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Autumn 2000 cover

National Observer Home > No. 44 - Autumn 2000 > Editorial Comment

The Responsibilities of the Media

Australians may well look upon Mr. Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation with mixed feelings. Mr. Murdoch was of course born an Australian citizen, but supposedly in accordance with his commercial interests he has become a United States national instead. Nonetheless, he retains wide Australian interests in the media, and particularly in the Australian press, where such papers as The Australian, the Melbourne Herald Sun, the Sydney Daily Telegraph and many others are under News  Corporation control.

There has been much criticism of Mr. Murdoch's perceived involvement in the editorial and news policies of News Corporation's Australian papers. (Unfortunately such papers as The Australian do not differentiate properly between editorial opinion and news: news items are selected and presented tendentiously in such a way as to promote editorial opinions.)

For example, Mr. Murdoch has long been a republican, and is suspected of having strong personal anti-monarchic views; and it appears that Mr. Lachlan Murdoch, his son, a very young man who has been promoted within the News group, adopts similar views. Indeed, newspapers in the News group in England, such as The Sun and The News of the World, as well as The Times, are perceived to have conducted a sustained campaign against the monarchy. In Australia, the campaign conducted by The Australian in favour of the replacement of a constitutional monarchy by a republic was one of the most distasteful examples of biassed journalism that has been seen in this country (the pièce de résistance being the free issue of pro-republic car stickers through that newspaper). The editorials were predictably prejudiced, but the extreme bias demonstrated in the selection and presentation of news items was extraordinary. Of this campaign it was said by Mr. W.F. Deedes in The Weekly Telegraph immediately after the referendum (which rejected a republic decisively):

"It was a campaign which has led many Australians to conclude that Rupert Murdoch, now an American citizen, has finally lost touch with the country of his birth. His The Australian newspaper ran a hectoring campaign in favour of a republic, to which Mr. Murdoch himself unwisely added a message of his own towards the end of last week."

A matter of even more concern was discussed in The Financial Review on 23rd December 1999 relating to News Ltd.'s controversial campaign in regard to datacasting and digital television, from which it hoped to derive commercial advantages:

"According to some of the most senior government advisers, if Murdoch's News Ltd. could not get the outcome it wanted on datacasting, then it would turn the News Ltd. newspapers, including the Howard favourite, the influential, mass circulation Daily Telegraph, against the Government.

Senior ministers and government advisers say they have received such a threat from a senior News Ltd. executive. We've been told the Daily Telegraph would see Howard off, said one adviser. Another adviser said News Ltd. had made it clear its newspapers would be turned against Howard across a range of issues. He said the warning had been privately repeated many times in the past year since the Government's 1998 decision to protect the three commercial networks from competition from a fourth network until 2007. In fact, the Daily Telegraph's already turned, the adviser said.

News Ltd. has been furious at the spectacle of arch rival Kerry Packer's Nine Network securing Government-mandated protection from competition, as well as this week's announcement of tight restrictions for datacasting, where News Ltd. had hoped to exploit the new digital technology for broadcasting. Notwithstanding some promises, the networks have remained in the box seat . . . What has been known to date, of course, is News Ltd.'s unprecedented political intervention with this month's letterboxing campaign against the Government's digital television policy . . .

Howard apparently thought carefully before attending a lavish News Ltd. drinks party in Sydney's Botanical Gardens in November 1999. His concerns were soon rewarded when Rupert Murdoch confronted him and asked words to the effect, What have you given Mr. Packer today? Howard, furious, left soon after."

These are matters of central concern. Mr. Rupert Murdoch, an extremely wealthy American businessman, ought not to be perceived to be using his media network to influence the Commonwealth government to confer financial benefits on him or his companies.

It is not surprising that much criticism of Mr. Murdoch has been found in Australia. Indeed, it appears to be in the interests of Australia that Mr. Murdoch should confine himself more to his adopted country and cease to interfere in such Australian questions as whether there should be a republic, and above all in such matters as the role of the Australian media. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Australia would be better off without Mr. Murdoch's influence.

National Observer No. 44 - Autumn 2000