Media Opinion

The effect of Right-wing bias in Australia's media

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Australia's mainstream news media is largely tied to the Liberal Party which is driving our nation towards authoritarianism, writes Richard Gillies.

AUSTRALIA’S MEDIA is more concentrated than in some countries that are under dictatorships, such as Turkey and Russia. The ownership and management of practically all of Australia’s print and television media, with exception to Network 10, have links to the Liberal Party. News Corp, chaired by Rupert Murdoch and majority-owned by the Murdoch family, owns around two-thirds of the print media and is a majority stakeholder in Foxtel and Sky News.

Nine Entertainment, which was established by the Liberal-linked Packer family and is chaired by former Liberal member Peter Costello, owns the Nine Network, about a third of Australia’s newspaper publications and subscription television service Stan. Seven West Media, which is majority-owned and chaired by Kerry Stokes, another Liberal supporter, owns Channel 7 and any major newspaper publications that are not owned by News Corp or the Nine Entertainment.

Ita Buttrose, another person with links to the Liberal Party, is chairperson of the ABC. Although most of Australia’s media is owned and run by Liberal supporters, there have been times when Australia’s media wasn't biased.

In 2016, it was reported that Sam Dastyari, a Labor senator, accepted a $44,000 donation from a Chinese company. He was skewered by the media and resigned. A month later, Andrew Robb, a Liberal member of parliament, started a job paying $880,000 a year at a Chinese company.

This is not the usual affair where a politician, while in government, makes a decision which favours a company and then coincidentally assumes a lucrative position with that same company six minutes after leaving parliament. Andrew Robb accepted this job while still in parliament. He was in this position for just over two years which means he received more than 40 times as much money from a Chinese entity than Sam Dastyari.

By Google searching within website domains of the major Australian news outlets and using the sets of keywords “Andrew Robb Landbridge Group” and “Sam Dastyari Huang Xiangmo”, I sought to determine how much reporting each indiscretion received by the media.

The ABC is commonly perceived as being Left-wing. This is probably due to its coverage of social matters such as gender and racial issues. While the ABC focuses on these “issues” that are literally skin-deep and disproportionately reporting on ethical issues when they relate to Labor, the ABC is a perpetuating the Liberal-National Coalition’s evasion of scrutiny over the record levels of corruption that now occur in government.

Given Chinese-linked companies and individuals donate more than a million dollars each year to the Liberal and Labor parties, it is worth attempting to understand the reasons for the media’s preoccupation with the $44,000 that Sam Dastyari received.

As a senator, Sam Dastyari gathered evidence which was utilised to make the case for a Royal Commission into the banking sector. This Royal Commission revealed that financial institutions were involved in laundering money for drug syndicates and compliance with the funding of terrorism. 

Sam Dastyari also led the inquiry into multinational tax avoidance which resulted in the Australian Tax Office collecting billions of dollars each year worth of taxes owed by foreign companies. Banks give around half a billion dollars each year to Australian media companies in exchange for advertising. Many of the worst offenders for tax avoidance are also the biggest customers of Australia’s media companies.

Foxtel, a company owned by News Corp, is also one of Australia’s worst offenders for multinational tax avoidance. This is conjecture, but Sam Dastyari’s work on establishing a Royal Commission into the banking sector and an inquiry into multinational tax avoidance might have given some people in the media incentive to politically assassinate him. Sam Dastyari achieved these feats as an opposition Senator. Those in control of the media might have given some thought as to what he might accomplish if he was still a Senator and Labor were in government.

Then there is the example of Peter Slipper. He was a serving member of the Liberal Party in parliament for 18 years. Tony Abbott attended his wedding in Bali. Of course, Tony Abbott tried to bill the taxpayers for his attendance. After the 2010 Election, Peter Speaker left the Liberal Party to become the speaker in the house of representatives. This gave Labor an extra voting member on the floor of the house. What followed was possibly the most brutal media hitjob in Australia’s history.

There were allegations of sexual harassment from eight years earlier pursued by former minister under John Howard, Mal Brough. When these allegations were presented in court, the judge dismissed them within minutes saying “to allow these proceedings to remain in the court would bring the administration of justice into disrepute”. The judge also said that the complainants were working “to cause Mr Slipper as much political and public damage as they could inflict on him”.

The media also published stories about Peter Slipper’s abuse of travel entitlements from 13 years earlier. If the media did not have an overall Right-wing bias, they would have reported on Peter Slipper’s indiscretions when they happened, not more than a decade later when Slipper became a frustration to the Coalition’s plan of cutting billions of dollars from schools and hospitals, raising taxes while telling us that taxes are decreasing and deliberately throttling wage growth.

This resulted in the most spectacular decline in wealth and prosperity in Australia since at least World War II. The media’s bias towards the Liberal Party despite their unquestionable incompetence and record levels of corruption means that Australia is effectively operating as an authoritarian State.

Traits of authoritarianism can be seen elsewhere as the Coalition planned to give itself powers to spy on us. Homes and offices of political dissidents and opponents are raided by the Federal thought police while the Government, in classic authoritarian style, spends a third of the country’s GDP on military equipment as poor children rely on donations for education.

Australia’s largest media companies are tolerant of all of this because they and their customers greatly benefit from federal coalition governments.  

Richard Gillies is a scientist.

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