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Despite ‘irresponsible journalism of the worst kind’, Murdoch gets a gong

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Cartoon by Mark David/@mdavidcartoons

News Corp chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch was given a lifetime achievement award on Australia Day. Alan Austin queries this decision.

ASTONISHINGLY, Rupert Murdoch has received a prestigious Australia Day award. Well, it was prestigious until now. Henceforth, it could be an albatross of profound shame.

Fortunately, this was not one of the official Australia Day gongs announced by the Governor-General. It was given by a small London-based group which calls itself the Australia Day Foundation.

Despite being unofficial, it has generated controversy globally and requires a reasoned response. The reality is that it is hard to find a public figure anywhere whose lifetime achievements have been more destructive than Rupert Murdoch’s. That is based not on personal or political prejudice, but on the findings of courts of law, parliamentary inquiries and other established tribunals. Here are just twelve, selected from a much longer list.

1. Fox News exists to deceive

Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, appointed to the U.S. Federal Court by former U.S. President Donald Trump, ruled in a defamation hearing last September that Murdoch’s Fox News did not report facts, but fed its viewers concocted falsehoods.

The judge said that the “reporter” in question, Tucker Carlson:

‘was not stating actual facts … Given Mr Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism…’

In other words, nothing Carlson or Fox News says should ever be believed.

2. Courts debunk election fraud claims

Murdoch’s Fox News was the leading outlet spreading false reports of U.S. election fraud after the November elections. But of 62 court challenges up to 6 January, 61 rejected the ridiculous fraud claims.

Since election equipment companies have threatened legal action, Fox News is now frantically retracting these false claims.

3. Geoffrey Rush’s reputation destroyed

Justice Michael Wigney found in April 2019 in Australia’s Federal Court that Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph seriously defamed celebrated actor Geoffrey Rush in blatantly false articles. The Judge described the attack as:

'in all the circumstances, a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind.'

The employee Murdoch’s minions hired to destroy Rush’s reputation is still employed.

4. Press Council findings

False allegations recently run in Murdoch’s Australian newspapers included accusations in The Australian of fraud against the Bureau of Meteorology, claims in The Daily Telegraph that soldiers must not use words like “him” or “her” in case they offend and allegations in The Herald Sun that libraries were banning books.

That’s according to the Australian Press Council which found 62 per cent of all complaints upheld over the 21 months to last September were against Murdoch publications.

5. Formal complaints upheld in Britain

Britain’s media monitor, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, found last July that Murdoch’s The Times had distorted reports of a court judgment with 'serious and significant inaccuracies. This was compounded by a failure to correct the falsehoods promptly. Another adjudication found that a Sunday Times article in September falsely denigrated Black Lives Matter.

6. Operation Weeting

This 2011 investigation by London’s police discovered that Murdoch employees had illegally hacked the phones of hundreds of celebrities, politicians, royal family members, relatives of deceased soldiers, victims of the 2005 London bombings and murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

7. Leveson Commission findings

This British judicial inquiry into Murdoch’s newspapers – called in 2011 by Prime Minister David Cameron – found a recklessness in running malicious stories, ‘almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected’.

Rupert Murdoch himself admitted to the inquiry that News of the World had tried to cover-up the scale of the phone hacking.

8. House media committee

A separate inquiry by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the UK House of Commons found extensive misconduct by Murdoch executives, including lying to the inquiry.

The May 2012 report found that Murdoch’s newspapers invent “news” with no factual basis and that stories which harm immigrants and asylum seekers are ‘routine in his company, not just an aberration’.

It concluded that Murdoch: 

‘...exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on.’

And it found he was:

‘... not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.’

9. Arrests, convictions and imprisonment

Wikipedia lists 104 people in Rupert Murdoch’s service who were arrested and charged with phone hacking, police bribery and other criminal offences following Operation Weeting and related investigations. It also shows prison sentences.

10. Finding in the Guthrie matter

In former editor Bruce Guthrie’s wrongful dismissal case in 2010, Justice Stephen Kaye condemned Murdoch’s Australian executives for deliberately lying to Victoria’s Supreme Court.

Of News Limited chief executive John Hartigan, the Judge said:

‘In my view Hartigan was an unreliable witness.’

The Judge also rebuked Herald and Weekly Times Chief Peter Blunden:

‘The explanations given by Mr Blunden in evidence do not survive scrutiny.’

11. Findings of Popovic v Bolt

In 2000, Andrew Bolt attacked Victorian Magistrate Jelena Popovic with damaging allegations which the Court found untrue. Ms Popovic, according to the Judge, 'has been the subject of a very, very serious libel'.

Murdoch’s managers appealed to the Supreme Court, where three judges confirmed 'many factual inaccuracies in the article'

The Court held that the trial judge:

'... was clearly justified in concluding that the defence [of Andrew Bolt] had no merit.' 

One Judge said:

'Mr Bolt’s conduct in the circumstances was, at worst, dishonest and misleading and, at best, grossly careless.'

12. Racism finding against Murdoch columnist

In the notorious racial discrimination case Eatock v Bolt, Murdoch’s Andrew Bolt was found to have concocted at least 19 damaging false assertions against the Indigenous people he was attacking. These multiple lies, according to Justice Bromberg, were ‘based on racial hatred or racial vilification’. The columnist was not sacked.

The above is nowhere near the full case against Rupert Murdoch.

Other concerns include the platforms Murdoch gave Donald Trump for thousands of his 30,573 lies, Fox News anchors campaigning on stage for Donald Trump with blatant falsehoods, Piers Akerman campaigning for Tony Abbott in a blue Liberal t-shirt at the 2019 election and academic findings that News Corp routinely falsifies reports on climate.

This review, however, is confined to official investigations.

The conclusion seems clear: the medal is unjustified. Those responsible should be ashamed and have this article pinned to their tawdry CVs.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and help out by contributing to the crowd-funding campaign HEREAlan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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