Media Analysis

News Corp calls for tech giants to adhere by 'social licence' utterly hypocritical

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller's push for Meta, X and TikTok to adhere to a stronger "social licence" displays its ignorant hypocrisy in full force, Dr Victoria Fielding writes.

IN A SPECTACULAR own goal, News Corp Australia’s executive chairman Michael Miller lectured social media companies at the National Press Club, saying they needed to meet conditions of a "social licence", or leave Australia.

Although News Corp claims that its concern about social media stems from its influence on the social fabric, we – of course – know the true reason News Corp is campaigning against social media companies.

Social media has disrupted legacy news business models and taken advertising revenue away from traditional "news" organisations like News Corp. Therefore, News Corp is using its media power to undermine social media companies for purely commercial motives.

How News Corp can claim social media are the ones who are bad for the social fabric with a straight face is hard to fathom. Some journalists were brave enough to make this point.

The ABC’s Patricia Karvelas in her interview with Miller, pointed out that even Prime Minister Albanese has accused right-wing media of being a "cheer squad" for Dutton.

Kat Wong from the Australian Associated Press (AAP) valiantly asked Miller after his Press Club speech why if he is so concerned about bullying, his organisation bullies women — including Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Antoinette Lattouf, Brittany Higgins and also members of the trans community.

Anna Henderson from SBS also cited work by academic researchers into News Corp’s coverage of the Voice Referendum – potentially referring to this reporter's Murdoch Referendum Accountability Project – which found News Corp spread misinformation about the Voice.

Henderson challenged Miller to explain what his organisation does to ensure the integrity of the information it publishes.

Miller responded disingenuously to this question that the examples Henderson provided of misinformation were the work of commentators, not reporters. This excuse is used as an alibi by News Corp globally to argue that commentators do not need to be held to the same standards as journalists.

A famous example is Fox News during the Dominion voting machine defamation case defending hosts like Sean Hannity for broadcasting disinformation about election fraud. Fox News claims "pundits" like Hannity can express their opinions but also tries to claim their communication with sources should remain private, using laws designed to protect journalists.

This attempt by News Corp to simultaneously claim it is serving society by invoking the cultural authority and trust the public has for real journalism, while in reality using and abusing that trust by wielding its extensive media power to campaign for conservative causes – bullying and silencing those who challenge conservative power – goes to the heart of how News Corp fails to fulfil any notion of a social licence in its toxic, unashamedly partisan assault of Australian democracy.

Let’s talk about what it would look like for News Corp to fulfil a social licence. This reporter is totally in favour of media organisations being forced to demonstrate they are working in the interests of the public and informing a healthy, vibrant democracy, free from hate and discrimination.

To meet such standards, News Corp would have to stop blurring the lines between commentary and reporting — which is a key part of its use of media power to campaign for conservative causes.

When audiences do not know the difference between fact and opinion, they are deliberately deceived into thinking they are being presented with verifiable, credible information when really they are being fed someone’s unverified claims, like Peta Credlin’s misinformation about the length of the Uluru Statement during the Voice Referendum.

Credlin is, of course, not a journalist but a political player. News Corp should stop manipulating its audience by pretending these two things are one and the same.

As Australia’s largest media organisation, it is also incumbent on News Corp to ensure that its commentary and opinion, as well as its news reporting, fulfil the requirements of informing a healthy democracy by presenting audiences with a diversity of views and perspectives of a range of different interests.

This means that rather than being all conservative – all of the time – and campaigning against progressive politicians and causes, it would have to actively staff its organisation with commentators who hold a range of different views.

News Corp would also allow its news reporters to independently cover politics in a way that serves society, rather than seeking to manipulate and skew news to serve conservative interests. If it really wants to fulfil its social licence, it will need to drastically change the types of people it employs.

Commentators should also be held to the same standards of truth, accuracy and verification as all news producers. Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinions, but what they are not entitled to in a civilised society is their own facts.

It doesn’t matter what words are next to someone’s byline — whether commentator, analyst, reporter, journalist or even editor. Everyone producing media content should be playing by the same strict rules that demand information is not presented to deceive, manipulate and mislead.

All media should be fact-checked — no matter whether it is communicated by a News Corp employee or one of its sources or guests. If News Corp really wants to contribute positively to society, it should stop attacking fact-checkers and become a fact-checker itself.

News Corp should also stop using its media power to bully those it disagrees with. This includes everyone from Labor prime ministers to rape victims, to children grappling with their gender identity.

News Corp also would need to stop using hatred, division, discrimination and abuse to try to silence voices that challenge conservative power. If its staff can’t abide by civil, mature and respectful debate, they should not be hired.

When you see how News Corp would have to change to meet these media standards and basic standards of common decency, it is clear just how far removed it is from having any positive influence on society.

But let’s not kid ourselves that News Corp has any intention of changing to have a more positive influence.

News Corp does not exist to contribute to a positive media culture and does not set out to provide news and commentary which informs a healthy democracy.

It exists to wield political power in aid of conservative causes — to intervene in democracy in its own interests.

News Corp will continue to do this as long as it exists.

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Victoria on Twitter @DrVicFielding.

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