Politics

Experts support push for Royal Commission into Murdoch media

A petition launched by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, calling for a Royal Commission into the diversity of Australian news media, has racked up more than 117,000 signatures. Experts say reform is necessary to address the severe concentration of media ownership in Australia.

By Eden Gillespie

Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp. Source: AAP

Mr Rudd shared the petition over the weekend, requesting a Royal Commission into the “abuse of media monopoly in Australia” by the Murdoch press — which he dubbed an “arrogant cancer on our democracy”. 

“70 per cent of our print readership is owned by Murdoch,” Mr Rudd said in a video posted to Twitter.

“In my state of Queensland, which swings so many federal election outcomes, Murdoch owns virtually each and every one of the newspapers up here,” he continued.

Mr Rudd said that in the past 18 state and federal elections, “Murdoch has viciously campaigned in support of one side of politics: the Liberal National Party.”

In the video he claimed Rupert Murdoch keeps “loss-making” papers in order to “maximise his political power in the country in defence of his ideological interests like climate change denial.”

Mr Rudd has a historic feud with News Corp that dates back to when he was Prime Minister.

In 2013, The Daily Telegraph published a photo of Kevin Rudd on the front-page next to words reading “kick this mob out”. 

Another front page by The Sunday Telegraph in the same year featured a photo of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott — who was Opposition Leader at the time — in front of an Australian flag, with the headline “Australia needs Tony”.murdoch

Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper. Image; Getty

Why is it necessary to hold a Royal Commission?

Dr David McKnight, an Associate Professor at the University of NSW, believes that for decades the Murdoch press has been a “political force” as much as it has been a medium.

“It’s really hardly worth discussing that he’s capable of turning his media empire against Labor,” Dr McKnight said.

“If you trace Rupert Murdoch’s career and these moves, they are as much about gaining influence as they are making money. A lot of people get it wrong and they think he’s only interested in profit,” he told The Feed.

Dr Timothy Dwyer, an Associate Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney, says Nine and News Corp own the majority of news publications in Australia. He believes Australians deserve access to a diverse range of viewpoints.

“The initiative by ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is very welcome and it makes a lot of sense because it’s probably one of the few ways that an in-depth independent judicial inquiry into media reform can take place,” he said.

Dr Dwyer believes News Corp’s “campaign” against Labor governments and politicians has continued this year, with its papers labelling Victorian Premier Dan Andrews “Dictator Dan”.

News Corp paper Sunshine Coast Daily recently printed an image placing Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in the crosshairs of a rifle with the words “Anna, you’re next”.

“It’s just the latest example of News Corp attempting to destabilise and have regime change. He attempts to remove politicians he doesn’t like and who aren’t helpful for his business aspirations,” Dr Dwyer said.

What would the Royal Commission look at?

There are several areas where media reform could occur, according to Dr Dwyer.

He believes that a public interest test should be implemented before two publications merge to assess whether the joining of two companies would benefit Australians.

Dr Dwyer says the Royal Commission could also recommend “new laws to prevent further media concentration and regular reviews into the media landscape as people’s consumption of media changes.” 

While Dr McKnight says if a Royal Commission were to take place it should be about “how people get their news in a broader sense” and include an inquiry into Facebook’s conflict with media platforms.

“It should address how all citizens in Australia could get easier and free access to unbiased news and look at the way SBS and ABC have been affected by cuts in the last few years,” he said.

Would it change anything?

Dr Dwyer told The Feed that Australian governments have historically been reluctant to introduce real reform when it comes to media ownership and concentration.

He believes this is because of the fear of retribution from the Murdoch empire.

“Unfortunately, history shows that in Australia and elsewhere, politicians are very reluctant to introduce media laws which would threaten their own existence,” he told The Feed.

For this reason, he says it’s “extremely unlikely” that politicians would be “brave enough” to implement Royal Commission recommendations.

“It’s not surprising that Mr Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, is saying it’s not a Labor Party policy because that’s the last thing the party needs, ahead of a federal election next year, is to have the most powerful media group offside,” Dr Dwyer said.

“It’s a very pragmatic response but also very disappointing that the Labor Party isn’t wanting to progress media reform,” he said.

“That’s the problem: politicians are too close to it.”


First published at SBS Online – Monday 12 October 2020. See; https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/long-time-coming-experts-support-push-for-royal-commission-into-murdoch-media

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An earlier CCO story on criticism of News Ltd’s coverage of climate science by James Murdoch can be found here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/?p=33617

One Comment

  1. 40cmPedestalFan

    This is fascinating.

    A Royal Commission into Murdoch’s influence, which is what it boils down to, is a Royal Commission into the human psyche. Bring it on.

    He poses an incredible dilemma. At one end of the spectrum you can say that as a media proprietor he has no right to turn news into a force that determines an election, at the other end you can say that s his newspapers merely reflect the existing will of the people, the view Murdoch himself holds.

    Over it all is the strange question of what actually is news. Two people seeing one thing respond to it, see it, in different ways. It’s too much of a burden on our Editor to go into length here, on that one. Essentially it’s a matter of perspective. (But what precisely is that?)

    Our minds are not that easy to know or even trust. They deceive us minute by minute. It’s how we maintain what we call ‘sanity’ and aren’t overloaded with information.

    Murdoch extracts from the mass mind an easy to read, shocking, relevent element, without the burden of having to think very much, and gives it back to the public for a couple of dollars.

    So who is to say that he shouldn’t do it? Where do you set the bar? If you set the bar a few notches higher so newspapers don’t produce the headlines Murdoch’s editors choose, those same elements of society don’t go away. There’s an argument that such stuff should be published, such views should be allowed, so we can get them out in the open to deal with them. Underground, they’re more dangerous.

    The problem then isn’t Murdoch himself, but failures by government to, in the least, ensure balance.

    The bottom line is that no one can, technically, write the absolute truth. A reporter is only ever reporting on their perception of it. So we people actually walk around in a falsely created unreality without knowing it. Rather, we are steadfast often to the point unmoving. Yet almost our entire life in the world as we see it is formed elements of others’ perception of the world as presented to us, when a different perception presented to us, a different slice of the reality available, if you like, creates within us a different world view. We go through our entire life like that! Knowing, effectively, sfa.

    The idea, too, is that with all of these elements being drawn out and known, society gets to deal with it on a wider basis and eventually, through education and penalty, a society grows to not do some of those things anymore. One example is slavery.

    Where it’s going to get even more troubling, hate to say it, is when the move that we’re making to the internet has us given not just elements of someone else’s slice of perspective but a wholly created one. When computer created faces whom we recognise are speaking to us, all entirely fabricated and false. Don’t know, but I look twice at Vice President Pence. It might already be happening.

    Please, don’t take that seriously.

    The fact I had to state out loud it was a bit of a gag, about Mike Pence being computer generated when you see him on various video, highlights the point. Were those words presented to an American audience some would actually believe he is.

    That Murdoch is ‘powerful’ is also a part of this, our strange ways of mind and our adhesion to an idea that we think is a truth. Murdoch was first decided to be extremely powerful when in Australia his papers sold for 60c. But for 60c you can take that power away. In fact, he doesn’t have any power at all. You do. Don’t buy his papers, he has nothing. He is entirely powerless. His ‘power’ these days is, what, a subscriber’s $25?

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