There is no need to mount an argument to support the view that all over the world, the Murdoch media has exercised an influence over politics. We all know it and countless journalists have borne testimony to it and have written and broadcast about it. Recent events portend a radical change that must and will occur.
Only Rupert Murdoch can really know what motivates his business activities. My guess is that making money is his prime objective, as it is for many a successful businessman. The extreme alternative is bankruptcy. But for successful businessmen making a profit is seldom the only motivator; the acquisition of power often parallels the quest for riches and commercial success. In the case of Murdoch, power over the political process seems to be one of his prime objectives. Because much of his empire is subject to government regulation, to achieve his aims of more and more media ownership, he needs to have governments onside, so that regulations are fashioned to suit, rather than obstruct his ambitions. As conservative governments are by their very ideology more likely to enable him to get what he wants, his recent strong preference is for them. We have seen this in the US, the UK and here in this country. Wikipedia has an account of Rupert Murdoch’s career.
Murdoch likes to back political parties and their leaders, to be a kingmaker. He has backed both sides of politics. He backed John McEwen, leader of the Country Party in the Menzies era, creating tensions in the Coalition, then briefly backed Gough Whitlam. The relationship between his media empire and Kevin Rudd was impaired by the OzCar episode when Rudd criticized The Australian
for publishing poorly documented claims, and by the leaking of comments allegedly made by George W Bush in a telephone call during a private dinner party at Kirribilli attended by the paper’s editor Chris Mitchell. A previously close relationship between the two men turned into what looked like a vendetta by The Australian
against Rudd, which has morphed into a similarly nasty campaign against Julia Gillard.
Murdoch backed Tony Blair but abandoned Labor in favour of David Cameron prior to the last election. He has met every US President from Harry Truman on, backed Barack Obama via his New York Post
and secretly met Stephen Harper, Conservative Canadian PM at a time when Murdoch was interested in taking Fox News
to Canada, a move that seems to have been aborted by Canada’s strict ‘truth in the media’ rules.
Clearly, for whatever reason, Murdoch sees it as to his advantage to liaise with national leaders, and they in turn see it to their advantage to cosy up to him, given his enormous media power and through it his capacity to make or break political leaders and their parties. What has emerged from the recent News International
phone hacking scandal is that leaders have been fearful of what Murdoch could do to them politically if they did not curry his favour. This state of affairs resulted in a senior News International
executive Andy Coulson, who resigned from the News of the World
over the phone hacking scandal, being engaged by David Cameron after his election on the assurance of Murdoch. Cameron now seems to regret this. It has been reported that Murdoch had even offered Tony Blair a position after his retirement.
It is this relationship between Murdoch and the politicians he favours that is so pernicious as it advantages them and disadvantages their opponents, all on the say so of Murdoch via his media outlets. While Murdoch claims that he does not influence his editors, whom he insists have editorial freedom, when all but one of his 160 plus newspapers editorialized in favour of the Iraq war, it became hard to accept the reality of that. All editors know what Uncle Rupert wants.
In the US he has a vast network with many newspapers and magazines, and Fox Broadcasting Company
that operates Fox News
, his TV flagship. On that outlet he uses a strategy that favours the Republican Party. They use the likes of the divisive Rush Limbaugh who bullies his way through interviews aggressively insinuating his opinion into the debate. There is not space here to detail how these operatives work, but a look at a piece by Ezra Grant on blogsite EzKool: Rush Limbaugh Continues Without Missing A Beat
, an account of his treatment of the Tucson Arizona shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, gives some insight.
The same aggressive strategies have carried to Australia and we have seen them whenever Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman appear on TV.
The phone hacking scandal is spreading its contagion far and wide. Overnight there was bipartisan support in the House of Commons for Murdoch to withdraw his bid for BSkyB
, which would have given him unparalleled satellite power, but he preempted the vote by withdrawing before it was taken. Democrat Senator Jay Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has called for an enquiry in the US about whether Murdoch operatives have tapped the phones of 9/11 victims, which if proved would be a criminal offence.
Here in Australia, News Limited
CEO John Hartigan has reissued the company’s code of journalistic ethics, insists he has no evidence of phone hacking here, but has ordered an enquiry into all payments to third parties that could indicate such activities. Clearly News Limited
here is worried, not just about any implication that it too may be into phone hacking, but also about the consequences of that for the Sky News Australia
bid to take over the Australia Network
from the ABC
. Today it ran a story criticizing ABC
MD Mark Scott for what it termed ‘inappropriate contact with Federal Ministers’ about this issue.
What does all the turmoil in the Murdoch empire mean for the state of politics in Australia?
Some commentators see the empire crumbling with a spate of criminal convictions likely in the UK and perhaps in the US too. Some predict Murdoch may sell some of his UK newspapers as their stock market value falls. Some see Murdoch as retiring and handing over to his family in a further act of nepotism. Others doubt if he will ever give up voluntarily. But what will be the outcome in Australia?
If Bob Brown has his way, the Murdoch outfit here will be subject to scrutiny, and the issue of ownership reopened. Already Murdoch owns around 70% of newspapers here and vast slab of TV outlets.
According to a piece in The Canberra Times: No good News for Gillard
by Jack Waterford, the vendetta against the Gillard Government will continue. He concludes: “But she should not imagine that anything much is going to change for her unless she lifts her Government's performance. Her unpopularity is not a Murdoch artefact.”
The cartoon accompanying that piece is telling.
So will News Limited
take a more moderate approach to politics in Australia by targeting Labor less and putting the Coalition under more scrutiny? If Murdoch retires will that make any difference? Or will Chris Mitchell’s campaign against Labor and The Greens perpetrated through The Australian
continue unabated? Have we any prospect of Labor getting fairer treatment? We hope it might, but we ought not to hold our breath.
What do you think?