Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is “the greatest cancer on the Australian democracy”, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wrote Monday in The Sydney Morning Herald — a Murdoch is not just a news organisation. Murdoch operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view.
Rudd’s commentary comes on the heels of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ouster by his center-right Liberal party and resignation from parliament.
Though Rudd acknowledges the country’s political turmoil is multifaceted with blame flowing in numerous directions, it is Murdoch on whom he lands as the one who sits above the chaos, pulling strings as he sees fit and to serve his own purposes — and not only in Australia.
[O]n top of all the above, while manipulating each of them, has been Rupert Murdoch - the greatest cancer on the Australian democracy.
Murdoch is not just a news organisation. Murdoch operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view.
In Britain, Murdoch made Brexit possible because of the position taken by his papers. In the United States, Murdoch's Fox News is the political echo chamber of the far right, which enabled the Tea Party and then the Trump party to stage a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. In Australia, as in America, Murdoch has campaigned for decades in support of tax cuts for the wealthy, killing action on climate change and destroying anything approximating multiculturalism.
Still, Murdoch in Australia is different, Rudd writes, because he owns fully two-thirds of the country’s print media, and that allows the media giant to control far more of the narrative than is healthy in a democratic environment.
While centre-left readers say Murdoch's influence is overrated because people refuse to read his papers, or because social media now dilutes his power, we should be careful about such judgments. Because the electronic media is so denuded of journalists these days, Murdoch's print media has a disproportionate impact on setting the day's overall agenda. The electronics often just "rip and read" what Murdoch has put on the front page.
Then there is Murdoch's masterful conflation of "opinion" with "news". The two had become one in Murdoch's own world of fake news well before "fake news" became topical after the 2016 US elections.
And Murdoch wields his brand of “news” not only as a tool misleading the public but as a weapon for punishing those politicians who would stray from his particular political views.
This has produced a cowering, fearful political culture across the country. I know dozens of politicians, business leaders, academics and journalists, both left and right, too frightened to take Murdoch on because they fear the repercussions for them personally. They have seen what happens to people who have challenged Murdoch's interests as Murdoch then sets out to destroy them.
After taking down several politicians — Australia has had five prime ministers in the past five years, none of whom served their full three-year term — Murdoch most recently came after Turnbull.
So how did Malcolm Turnbull alienate Murdoch ? What we know is Murdoch visited Australia in the past few weeks. He called his editors in. And then each of the papers turned feral. Murdoch is a climate change denialist. Presumably Murdoch believed Howard and Abbott that Turnbull, on the legislative recognition of carbon reduction targets, was going too far. Murdoch wanted a Capital C Conservative. He may not have got Dutton. But Morrison is almost as good. Look at the Murdoch coverage of Morrison's elevation the day after the ballot. Orgasm all round. Nothing on the orgy of political violence preceding it. Nothing to see here.
Australia’s grave political situation has no chance of rehabilitation without considering the monopoly Murdoch has built and finding ways to temper his power within the political establishment, Rudd says.
And to prevent other media companies from attempting a similar type coup.
An incoming Labor government should consider a full royal commission into the future of Australian media ownership, with particular reference to News Corp. It should also consider the proposed Nine takeover of Fairfax Media, as well as the future role of the new media. The terms of reference should also include Murdoch's role in the destruction of the $43 billion NBN. And it should make recommendations for the future.
Murdoch and others succeeded in sinking the Finkelstein Media Review five years ago. Given Murdoch's impact on the future of our democracy, it's time to revisit it. Anyone who thinks the problem will go away once [Murdoch's son] Lachlan replaces Rupert is deluding themselves.