ABC RN: Murdoch Royal Commission

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW

ABC RN BREAKFAST
12 OCTOBER 2020

Topics: #MurdochRoyalCommission petition

Fran Kelly
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has escalated his war with the Murdoch media empire, which includes the Australian newspaper and a number of major selling daily tabloids. Kevin Rudd has set up a parliamentary petition, which calls for a royal commission into News Corp’s domination of the Australian media landscape, which he has branded, quote, a cancer on democracy. More than 73,000 signatures have been gathered in the 48 hours since the petition went live on the parliamentary website on Saturday morning. In the meantime, Rupert Murdoch’s son James Murdoch, has told The New York Times that he left his family’s company over concerns it was disguising facts and spreading disinformation. Kevin Rudd joins us from Brisbane. Kevin Rudd, welcome back to Breakfast.

Kevin Rudd
Thanks for having me on the programme, Fran.

Fran Kelly
You’re you want a royal commission into what you generalise as, quote, the threats to media diversity, and that includes Nine’s takeover of the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. But when you drill down, you are going after News Corp, aren’t you? You are out to get Rupert Murdoch. Everyone else would just be collateral damage.

Kevin Rudd
The bottom line here is, as a former prime minister of the country, Fran, I’m passionate about the future of our democracy and a free independent and balanced media is the lifeblood of democracy. And I think most people would agree, I think most of your listeners, in the last decade or so this has just eroded. It’s the further concentration of Murdoch’s control over print media. 70% of the print readership in this country is owned by Murdoch. In my home state of Queensland virtually every single newspaper up and down the coast from Cairns to the Gold Coast is owned by Murdoch. And the ABC’s funding is under assault. So for those reasons, I think it’s high time that we had an independent, dispassionate examination of the impact of media monopoly on Australian democratic life and alternative models aimed at diversifying media ownership into the future.

Fran Kelly
And in the petition, you refer to, quote, how Australia’s print media is overwhelmingly controlled by News Corp, as you just said, with two thirds of daily newspaper readership, this power is routinely used to attack opponents in business and politics by blending editorial opinion with news reporting. What’s the the example that you want to give us know how the blending of editorial opinion with news reporting has actually become an arrogant cancer and harmed Australia?

Kevin Rudd
Well I could give you dozens of examples of this across the nation’s tabloid newspapers and with the national daily, which is the Australian. If you were simply to go back to, for example, the 2013 election, the front page of I think the Sunday Telegraph was ‘we need Tony’, that was it. ‘We need Tony’ and a huge photograph of Tony Abbott. Now, I would suggest to you, Fran, that by any person’s definition, that’s a blending of an editorial view with news coverage. If on the front page of the same paper, it has me and Anthony Albanese, or The Daily Telegraph, dressed in Nazi uniforms, I would say that’s a blending of editorial opinion with news.

Fran Kelly
It’s also transparent isn’t it, Kevin Rudd? I mean, it’s transparent what they’re doing. The readers presumably know what they’re doing. And by those papers, knowing what they’re doing, it’s not as if newspaper circulation, you know, indicating that they’re necessarily the leader of you know, opinion in the media anymore. I mean, things are changing. We’ve got news websites, people access news from all over the world.

Kevin Rudd
So why does Murdoch choose to continue to invest in essentially loss-making newspapers, Fran?

Fran Kelly
For influence.

Kevin Rudd
Yeah, the reason is political influence and power. So if you’re in my home state of Queensland, and as I said before, you can’t go anywhere else in terms of print. Your daily paper in southeast Queensland is the Courier-Mail. And then it’s the Gold Coast Bulletin on the Sunshine Coast Daily, the Bundaberg News-Mail the Mackay Mercury, the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, the Townsville Bulletin, the Cairns Post and others. And the reason is –

Fran Kelly
But it’s not like people only get their news from reading the Townsville Bulletin.

Kevin Rudd
No, but the reason they do it, and I’ve been in many many regional radio bureaux right around the country where, what flops onto the desk of the regional newsroom? It’s that day’s Murdoch print media because they know what happens is it helps set the agenda and the tone and the framing and the parameters of the national political debate. That’s why they do it. And so therefore, my question simply to a royal commission would be: is this poisoning our democracy? I believe over time, it is. And, for example, today we have this stunning statement by James Murdoch that the reason he left the board of News Corporation was because it was participating in the legitimisation of disinformation. Yet in today’s Australian Murdoch media, not a single reference to what James Murdoch has said; James, having helped run the organisation for decades. So this is monumental news for those of us concerned about whether in fact, we’ve got balanced news reporting or the slanting of editorial opinion.

Fran Kelly
Indeed, the comments from James Murdoch are startling and do dovetail pretty closely with some of the things you say in your petition. Have you had any discussions with him as you’ve been formulating your moves against News Corp?

Kevin Rudd
No. Not at all. I think I’ve met James Murdoch twice in my life. I just observe what he has said as someone who has been at the absolute heart of the operation. You see, people have often asked me: why now? Why are you calling for this now? The trend has got worse over the last decade. In Queensland, the ACCC’s, in my view, wrong decision to allow Murdoch to purchase Australian Provincial Newspapers delivered Queensland, the state which swings so many federal elections, and its print media, almost completely into Murdoch’s hands. So that’s a big change, the assault on Australian Associated Press, an institution in this country since the 1930s, where Murdoch is de-funding and seeking to set up a rival institution. And on top of that, look, 18 out of the last 18 federal and state elections, the Murdoch print media, in its daily newspapers campaigning viciously for one side of politics and viciously against the other in the news coverage. Look, you get to a point where enough is enough. And what I find stunning, Fran, is that in less than 48 hours, despite an inhospitable Parliament House website, 75,000 people have gone online to register already their names on this petition.

Fran Kelly
Sure, a lot of people agree with you, but you didn’t agree with this necessarily. You didn’t have a problem when News Corp backed due in the Kevin07 election, did you?

Kevin Rudd
If you were leader, the Labor Party in 2007 and in elections prior to that, and to some extent subsequent to that, you would do everything you could to reduce the negative coverage from the Murdoch media against the Australian Labor Party. That’s the responsibility of the parliamentary leader. What I’m saying is, prior to 2010, News Corp ran a somewhat more balanced approach to their overall news coverage.

Fran Kelly
Did they or is balance in the eye of the beholder?

Kevin Rudd
No, no. Balance means everyone getting a fair go in the news coverage. That’s what it means. And since then, I think any objective observer would say 18 out of 18 federal and state elections on the run, Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, federally, what you have seen is News Corporation running a vicious editorial line reflected in their news coverage against one side of politics against the other when they control 70% of the show. All I’m saying to you, Fran, is that enough is enough. And when the same party campaigning to kill your budget at the ABC that’s the other. That’s the other arm of have a balanced media environment in Australia. I think our democracy is under threat. And that’s why I’ve launched this petition.

Fran Kelly
I know but you’re calling for a royal commission, so it’s a serious call. And it would, you would also need to take note of the fact that in that 10 years Labor’s had a leadership merry-go-round, it’s had clear policy failings, a split over climate policy that can’t seem to be resolved. I mean, Labor’s woes are not all about News Corp, are they?

Kevin Rudd
Of course not. And if you’ve seen everything I’ve written on this subject, we own full responsibility for problems of our own making. Since I changed the rules of the Labor Party, we’ve had two leaders in the last seven or eight years. Contrast that, the other side of politics, we’ve had a rolling door of serving prime ministers. So let’s not be distracted by the question of whether one side of politics commits political errors or not. We have and the Coalition have. What I’m talking about, is simply whether or not we have a balanced media in this country, which is capable of giving what I would describe as objective coverage to the news, facts-based news. And if you want to look at the way in which this is trending in Australia, look no further than Fox News in the United States, again a Murdoch operation, which has been the lifeblood of the Trump Administration and Trump campaign for the last four years. That’s where we’re headed unless we choose to stop the rot here in Australia.

Fran Kelly
So then, are you disappointed that Anthony Albanese is not joining you in this call for a royal commission? Or do you accept that a current political leader would be crazy to endorse a royal commission into a major media organisation?

Kevin Rudd
Well, I didn’t speak to Albo before I launched this petition, nor have I spoken to Mr Morrison before launching this petition for a royal commission. This is a time for the Australian people including all your listeners to decide whether it’s worth putting their name to it or not. And it’s not just targeted at News Corporation. But as you rightly say, they’re the dominant players so they come in for the primary attention. Fairfax Media has been taken over by Nine, whose chairman is Peter Costello. Your budget, the ABC, is under challenge and under attack. And then we have the question of the emerging monopolies in terms of Google and Facebook. These are all legitimate questions to be examined. My interest as a former prime minister, is having the lifeblood of the democracy kept alive and flowing with diverse media platforms. We are no longer getting that. Okay.

Fran Kelly
Kevin Rudd, thank you very much for joining us.

Kevin Rudd
Thanks very much, Fran.

 

Image: World Economic Forum