Politics Analysis

Liberal or Labor, News Corp will back the winning team

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Rupert Murdoch's slandering of Labor may ease in the event of a 2022 Election win (Image by Dan Jensen)

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp will shift allegiance to Labor in the event of a 2022 Election win and claim some responsibility for the victory, writes Andrew P Street.

ONE THING everyone knows is that News Corp's papers and cable news have an editorial slant that could be playfully described as spanning the range from "conservative" to "hyperbolically conspiratorial". 

For the record, that seldom extends to the actual news coverage there. There are many excellent journalists at News and Sky doing genuinely important work, even if their stories are occasionally given horrendously misleading headlines by subeditors with axes to grind. 

And because of that worldview, it is widely assumed that the majority media conglomerate are acting in lockstep with the Liberal-National Coalition to ensure their re-election. However, there are signs that love might get a smidgen more conditional in the immediate future.

See, the Murdochracy has a greater priority even than seeing a pliantly right-wing leader installed. 

It's to be on the winning team.

The media arm of News has been a money pit for years. The thing that's making the Murdoch clan money these days is online betting and the second that Logan – sorry, Rupert – pops his clogs, it's speculated that Shiv and Roman will get the hell out of the media biz and go where the real money is.

But the power of News – especially The Australian and Sky News – is in its political clout. Being seen as a Kingmaker gives the organisation and the Sith Lord at its head enormous influence in Canberra, which helps keep the wheezing empire alive. 

And so what happens when Labor is getting traction? Well, first, they attempt to help their natural allies by running puff pieces on the Coalition and decrying Labor for being economically profligate, especially in policies they haven't enacted. 

But if the needle stubbornly doesn't move right and there's an election in the wings, what you see is the Murdoch press hedging their bets and starting to run less aggressively anti-Labor pieces while getting a little more critical of their mates in the Coalition. 

And thus, it's worth noting that the piece on a no-tender quarantine going to a DPG Advisory Services got oddly brutal coverage on Sky

Specifically, the report focused on the fact that the company is headed up by a couple of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's closest pals: NSW Liberal Party Deputy Leader and president of Morrison's federal electorate conference Scott Briggs and ex-Liberal staffer and failed Liberal candidate David Gazard.

Sky's Andrew Clennell spent ten excoriating minutes on the issue, emphasising the links between the PM and the lobbyists he calls friends, including photos of Briggs and Morrison looking pally at a Cronulla Sharks game. Calling out corruption is bad enough, but dragging Scotty's ostensibly-beloved team into it? That's personal.

Certainly, it's newsworthy that the PM would be handing his mates public money to investigate a private quarantine program. Then again, by Morrison Government standards, $80,000 is one of the cheaper bits of rortery. 

Also, this isn't the first rodeo of the people involved. Gazard, for example, was involved in the deal with Naval Group to secure French non-nuclear Australia's submarines, while Briggs made a punt on the (eventually scuppered) deal to privatise Australia's visa system, so these are remoras who've been attaching themselves to Morrison's shark(ies) for some time.

What's surprising, therefore, is that they've suddenly gotten Sky News' attention — and that the story isn't merely about yet more Coalition graft but specifically targets Morrison himself. 

This story also happened to break at the same time that Newspoll found the Coalition still lagging and Labor leader Anthony Albanese's approval growing, as per the trend of the last year. Hence, it wouldn't be a shock for the company to figure that maybe it was time to start quietly putting a bob each way. 

After all, there's precedent for this. The company's papers threw their weight behind Kevin Rudd once it became clear that he was likely to win, running editorials and front pages declaring that John Howard had done his dash and it was time for some rebirth and renewal. 

And it was an investment which one could argue would have paid off handsomely had the former-PM-then-Foreign Minister been successful in his attempt to hand the Australia Network overseas broadcasting tender to Sky News. And when that didn't work, how well-disposed to Julia Gillard did the Murdochracy become?

Albanese tugged the metaphorical forelock to News Corp last year by declining to back the calls by Rudd and former Liberal PM Malcolm Turnbull for a royal commission into News Corp's influence on Australia's democracy.

At the time, he demurred that:

"It's a bit like complaining about the referee in a footy game. It might make you feel okay; it doesn't change the outcome or change the result."

And as undeserved flattery goes, has anyone done better than calling Murdoch the nation's umpire? 

Thus, it's not hard to imagine that if the polls stay trending thusly or if new scandals emerge around Morrison's remaining frontbench, that a few more generous pieces about Albanese will start to get published. 

Perhaps some editorials will explain how Labor had learned the lessons of the disastrous Rudd/Gillard/Shorten years and that they've abandoned their nutty leftism and are finally behaving like economically-responsible grown-ups. Whatever threadbare excuse they use to justify switching their support, it'll be a placeholder for "because they're going to win and we want to make them think we were responsible for that". 

And when that happens, it'll be all over bar the belligerent Morrisonian shouting — not because News anoints our leader, but because the team at News are masters of jumping on the winning horse and pretending to have been riding it all along.

Andrew P Street is an Adelaide-based, Sydney-built journalist, author, editor and broadcaster and an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewPStreet.

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