A media monopoly is not freedom


Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, who owns 63% of Australian newspapers, has been a subject of much discussion during the ongoing Australian election campaign, particularly on last night’s Media Watch and Q&A.

Media Watch and others have done a good job of documenting the Murdoch media’s extreme bias against the Labor government and the Greens, a campaign which has intensified to fever pitch as the election approaches. The most absurdly biased of the corporation’s newspapers is Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, which has become notorious for the front page pictured above.

It was pointed out on Q&A that Murdoch’s newspapers occasionally back left-of-centre political candidates. I don’t have an explanation for why they would do this. But what I have observed beyond reasonable doubt is that News Corp’s media outlets in every country consistently promote a neoliberal (free market) ideology, attack environmentalism and social democracy, and give credence to denial of the established scientific fact that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet.

Many, including myself, believe such reporting is not in the public interest, and there is an argument for legislation against media monopolies. Yet on Q&A, Tim Wilson from right-wing libertarian think tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which refuses to disclose its funding sources, insisted “there should be zero media regulation in this place”.

First, Wilson argued it is “fanciful” to use the British News Corp scandals “to beat up on Rupert Murdoch” or News Corp Australia. In reality, Murdoch has (ironically) been caught on tape saying the police inquiry was “over next to nothing” and his newspapers routinely paid police for stories, and telling his employees he would “do everything in my power to give you total support even if you’re convicted… I think it’s just outrageous.”

Second, Wilson quoted a recent front page from the Australian Financial Review (AFR), owned by Fairfax Media, as an example of an independent newspaper strongly opposing Labor. In reality, the AFR is not exactly independent of News Corp. Its present editor Michael Stutchbury is a former editor of News Corp’s The Australian and during his two years at the AFR has overseen a noticeable rightward shift, for example sacking a left-wing economics columnist. Many other journalists also moved from The Australian to the AFR around the same time. Crikey recently described it as “no longer a newspaper about business, but a media release service for business”. In any case, the AFR has always taken a right-of-centre view.

Third, Wilson said “if you don’t like the newspapers that are produced, buy something else.” But how can you buy something else if there is no competitor to News Corp, which there isn’t in many areas of Australia?

Fourth, Wilson claimed restrictions on media ownership “would dramatically silence free speech”. In reality, limiting media ownership is not the same thing as media censorship. Even if a government were to force News Corp to sell some of its newspapers, it would not prevent its remaining newspapers from printing whatever they want. Indeed, greater diversity of media ownership actually increases the freedom of others to speak.

Fifth, Wilson argued restrictions on media ownership “would only end up being used for political consequences”. Yet it is clear Murdoch is using his media monopoly for political purposes.

Sixth, Wilson argued that each state’s newspapers “reflect opinion within the state” and “they have to reflect the sentiment within the community to make sure people buy their newspapers”. In reality, as I’ve already mentioned, News Corp promotes a similar ideology around the world (at least on economic policy). But to the extent that it is true, it is hardly a point in News Corp’s favour. What is the point of journalism which merely tells readers what they want to hear?

Whether it’s attempts by climate-change-denying mining billionaire Gina Rinehart to buy influence at Fairfax Media, or suspicions that Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott might adopt the IPA’s policy of privatizing the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, media ownership is currently a key issue in Australian politics. I urge my fellow citizens not to mindlessly follow Murdoch’s advice to “kick this mob out”, but to carefully consider your vote based on information from a range of independent sources.

The final word goes to the man at the centre of the media ownership controversy. Media Watch has dug up an old interview from 1967 in which Rupert Murdoch said:

I think the important thing is that there be plenty of newspapers with plenty of different people controlling them, so that there’s a variety of viewpoints, so there’s a choice for the public. This is the freedom of the press that is needed. Freedom of the press mustn’t be one-sided just for a publisher to speak as he pleases, to try and bully the community.

Like Media Watch host Paul Barry, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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