Media Analysis

Murdoch propaganda machine catastrophic for democracy

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

News Corp publications and television shows offer little in the way of actual news and rely heavily on biased commentary, writes Dr Victoria Fielding.

AUSTRALIANS HAVE become very used to News Corp’s bias. News Corp’s media outlets have a long history of privileging Right-wing voices and causes. The Murdoch Referendum Accountability Project, however, found bias is only the tip of the iceberg at News Corp.

The public, including News Corp competitors, needs to recognise that News Corp produces propaganda disguised as news to campaign for political causes. This doesn’t just degrade democracy. It actively undermines it through deliberate manipulation and divisive polarisation.

There are many findings from my investigation of News Corp’s Voice coverage that demonstrate the media outlet used the pretence of “news” to campaign for the No side in the Voice to Parliament debate.

The study analysed over 1,600 pieces of content about the Voice from The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and Sky News. We found that 68% of words that contained an argument were arguments opposing the Voice.

This one-sidedness was not driven by outside sources, such as No campaigners, but rather was a result of News Corp voices themselves actively advocating for their audiences to vote “No”.

Commentary content, as opposed to factual reporting, was found to present No arguments in 83% of content. When analysing just News Corp voices themselves by excluding the content from outside sources, No arguments made up a whopping 96% of words at News Corp. Bias is thus driven by News Corp voices taking a position against the Voice in a campaign to defeat the referendum proposition.

Furthermore, where News Corp presents itself as producing “news” in the form of journalistic reporting, the study found the majority of its content is actually commentary.

Amongst newspapers, 54% of words were found to be commentary made up of op-eds written by outside sources (11%) and pieces by News Corp columnists (43%). At Sky News, commentary was a larger proportion, with 68% of content by minutes found to be commentary rather than reporting. Reporting across all outlets was also often found to meld with commentary, making it hard for audiences to know whether they were being presented with facts or opinions about the Voice.

Overall, both commentary and much of the reporting were found to have a clear agenda in support of the No campaign. News Corp’s content followed the same script as No campaigners in their contradictory, manipulative, fear and hate-based narrative against the Voice.

The Voice advisory body was simultaneously and incompatibly characterised as too powerful, divisive, ineffectual, not needed, and lacking details. Anyone who supported the Voice, particularly Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, was framed as villainous, untrustworthy and divisive.

News Corp did not just privilege the No campaign. News Corp was the No campaign.

This research shows how News Corp audiences may think they are being informed by news outlets, but in fact, in the majority of content, they are being persuaded and manipulated.

Australian News Corp’s appropriation of the news genre as a form of propaganda follows the same playbook as Murdoch’s U.S. behemoth, Fox News.

In a 2011 investigation in Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson describes how former Fox News chief Roger Ailes built Fox News into a propaganda machine — a “fear factory”. This machine, Dickson says ‘plays a leading role in defining Republican talking points and advancing the agenda of the far Right’.

In this piece, Dickinson tells the story of Ailes' career, a career defined by manipulation, politics and even theatre, but never journalism. As far back as 1974, Ailes tried to use the political skills he had learned working for President Richard Nixon to turn Television News Incorporated (TVN) into a propaganda machine.

Ailes failed in his mission to use news at TVN to “gradually, subtly, slowly” inject Right-wing “philosophy in the news”. The cause of this failure is fascinating; journalists revolted, resigning in protest. Ailes learned from this he should only hire journalists willing to help him manipulate audiences.

Once he had another opportunity to build his campaign machine with Fox News, he fired journalists who were “liberal” and only hired conservatives, including ‘inexperienced up-and-comers’, which Dickinson says enabled Ailes ‘to weave his own political biases into the network’s DNA’.

This history of Ailes’ establishment of the Right-wing propaganda machine, Fox News, shows how the concept of “news” has been corrupted by Murdoch media to manipulate the public.

“News” has a powerful cultural connotation, symbolising trustworthy information that is transparently verified, fact-checked and ideally balanced, independent of the interests it reports about, hosting diverse perspectives, and objectively presented. Ailes knew, as does everyone involved in the Murdoch media, that audience trust in “news” is the very reason their propaganda-laden content is so impactful.

Australians need to understand that when they are consuming News Corp content, they are not being informed by ethical and professionally credentialed journalists working in the public interest. They are being manipulated.

Considering News Corp is by far the largest media company in Australia, the Western world’s most concentrated media market, it is alarming to consider that the majority of “news” content is not really news, but rather, is designed to curate political opinion to favour Right-wing causes and undermine progress. This is not just problematic for democracy. It is catastrophic.

You can download the findings of the Murdoch Referendum Accountability Project here.

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. She is no longer tweeting because X is a cesspit. You can follow her on Threads or Bluesky.

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