Kevin Rudd has launched a petition for a Royal Commission into the influence of News Corp. It’s attracted over 170,000 online signatures in less than a week.
But why has our ex-PM done this? And who exactly is NEWS Corporation? Do they pose a threat to our democratic process, and will the petition achieve anything?
A NEXT News Investigation
- Kevin Rudd has called for a Royal Commission into the influence of News Corporation in Australian politics.
- News Corp Australia is one of Australia’s largest media conglomerates, employing more than 8,000 staff nationwide and approximately 3,000 journalists.
- NEWS own eight of the 10 most read newspapers in Australia, a stable of magazines including Vogue and is the majority shareholder of FOXTEL.
- Rupert Murdoch, scion of NEWS, has stated controlling election outcomes is a deliberate goal.
Why is Rudd calling for a Royal Commission?
The petition calls for a Royal Commission “to ensure a strong, diverse Australian news media” in the face of “new business models that encourage deliberately polarising and politically manipulated news”.
It says that “we are deeply concerned by: mass-sackings of news journalists; digital platforms impacting on media diversity and viability; Nine Entertainment’s takeover of the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald; News Corp’s acquisition (and then closure) of more than 200 smaller newspapers, undermining regional and local news; attempts to replace AAP Newswire with News Corp’s alternative; and relentless attacks on the ABC’s independence and funding.”
Rudd posted a video to Twitter launching the petition that focused on “growing anger at what the Murdoch media monopoly is doing to our country”.
Is this like FAKE News?
The petition is not about the creation of fabricated news stories. It’s about the manipulation of the news process, gatekeeping to push an agenda that aligns more with the editorial political agenda rather than public interest, which in the United States is called the Fourth Estate, where the press is placed alongside the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. The fourth estate refers to the watchdog role of the press, one that is important to a functioning democracy.
Former Liberal PM Malcolm Turnbull said in April that News Corp operates like a political party, working closely with right-wing politicians to influence policy and elections and to destroy politicians who won’t agree to a partnership with the Murdochs.
“If more journalists who’ve worked at News Corporation were prepared publicly to tell the truth about the extent of their control and influence, even the most cynical Australians would be appalled,” Turnbull wrote.
Has NEWS been accused of influencing elections elsewhere?
In the 1992 UK election, The Sun, NEWS biggest selling tabloid in the UK and editorially a kissing cousin of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, claimed victory on behalf of the Conservative party. As the headline famously bellowed: “It Was The Sun Wot Won It”.
And in 2007, when asked by reporter Ken Auletta what in business gave him the most joy, Rupert Murdoch replied, “being involved with the editor of a paper in a day-to-day campaign…trying to influence people”.
Has anything changed?
The importance of the media as a watchdog on the democratic process, rather than a weapon to push a political agenda, has been central to most media laws in Australia until recently.
The advent of social media has changed the media landscape beyond recognition. Previously a proprietor couldn’t have a TV and radio licence in the same place they published. The dissolution of borders through the proliferation of free content via the Internet led the Government to recently change ownership laws with limited discussion. This, combined with the increasingly unprofitable nature of owing news mediums led to the closure or amalgamation of many media, reducing the number of different viewpoints we can access as readers and citizens. This has had a significant impact in Australia, particularly regionally where close to 200 newspapers have either closed or merged, with similar fallout in radio and television. This means Australians have less – or no – access to the stories from their community or which are of social importance that doesn’t align to a nationalist, party political or business agenda.
What does the petition achieve?
In terms of directly influencing the Federal Government, the petition does nothing. Scott Morrison has been silent on the matter. So the opinion of almost two hundred thousands Australians who think that the role of the media conglomerate should be investigated has so far, been ignored.
But the future may be different. Rupert Murdoch, who is seen as the Svengali of News is 89 years old, and can’t live forever.
His youngest son, James in an interview with the New York Times this week, stated that he has left his father’s media empire because it obscured facts and legitimized disinformation.
“I think at great news organisations, the mission really should be to introduce fact to disperse doubt and not to sow doubt, to obscure fact, if you will,” he said.
Eldest son Lachlan is likely to take the baton of control from his father, but it is not considered likely that he will take such an active interest in placing politicians into power as it has been claimed that his father has done.
So should I sign the petition?
It’s up to you. But if you want to be a part of a democracy with news that’s in the public interest, you better make your wishes known, loud and strong.