Politics Analysis

News Corp's sinister 'leftist' label strategy

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(Rupert Murdoch | Artwork by allistermac, via Deviant Art)

Murdoch Media's persistent references to supposed "leftist media" in Australia is a strategy employed to convince its audience that it is the only source of "truth", writes Dr Victoria Fielding.

ANYONE WHO HAS SPENT any time reading News Corp newspapers or watching Sky News will know that these outlets spend an inordinate amount of time and energy slamming ABC and other outlets, such as The Guardian, by accusing them of being Left-wing. Sophie Elsworth, The Australian’s media reporter, seems to make ABC bashing her full-time occupation.

Just like everything News Corp does, there is a political motive behind this competitor bashing. Murdoch media does the same thing in the U.S. in its decades-long war against “liberal media bias”, a bias that study after study suggests doesn’t exist, particularly through Fox News. It does the same thing in the UK.

Murdoch’s competitor-bashing is usually assumed to be a way to undermine market rivals, but it has a far more important strategy at play.

One major reason Murdoch media calls its competitors Left-wing is to give an alibi for its own Right-wing bias.

Take, for instance, when The Australian’s Paul Kelly in a debate on ABC’s Q&A with former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about News Corp’s climate denialism appeared to admit Murdoch media is a “propagandist for one side”.

In full, Turnbull said:

“We have many publications that are dedicated to promoting the cause of climate change and radical action on climate change, so that's okay, is it? It's okay to be a propagandist for one side, but if one is a critic or sceptic about some of these issues, that's not okay.”

Murdoch media’s other key motive in characterising its competitors as Left-wing is to convince its audiences that the “truth” can only be found in its own newspapers and broadcast channels. Lo and behold, this so-called “truth” is actually a manipulative political campaign to persuade audiences to support Right-wing ideas and to turn them against the Left.

News Corp's accusations that its competitors are “Left media” are used to justify why the content it produces contradicts its competitor’s factual reporting. Such justification was on display in the case of Kristin Shorten, former The Australian journalist, who was revealed by Crikey to possibly have a conflict of interest in her sympathetic reporting about Northern Territory police officer Zachary Rolfe shooting and killing an Indigenous teenager.

Evidence in the coronial inquest has found that soon after the shooting occurred, Shorten contacted Rolfe, whom she knew personally because her partner was Rolfe’s colleague.

She offered to write sympathetically about what had occurred, texting Rolfe:

Ignore the leftist reporting in the media…

 

I know what you did was totally warranted…

 

If you ever want me to write an article in your defence, with or without naming you, say the word.

By 'leftist reporting', Shorten was referring to factual accounts of what had occurred. She was offering her mate an opportunity to undermine these facts in The Australian, albeit without naming him. For this highly questionable "reporting”, Shorten received a 2022 NT Media Award for best crime/court reporting, which speaks volumes of News Corp ethics and problems with the industry as a whole.

The “leftist media” tag is also used by News Corp to justify it being the only outlet reporting a story. By framing itself as covering issues its competitors are too “biased” to reveal, Murdoch media covers up the fact its competitors won’t report unverified nonsense.

An example of this is the obsessively long-running investigation Sky News’ Sharri Markson ran claiming that COVID-19 may have leaked from a Wuhan laboratory — an “investigation” that won a News Ltd Award in 2023.

Proper journalists, of course, do not set out to prove a conspiracy theory right. They find the facts and report them, and if there is no evidence, don’t push a barrow. When other outlets refused to give Markson’s conspiracy theories airtime and – like ABC's Media Watch – delegitimised the story as unevidenced nonsense, News Corp attacked them.

News Corp, however, does not call its competitors “Left media” when it sees outlets like ABC News following its lead, joining in with political hit jobs. Another story that won a News Ltd Investigation of the Year award in 2023 was The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen and Stephen Rice’s "exclusive” revelation from texts leaked from the Bruce Lehrmann rape investigation, revealing Brittany Higgins had sought support from Labor MP Katy Gallagher.

The fact that News Corp can make Labor MPs' support of an alleged rape victim a political scandal shows its agenda-setting power. This power is the final advantage it gains from constant accusations that its competitors are Left-wing.

The ABC – and others – bend over backwards to prove that they are not Left-wing by joining Murdoch in politically-motivated attack-journalism, hosting Murdoch journalists on ABC shows and regularly capitulating to Murdoch bullying.

There are many benefits for News Corp in writing off its competitors as Left-wing. By trapping its audiences in an echo chamber where its “truth” is the only truth, it justifies its own bias, increasing distrust in credible journalism, polarising its audience and goading its competitors to join its Right-wing campaigning.

News Corp knows what it is doing when it bashes its rivals as Left-wing. It is important the public see what it is doing too.

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

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