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Politics Editorial

A brief history of the Murdoch clan: A tale of two Keiths

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Former PM Kevin Rudd has sought a royal commission into the Murdoch family’s influence on Australian democracy. Founder and director David Donovan explains how the Murdochs have subverted Australia’s frail democracy for over a century.

THE IMPACT of the Murdochs on Australian politics is no new thing. It is in their blood and seemingly regarded as their birthright. This power to manipulate the Australian people through the information they are allowed to receive has, in fact, spanned three generations.

SIR KEITH ARTHUR MURDOCH

Indeed, the father of the current Murdoch emperor, Sir Keith Arthur Murdoch (Keith Snr), was, during World War II, Australia’s propaganda supremo. Appointed as Director-General of Information in June 1940, in July he ordered all news media to publish Government statements as and when necessary, a move that was compared to Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels' approach. He was sacked soon after, spending the rest of the war encouraging patriotic unity while campaigning against Australia's iconic Labor Prime Minister John Curtin.

Interestingly, Keith Snr made his name during WWI by defying the British chief censor to publish a plagiarised, exaggerated and inaccurate account of the Gallipoli campaign. He then used his fame to campaign, unsuccessfully, for Australia’s outstanding General, John Monash, to be replaced as Corps leader. Monash was, of course, Jewish.

While in London, Keith Snr became enamoured with the brash, controversial, scandal splashing “yellow journalism” of Daily Mail proprietor Lord Northcliffe, which he transferred Down Under in the 1920s. During the early 1930s, Murdoch Snr’s newspapers campaigned against the Labor Party Government of James Scullin, installing Joseph Lyons in 1931. Keith Arthur Murdoch was duly given a knighthood in 1933.

Nevertheless, he became dissatisfied with Lyons and, by 1936, was saying,

"I put him there and I'll put him out!"

Keith Snr also expanded his media reach into radio, while simultaneously using his political influence to prevent the nascent ABC, for several years, from establishing a news service. Keith Murdoch died in 1952, bequeathing News Limited to his son, Keith Rupert Murdoch (Keith Jnr).

KEITH JNR MURDOCH’S INHERITANCE

When his father died, Keith Jnr had only just returned to Melbourne from Oxford, where he flirted with Marxism before gaining a derisory third-class degree.

Using the Northcliffe sensationalism approach in Australia, he gradually built News Limited into the most influential news organisation in Australia. Murdoch virtually ran the successful Whitlam campaign in 1972, before discovering the new Prime Minister was insufficiently tractable. Thereafter, he ordered his newspaper to “kill Whitlam”, which they duly did, at least figuratively.

Keith Jnr turned his attentions to the UK ‒ where he was initially spurned by the establishment as the “Dirty Digger”. He gained his vengeance later by having his staff hack into the phones of royalty, celebrities and political figures, and splash their contents on the front pages of his tabloids.

His newspapers are shameless about their political sway. In 1992, after the unexpected re-election of the Conservative Major Government, his The Sun tabloid had as its front page,

‘IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT.’

Despite the Leveson Inquiry following News International's phone-hacking scandal and political influence, Murdoch still dominates British politics, supporting the election of every successful British government since the 1980s.

Since 1974, Keith Jnr has lived in the United States, the country for which he unhesitatingly relinquished his Australian citizenship to remove regulatory hurdles to further media acquisitions. There, beyond his many newspaper interests, he established Fox News, a cable network blaring out 24-hour right-wing propaganda. All of this history and much more besides has been extensively covered by Independent Australia, especially through the articles by former News Corp executive and Murdoch righthand man, Rodney E. Lever. (Please click HERE to read Rodney’s firsthand accounts of Murdoch the man.)

Of course, since its inception on 24 June 2010 ‒ the very day Julia Gillard became Prime Minister by toppling Kevin Rudd ‒ IA has been reporting extensively on the malign influence of the Murdoch media over Australian politics.

In March 2011, in the article ‘Concentrated media ownership: a crisis for democracy’, IA called out the danger of Murdoch’s power:

[Keith Jnr] Murdoch bestrides the Australian media landscape like a colossus — News Corp owns eight of [the 12 major newspapers] and also dominates the regional and suburban newspaper publishing industry, as well as owning a major slice of Foxtel.

 

The Australian people have fewer different voices to use upon which to make their decisions than almost any other place in the free world. And Keith Jnr Murdoch is happy to wield his overwhelming power.

 

In 1979 – as [Keith Jnr] Murdoch looked to acquire Channel 10 in Melbourne – the Australian Journalists Association, in a submission to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, alleged that [Keith Jnr] Murdoch was an autocratic and unprincipled proprietor, who demanded that his lackeys publish distorted accounts of the news when it suited him. There is an abundance of evidence to support this view.

 

But whether it is true or not, where one proprietor owns such a large swathe of the Australian media industry, the danger of interference in our democracy is present and clear.

Those who follow Australian politics and read IA know full well that the Murdoch media cartel has campaigned for the successful winner of every Australian election in living memory — with the sole exception of Gillard’s minority government in 2011. Furious at this result, Keith Jnr and his biased media enterprises then plotted with the Liberal Party and James Ashby to bring down the House Speaker, Peter Slipper, in a sordid honeytrap that went wrong. (You can read all about that in the Ashbygate book by Ross Jones.)

Keith Jnr installed Tony Abbott in 2013, then toppled him in 2015. Abbott was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, who Murdoch helped elect in 2016. And after he flew into Canberra in 2018 and issued an ultimatum, Turnbull was unceremoniously dumped by his party within days, in favour of Scott Morrison.

Keith Rupert Murdoch’s support of Morrison in last year’s election was pivotal in his unexpected victory. Especially given the level of public backlash towards Morrison over his mishandling of the bushfire crisis and overt climate denialism. In this, of course, Morrison is an ideological ally of Murdoch, since, as reported in IA, Keith Jnr is an oilman.

The evidence of the Murdochs' influence over Australian – indeed, Anglophone – politics is both immense and impossible to deny.

In particular, the Murdochs' regard pulling the strings in Australia as part of their birthright. It is undemocratic and obscene.

A serious and unbiased inquiry into the Murdoch family’s influence over Australia’s weak democracy is well-overdue. Please sign the former PM’s petition HERE.

You can follow IA founder and director Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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