parliamentary committee capable of doing this systemic, arms-length analysis; they are too close to the problem and too vulnerable to Murdoch’s power. In less than a week, 300,000 Australians have added their voice to the official parliamentary petition I launched calling for such a commission.
In fact, Parliament House tells us the petition was visited almost a million times in the first few days, crashing the website. It’s impossible to know how many Australians were unable to sign, or mistakenly believe their signature has been registered. I encourage them to try again before the the petition closes at midnight on November 4.
This commission is not all about News Corporation. Many Australians are concerned by Nine’s takeover of this newspaper and its subsequent decision – with Murdoch – to cease funding the independent AAP Newswire, jeopardising its future. Worrying new monopolies are emerging online, including Google and Facebook. The ABC is also under attack. And professional journalists have legitimate concerns including about unjust searches, official secrecy and freedom of information that should all be addressed.
Some have attacked my motives for launching this petition. Sour grapes is the usual complaint. My answer is: no, the problem is that Murdoch’s bias has only increased since I left office and has now reached industrial scale.
They cry hypocrisy, noting that I sought Murdoch’s support in 2007. You betcha. If you were the Labor leader, you’d try to reduce the level of bias as well – even from 75-25 for the conservatives to something approaching balance – although the record shows Murdoch’s papers did everything they could over 2007 to destroy my leadership with one confected scandal after another.
Then there’s academic Rod Tiffen who, in a Herald opinion piece last Tuesday, attacked my role in the Gillard government’s decision to invite News Corp to tender to provide Australia’s international broadcaster. In fact, I never suggested putting Australia Network to tender. I first learned of it when the then-PM told me in September 2010 that she had already promised News Corp a shot at the 10-year, $233 million con
I recused myself from any involvement in the process and handed it to the head of my department, Dennis Richardson, and a panel of officials selected by him, to assess the tenders before cabinet would make the final call (I again recused myself). Personally, as a lifelong supporter of the ABC, I would have preferred we allocate the contract to the national broadcaster, as ultimately happened. Turnbull’s subsequent abolition of Australia Network wrought havoc with the ABC budget and ceded our diplomatic clout in the Asia-Pacific to China – all to the clinking of champagne flutes at News Corp.
The bottom line is: it’s time for the people to have their voice through this petition to Parliament. Otherwise this giant cancer on our democracy, the Murdoch media monopoly, will suffocate the democracy itself.
Kevin Rudd is a former Labor prime minister of Australia.