It’s grim down under – Australia, Murdoch and political control
By Media Reform Coalition / Friday June 13, 2014
by Granville Williams. ‘Big Media & Internet Titans’ is available from www.cpbf.org.uk
A report in the Brisbane Times, 12 June 2014, revealed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his chief-of-staff, Peta Credlin, spent more than 2½ hours at Mr Murdoch’s apartment near Central Park in New York on Tuesday evening, 10 June.We think we have problems with media ownership in the UK. Here Rupert Murdoch’s News UK market share in newspapers is 34 per cent but in Australia his newspaper titles account for 59% of all sales of daily newspapers, with sales of 17.3 million papers per week, making him the most influential newspaper publisher by a considerable margin. His closest rival, Fairfax Media has 22 per cent.And the record shows that Rupert Murdoch has not been averse in using his media power for political ends, most recently in the Australian election of September 2013 which saw Kevin Rudd’s Labour government routed by Tony Abbot, leader of the right-wing Liberal-National party. On 7 September Murdoch tweeted “Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy. Others nations to follow in time”.
Murdoch’s Australian papers launched a campaign against the Labor government which was reminiscent of the infamous attacks on Neil Kinnock and Labour in the1992 UK general election. The Sun had the Labour leader’s head in a lightbulb and the headline ‘If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain turn out the light’.Rupert Murdoch’s support comes at a price. David Cameron knew that when Murdoch slipped through the back entrance to No 10 after the election in May 2010 and soon after the bid by News Corporation to take full control of the 61 per cent of BSkyB it didn’t own was announced.In spite of massive public opposition Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt swept aside Ofcom’s advice to refer the bid to the Competition Commission for a full investigation and instead spent months in an unseemly process of secret negotiations with News Corporation to stitch-up a cynical deal which would allow the takeover to proceed. Only the phone-hacking scandal prevented Murdoch securing media dominance in the UK.
Something nasty is happening in Australia now, and again we can detect the hand of Murdoch behind it. The Abbott government is considering scrapping media ownership laws, including the law which prevents owners from controlling a newspaper, television station and radio station in the same market and Rupert Murdoch would be a beneficiary able to extend even further his media dominance in Australia. In a speech to a dinner held by the free market Institute of Public Affairs last year, Mr Abbott praised Mr Murdoch as one of three Australians who have “most shaped the world”. Mr Abbott said of Mr Murdoch: “His publications have borne his ideals but never his fingerprints. They have been sceptical, stoical, curious, adventurous, opinionated but broad-minded. He’s influenced them, but he’s never dictated to them.” Such a view about the benign influence of Rupert Murdoch’s over his newspapers is breathtakingly bizarre, and flies in the face of reams of evidence to the contrary. Rupert Murdoch’ global media group projects his worldview. A particularly frightening example of the depth of Murdoch’s influence on world politics was his role in setting the stage for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The rapturous support of the Murdoch press for the Iraq war immediately prior to the invasion has been well documented. All of his 175 newspapers supported the war.
In late July 2013 Col Allan, the editor-in-chief of Rupert Murdoch’s favourite tabloid, the New York Post, was sent home to Australia on a two- to three-month assignment. Allan arrived in Australia on 29 July, a week before the announcement of the date of the 2013 federal election. Almost instantly, News Corp’s three most influential Australian tabloids – the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the Melbourne Herald Sun and the Brisbane Courier-Mail – began attacking Kevin Rudd. Coincidence or Murdoch’s influence?Murdoch has a clear political vision. He champions anti-statist neoliberal capitalism. He is vehemently opposed to trade union influence and regards himself as locked in a battle against established liberal elites.
Murdoch epitomises the corrosive influence of media power on journalism and politics. An excellent article by Robert Manne in the Australian magazine The Monthly, November 2013, analysed Murdoch’s use of media power in Australian politics. It ends with a quote that the Age issued in its January 1987 editorial, warning about the malign influence of Murdoch’s media power: “The effective control of the media is the first step on the road to controlling the values and future direction of our society.” That’s why I argue in Big Media & Internet Titans that we have to put the issue of media ownership reform firmly on the UK political agenda in the run-up to the 2015 UK general election. I also urge people to give the maximum support to the www.mediainitiative.org.uk in the final stages of its crucial work.