Article Originally Published by The Sydney Morning Herald on the 5th of January 2019
Article Written by Kevin Rudd
This year will be an important year for three of the world’s oldest, continuing democracies – the United States, the UK and Australia.
The US will decide, post-Mueller, whether Trump’s presidency is terminal. The UK will decide whether to tear up a half a century of European integration. And Australia faces a general election.
It will also be an important year for the Murdoch media where its power in these three democracies is formidable, and in Australia’s case dominant.
In the US, Murdoch’s Fox News has been the great enabler of Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the modern Republican Party. This has been a long project in the making. But because Fox has been the self-reinforcing echo-chamber of the American far right for 30 years, it has become the principal medium through which each generation of conservatives have outflanked each other by going further and further to the right.
We saw it in the 1990s with the highjacking of the Republicans by Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America”. Then we saw it in the 2000s with Gingrich being outflanked by Paul Ryan’s “Tea Party”. Then the Tea Party was in turn outflanked by the Trump Party. Watching Fox is like watching a revivalist meeting of evangelical fundamentalist preachers seeking to out-compete each other for the affections of “the base”.
The result is that the Grand Old Party of Lincoln has been ripped from its moorings, with profound consequences for the American democracy at home, and the American-led global order abroad. Well done Rupert.
Then there’s Murdoch’s political handiwork in Britain. First he campaigned in support of Scottish separation from the rest of Britain, coming close to destroying the United Kingdom that had prevailed as a strong, unified state for over 300 years. But then he deployed his formidable media arsenal in full-throttled support of Britain leaving Europe during the 2016 referendum before finally hitting the Jackpot with Nigel Farage’s UKIP, the ever-opportunistic Boris Johnson and Brexit.
As a result, Britain has degenerated over the last two years into its worst political and constitutional crisis in 500 years. Once again, well done Rupert, and that’s despite the fact that his newspapers had already been found guilty of multiple breaches of the criminal law following the Leveson Inquiry into what became known as the “phone-hacking scandal” in 2011-12.
As for Australia, where Murdoch owns 70% of the country’s print media, unsurprisingly we read very little of the impact of Citizen Murdoch’s singular contribution to the political disembowelling of the American and British democracies. That’s because his Australian mastheads, by and large run by a sycophantic “broederbund” of editors always seeking to out-compete one another for their master’s affections, will rarely cover any news story, foreign or domestic, that might give offence to Rupert Central.
In Australia, as in the US and the UK, the Murdoch media don’t behave as a news organisation, but as a political party in full pursuit of their commerical and hard-right ideological interests in coalition with the major conservative party of the day. That’s why the Murdoch media has become such a cancer on the wider cause of democracy. We often ponder why democracy has been in such a mess across the Anglosphere. While Murdoch cannot be blamed for the lot, he’s been a big part of the equation. By contrast, the Canadian democracy has been in reasonable shape. Interesting that there is negligible Murdoch presence there.
In the 2013 elections in Australia, Murdoch despatched his leading henchman from the New York Post to Sydney to run a joint campaign with the Liberals to put Abbott in The Lodge, as has been well documented by ABC media-watch.
This was not just to put Abbott’s mad, right-wing government into office. It was also about protecting his company’s commerical interests by getting Abbott and his then Communications Minister Turnbull to destroy my government’s Fibre Optic to the Premises National Broadband Network. Murdoch’s henchmen say this is all the stuff of conspiracy. They should read the compulsory filings by News Corp on the New York Stock Exchange in 2013 warning explicitly of the threat to Murdoch’s television interests represented by internet-based competitors.
Murdoch, however, is a clever political animal. His modus operandi has long been to do whatever it takes to have compliant conservative governments in power. But if, despite his best efforts, a conservative loss looks inevitable, he then begins to swing some support behind the political alternative before its all too late. This is designed to cause any new centre-left government to feel somewhat politically beholden to Murdoch when they eventually win, or at least not as hostile to Murdoch’s interests as they would otherwise be.
They tried this in late 2007 in Australia having spent the previous 12 months seeking unsuccessfully to defenestrate me through one set of of bogus charges after another. Now we see the same in the United States, where Trump is increasingly seen as terminal and where in recent weeks Fox News has begun to allow various of its anchors to open up against Trump.
We may be beginning to see the same now unfolding in Australia where Murdoch may have judged that the Liberals are now in such political disrepair that even Uncle Rupert can’t save them. Of course, the irony of all this is breathtaking given Murdoch’s recent and well-documented role in the last round of Liberal leadership implosions. But then again, irony has never been Rupert’s strong suit.
So watch out for the the subtle tacking to port on the part of various of Murdoch’s mastheads as they begin to send out feelers to Shorten et al. Labor should be wary of quiet approaches from Lachlan Murdoch or his minions. Nor should Labor be seduced by a more generous sprinkling of positive news stories, or negative ones about the Coalition. That’s how Murdoch plays the game.
The core objective of course is to avoid a Royal Commission that would lay bare the actual nature of their Australian political operations and their destruction of the NBN. Their “sotto voce” message in all this will be that Murdoch might not have been so deeply opposed to Labor after all. And pigs might fly. That’s before Murdoch then sets about killing Labor straight after the next election. After all, that’s the way US Citizen Murdoch does business.