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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

The Australian: wrong again « Previous | |Next »
April 20, 2012

In this review at Inside Story of two recent books on the political power of Rupert Murdoch's media empire Denis Muller highlights the systematic pattern of suppression, lack of transparency and hypocrisy. It reinforces the view that News Corp has become a toxic institution that operates like a shadow state.

This is significant and important, given the increasing concentration of the legacy media in Australia, and the increasing competition they now face from the internet's media startups. The concept of news as a series of articles published daily or weekly in a paper format is dissolving before our eyes.

Referring to David McKnight's Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power Muller says:

The pattern takes several forms. One is journalistic misrepresentation....News Corporation’s newspapers [also] have often engaged in baseless ad hominem attacks on individuals who have challenged its world view. [Thirdly] there is a deliberate strategy to create a conservative brand of politicised journalism masquerading as “balanced.” Allied to this pattern is equally systematic hypocrisy. In Australia, Murdoch’s News Limited has been a driving force behind the Right to Know coalition, a group of twelve Australian media organisations with the stated aim of improving Australia’s “relatively poor world ranking for freedom of speech.” On the evidence presented by McKnight about Murdoch’s covert political activities, the public’s “right to know” does not appear to extend to the activities of Murdoch and News Corporation.

McKnight argues convincingly that it is his leverage with politicians that Murdoch uses to pursue his policy preferences when his financial interests are at stake and that his politics is to reshape the English-speaking world to fit the template of conservative (Republican) America.

We can see this pattern at work in The Australian's bias against and hostility towards renewable energy and sustainability. It is currently expressed in its recent Taxpayers should not gamble on renewables editorial:

Renewable energy is powered more by the winds of the zeitgeist and the flow of taxpayers' money than it is by westerlies or sunshine...he path to a low-carbon economy is taking a tortured route. While this money might have subsidised two or three nuclear plants to generate power at standard prices with zero emissions, we instead will speculate on renewables that will certainly cost more and possibly do nothing to cut emissions unless they reduce reliance on existing baseload generation. Very little will be fuelled, save for the clean energy zeitgeist.These green initiatives are driven by an obsession with renewable energy at the expense of all other options, no matter the benefits involved in lower costs or emissions.

The conclusion is blunt: It is no accident that separate reports recently revealed South Australia had the highest proportion of electricity generated by wind turbines and the most expensive power in the nation.

The reality is otherwise, as Tristan Edis points out in Climate Spectator. The high prevalence of wind power in South Australia’s electricity mix is actually depressing electricity prices in the state, whilst the lion share of increases in SA residential electricity prices to increased expenditure on distribution networks.

The Australian is increasingly shifting to an opinionated and conservatively partisan style similar to that of talkback radio. It's rhetoric of manufactured anger towards liberals, inner city and intellectual elites, and the Greens attracts a polarised audience but, in the process, undermines public trust.

Jay Rosen has a interesting post on his PressThink blog entitled Rosen’s Trust Puzzler: What Explains Falling Confidence in the Press? He says:

So the puzzle is: how do these things fit together? More of a profession, more educated people going into journalism, a more desirable career, greater cultural standing (although never great pay) bigger staffs, more people to do the work … and the result of all that is less trust.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying there’s no explanation, or that this is some baffling paradox. Only that it’s worth thinking through how these things fit together.

He then suggests a number of answers as part of that thinking through. These include:

(1) All institutions are less trusted eg., the banks, the church etc;
(2) Bad actors meaning the squabblers on cable television, and the tabloid media generally–are undermining confidence in the press as a whole;
(3) Liberal bias in the media for the right. The left's answer is different
(4) Working the refs meaning that the right has learned how to manipulate journalists by never letting up on the “liberal bias” charge, no matter what.
(5) professionaliization of journalism with its insiders ethos, view from nowhere, the voice of God etc
(6) the media is just part of the power structure now
(7) culture war
(8) the stories are too big to tell

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:37 PM | | Comments (11)


Isn't 'The Australian' inevitably going to become irrelevant over time, like the 'AFR' and any other publications that disappear behind a paywall? Sure they will have some welded-on followers who can't do without them and they will shell out their money for a while but it's hard to see anyone who has never read them deciding to subscribe in future. Paying for something as inconsequential as news strikes the internet generation as grotesque, when multiple alternatives are available for free. Murdoch seems to me to make the fundamental error of believing that the business model he's used for newspapers and TV can also apply with a few tweaks to the internet.

Like critics who blather about the NBN being a way to download movies faster, he seems incapable of grasping that the internet is something totally new where different business principles apply. He had a great opportunity to become a major player when he bought MySpace but he sat on it and did bugger-all except try to make money out of it, while Facebook and Google powered past him by concentrating on attracting new users.

No doubt Rupert Murdoch, who is now publicly committed to the breakup of the UK, is planning to exact his revenge on Britain's political class for the crisis at News International when he appears before the Leveson inquiry.

In Murdoch's eyes the Leveson inquiry should never have been set up. It has caused News International to fight for its survival.

News Corp still wants BSkyB as it is a crucial step in Murdoch's strategy for an integrated, expanding satellite empire across the world.

Three-quarters of News Corp is movies and TV already. It's the future of the business. BSkyB has a stranglehold on Hollywood films on pay-TV---given its exclusive deals with all six major Hollywood studios for UK pay-TV and video-on-demand.

Is this the same with Foxtel in Australia?

I'm trying to think of anything genuinely innovative that News Ltd has done in recent years. Can't think of a thing. All they have done is try to defend their old businesses while using their strong balance sheet to buy new ones that someone else has developed. I just can't see it being a winning strategy in the long term.

News Ltd, along with the press in general, is now more distrusted by the public than it was.

Jan Rosen talks about this in the US context on this post at his PressThink blog.

The starting point for his explanation is that America is a divided nation (culture wars) and that something went awry within journalism's professional project–which also did a lot of good for journalism–and eventually that flaw began to take its toll on public confidence. The press got out of alignment with its public.

"Isn't 'The Australian' inevitably going to become irrelevant over time, like the 'AFR' and any other publications that disappear behind a paywall? Sure they will have some welded-on followers who can't do without them and they will shell out their money for a while but it's hard to see anyone who has never read them deciding to subscribe in future. "

The AFR has allowed some of its opinion pieces to be placed outside the paywall.

Murdoch knows the NBN is a big threat to his pay TV business---we will be access content like movies we want much cheaper than offered by Foxtel.

While the liberal concept of the watchdog press is still referred to as important in the professionalism of journalism, much of the press stopped speaking truth to power long ago.

eg, the tabloids. Or The Australian.

many journalists are seen as infotainers who appear to shill and suck up to the powerful--economic and political.

I doubt if the tabloids were ever a part of a reliable news delivery system premised on fair and accurate reporting. Or “maintaining objectivity,” “not imposing a judgment,” and “refusing to take sides” . The tabloids were all about bias not the he-said-she-said that is deeply embedded in our political journalistic culture.

Journalism is distrusted because it has increasingly become a profession that has more to do with spin, publicity and marketing than truth telling. You very rarely see journalist's pulling up Tony Abbott and his the sky will fall in' claims re the carbon pricing; or him blaming everything on the carbon pricing. They just let the claims through.

will Rupert Murdoch "dish the dirt" on certain political meetings with British Prime Ministers ---eg., Blair and Cameron--- when he fronts the Leveson Inquiry this week. Or will he be on script?

Will he explain – and demonstrate – how he has wielded power, got deals through, and his empire expanded, expanded. Murdoch was pretty astute in reading the trends, from populist tabloids to pay television.

The focus of the Leveson inquiry is shifting from Fleet Street's excesses to those politicians who fawned and courted the media barons. What was discussed in all these cosy private get-togethers, free from civil servants or official minutes or any of the usual safeguards against undue influence.