Politics Analysis

News Corp bullies to be held accountable over one-sided Voice coverage

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Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has led a campaign against the Voice Referendum and Australian democracy (Image by Dan Jensen)

Murdoch media is to face scrutiny as Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission (AFMRC) works with expert researchers to monitor News Corp's Voice Referendum coverage. Leading researcher for the project, Dr Victoria Fielding reports.

REFERENDUMS to change the Australian Constitution are notoriously difficult to win. They require a double majority — a majority of citizens and a majority in a majority of states. Campaigns advocating for people to accept change – like the 1999 Republic Referendum – are always disadvantaged because the ‘No’ argument is easier. All those advocating for ‘No’ have to do is sow confusion and fear in three states.

Despite this uphill battle, in 1967, Australians resoundingly voted to change the Constitution to allow Indigenous people to be counted in the Australian population and granted the Federal Government power to make laws relating to Indigenous people.

The ‘Yes’ vote won in every state and territory and 90.77 per cent of Australians supported the constitutional change. This campaign was won under the banner of a simple idea: ‘Right wrongs, write yes.’

Fifty-six years later, Indigenous people continue to feel the ill effects of White colonisation, genocide, land dispossession, cultural and language loss, family trauma from the stolen generations, and generational wealth, health and educational inequality.

This division, this injustice, is what led First Nations communities to work together over decades to ultimately create the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This statement invites Australians to ‘walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution’.

It is a simple, powerful proposition. First Nations people should have a Voice, an advisory body that can assist the Government to improve policies that help close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

By enshrining a Voice in the Constitution, it gives it longevity. Structural disadvantage is not solved overnight. Indigenous Australians want to be part of the solution to solve the inequality they face. The Voice will not have veto rights. It does not impact on non-Indigenous people. An enshrined Voice is a simple, powerful idea that came from First Nations people who want to mend a divided Australia so the country can proudly walk together towards a more united and equal future.

Considering how overwhelmingly Australians voted ‘Yes’ in 1967, you might assume an even more modern, diverse and educated country 56 years later would, in the words of ‘Yes’ campaigner Noel Pearson, embrace their “better angels”, not their “dark devils” to support this simple, yet powerful constitutional change.

Unfortunately, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, in concert with the Murdoch media, had other plans.

Dutton knows referendums are incredibly difficult to win without bipartisanship. Showing he has no “better angels”, he saw an opportunity to use the Voice Referendum to try to damage Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s political popularity. Dutton, who walked out on the Apology to Stolen Generations, saw an opportunity to reject the offer of Indigenous reconciliation and to destroy practical advice which would improve First Nations outcomes. Instead, he chose to make the Voice a stick to beat his political opponent with.

Predictably, the Murdoch media has thrown its weight behind Dutton’s opportunistic ‘No’ campaign. The Murdoch media is also campaigning against the Voice to damage Prime Minister Albanese. That Indigenous people are collateral damage in this campaign seems not to concern them.

Since the Voice is such a simple concept, and ultimately innocuous consequence for non-Indigenous Australians, Dutton and Murdoch know the only way to muddy the water is to throw as much dirt as they can at the constitutional change. Misinformation is rife, and it is being used to confuse, sow fear, and ultimately divide and damage the country.

This is not how media power is meant to be wielded, particularly not by the largest media organisation in the country. News media is meant to be fair. During public debates like referendums, it is meant to inform, to present fairly both sides of the debate, to give voice to different ideas and to let the people decide.

It is not meant to spread misinformation to degrade the debate or to persuade and become a cheer squad for one side. It is shameful to see Murdoch media waging war on the Voice, and ignoring the damage this does to First Nations Australians and to the country's unity. It is equally frustrating that this misuse of media power is basically unaccountable.

I know I am not the only Australian frustrated by the unfair misuse of media power because over 500,000 of us signed Kevin Rudd’s petition calling for a Murdoch royal commission. This petition led to the establishment of Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission, whose directors, former PM Malcolm Turnbull and former ACTU president Sharan Burrow, have criticised Sky News for ‘spreading fear and falsehoods on Indigenous Voice’, describing this as an ‘affront to Australian democracy’.

To bring some accountability to Murdoch media, Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission has announced it will be monitoring News Corp’s Voice coverage in the weeks leading up to the Referendum.

I am pleased to announce I am leading this project. My team and I are using our expertise in media analysis to shine a light on News Corp’s coverage.

I have no doubt News Corp will not appreciate this accountability. When powerful people get used to being unaccountable, they tend to lash out at those who scrutinise them. But I am not afraid of Murdoch bullies.

The truth of News Corp’s coverage should be available to Australians so they can see whether their democracy is being undermined. I look forward to letting the facts speak for themselves.

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

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