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Crackdown on News Corp urgently needed to save our democracy

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

With its misinformation and mistruths, News Corp has a stranglehold on Australian democracy that needs to be held to account by a royal commission, writes Belinda Jones.

THIS WEEK’S shock resignation of Daniel Andrews pre-empted another unhinged mainstream media attack on the outgoing 48th Victorian Premier. One News Corp rag referred to the three-time election-winning Premier’s popularity as a cult in an attempt to diminish the landslide victories and enormous popularity Andrews enjoyed throughout his political career.

It is fair to say that Andrews and the Melbourne press pack shared an uneasy alliance. Each required the other to do their job but they didn’t get along well. During the worst days of COVID, Andrews was never afraid to give as good as he got at the daily press conferences, respectfully calling the media out for its obvious bias. Despite the tense relationship, Andrews would answer every question, at every press conference, even the curly ones, like having to explain the difference between platonic and intimate relationships.

The News Corp rags have been particularly egregious, prompting Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to comment on the “vitriol”, calling it a low point in journalism.

Albanese stopped short of announcing any kind of action to improve the state of Australian mainstream media despite calls to establish a royal commission into Australian media.

Former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have joined forces to rally support for a “Murdoch royal commission” after raising 501,876 signatures in a parliamentary petition

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland confirmed the Albanese Government’s position in June 2022, saying: “Our view is a royal commission is not warranted.” There has been no movement in its position since then, despite ongoing calls.

With a fortnight to go in the campaign for a Referendum for a Voice to Parliament, the News Corp media has disproportionately favoured the “No” side without apology. In her interim report, ‘Poisoning the debate: How the Murdoch press is campaigning against the Voice To Parliament’, Dr Victoria Fielding ‘covers the first half of the Murdoch Referendum Accountability Project’

This interim report presents compelling statistics to support the argument for bias in the News Corp media which is having a direct impact on our democracy through its commentary on the Voice. The final report looks set to reveal more compelling data if the trend continues and News Corp shows no signs of doing a U-turn on this issue.

The notable exception in the News Corp stable, quoted in Dr Fielding’s interim report, was Sky News host Chris Kenny.

On 8 August, Kenny said:

Everyone is allowed to have their opinion but we’ve got to deal in reality.

 

Credlin and others...want to pretend that there’s been some bizarre conspiracy to hide the full Uluru Statement.

 

All this focus on conspiracies instead of focusing on actual arguments is the very definition of a fear campaign.

Our politicians, of all stripes, champion the virtues of a functioning democracy, which includes a free and impartial press. Inexplicably, they do nothing to halt News Corp’s deliberate mistruths and misinformation, but worse, they legitimise the behaviour by regularly agreeing to appear on News Corp media platforms and writing op-eds for the organisation. 

Our national broadcaster, the ABC, also legitimises the News Corp press by continually platforming its journalists. Recently, ABC pledged to support Stan Grant after intense abuse inspired by distorted media coverage’, much of it by News Corp media. Yet Stan Grant has gone and the News Corp journalists remain, being platformed on ABC political programs daily.  

News Corp and Rupert Murdoch are no strangers to controversy, most recently to paying out $787.5 million to settle its defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems after knowingly broadcasting lies about the U.S. Election result. 

In England, Murdoch is no stranger to controversy there either, infamously immersed in the “phone hacking scandal”.

In Australia in recent years, News Corp has been mired in controversy over the release of Brittany Higgins’ text messages and publishing the Sofronoff report prematurely.  Additionally, News Corp has relentlessly waged a campaign against Dan Andrews, particularly by journalist Rachel Baxendale, who ironically was platformed on ABC’s News Breakfast this week to comment on Dan Andrews’ retirement.

Last week, News Corp’s announcement of Rupert Murdoch’s imminent retirement prompted some to compliment the controversial media mogul, but for many, it was an opportunity for truth-telling about his legacy. 

Malcolm Turnbull was not one to offer a compliment to Murdoch, rather he defined Murdoch’s legacy as an anger-tainment ecosystem and accused him of doing “enormous damage to the democratic world”.

In June, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young introduced the Murdoch Media Inquiry Bill 2023, calling to ‘establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the current state of media diversity and conduct of media outlets operating in Australia, in particular the Murdoch media empire, and their impact on Australian democracy’ in its explanatory memorandum. 

This week, Senator Hanson-Young, along with independent MPs Zali Steggall and Zoe Daniel and academic Michael Douglas questioned why the Albanese Government had exempted “professional news content” from the draft legislation to combat misinformation and disinformation. The group called on the Prime Minister to remove the exemption because misinformation was a “growing threat to our democracy whether it’s spread via large social media platforms or by large multinational media corporations, like Murdoch media”, said Hanson-Young.

Evidence and concerns are mounting about media bias in the News Corp media, particularly regarding the Referendum campaign, along with pressure on Albanese and Michelle Rowland to act to curb the destructive influence of News Corp on the Australian democracy. 

It’s time for the Prime Minister and Communications Minister to address these concerns rather than put them in the “too hard” basket. If they choose not to, then they owe the Australian public an explanation as to why they are not doing their fundamental duty to protect democracy in Australia.

You can follow IA columnist Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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