Rupert Murdoch's under fire in Australia but chicken shit British politicians won't take him on

Former Australian Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull are coming for the media mogul at their country's Leveson equivalent. British politicians? Nope.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sauron-like oversight over the political machinations within the UK, US, and Australia has been unmatched for decades. In the ‘90s, The Sun still had enough power and clout to credibly argue that “It's The Sun Wot Won It” after John Major’s shock win over Neil Kinnock in the 1992 General Election.

The more naive amongst us thought his power was being put in a chokehold nine years ago when the Leveson Inquiry into the practice and ethics of the British media began. He faced a parliamentary committee and mumbled that it was “the most humble day of his life”, two weeks after he shuttered phone hacking hub and Sunday newspaper, The News of the World. He looked punch drunk. But like any movie monster, Murdoch comes back.

The Conservative Party kicked Leveson 2: Electric Boogaloo, which was meant to explore the relationship between the media and police forces, into the long grass. Murdoch dodged a hail of rhetorical bullets. Since then he has continued to manage his international empire, getting richer and diversifying his UK holdings to include radio stations — Times Radio, talkRadio, talkSport, and Virgin radio — with a ‘Fox News-style’ UK TV news channel on the way.

Politicians in the United Kingdom still fear Rupert Murdoch and swear fealty to him with complimentary comments in interviews and a willingness to appear in his newspapers and on his radio stations. While the Prime Minister was boycotting the Today programme and ducking Good Morning Britain, he and his cabinet ministers gave Times Radio, a minnow in audience terms, lots of time and attention.

In the US, where corporations are people and money equals speech, Murdoch remains extraordinarily powerful, even as Fox News loses ground as the preferred TV station for the country’s hard right. Incredibly, Fox is no longer head-banging enough for many viewers who now get their fix of fear from more radically racist channels such as One America News Network. Still, Murdoch remains a powerbroker and will not struggle to get his calls answered by a Biden White House, especially as Fox News has done a hard handbrake turn since it became clear that Trump had been trumped.

Things are looking quite different in Murdoch’s home country, however. Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, respectively the former Labor and Liberal Prime Ministers of Australia, have teamed up and are appearing jointly as the star witnesses at the forthcoming Australian parliamentary inquiry into the Murdoch press’ dominance of political debate in the country. They intend to argue that the right-wing ‘Liberal’ government has benefitted from News Corp Australia acting as propaganda wing.

Just as British commentators got over-excited about Leveson, some people in Australia have hailed the senate inquiry as the beginning of a worldwide effort to reduce the unelected, unaccountable power wielded by Murdoch and his minions. David Hardaker, an Australian investigative reporter and broadcaster, told The Guardian, “We have two ex-Prime Ministers working together, and that hasn’t happened before. This is already leading to a senate inquiry that could be something similar to the Leveson inquiry in Britain.”

In the summer James Murdoch, once Rupert’s heir apparent, resigned from the News Corp board claiming it was down to “disagreements” over editorial content, particularly the company’s Australian papers denying climate change during their coverage of bushfires that — to use the tabloid parlance — ‘ravaged’ the country. At the time, Turnbull did an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company which went viral, in which he castigated Murdoch:

“The campaign on climate denial is just staggering and has done enormous damage to the world, to the global need to address global warming.

I mean, it is so horrifically biased, and such propaganda that Rupert’s own son James can’t stomach it.”

Murdoch’s team suggest Turnbull and Rudd are out for ‘revenge’. I could understand why they might be; both were targeted constantly during their premierships by Murdoch's print and broadcast properties which have a near-monopoly hold on the media market in Australia.

In 2011, Australia was ranked the third-worst country in the world for media concentration, trailing only the state-owned media of China and Egypt. Australia has a free press in so much as you’re free to work for Rupert Murdoch.

There is a Murdoch-owned major newspaper in every state of Australia, except Western Australia. Rudd has said of Queensland, where Murdoch’s Courier Mail is the dominant newspaper:

“This is a one-newspaper state, not just a one-newspaper town. And anyone who thinks that’s fair in terms of every side of politics having a fair go has got rocks in their head.”

Or Murdoch wages in their bank account.

Murdoch has pushed his flagship national broadsheet, The Australian, much further to the right in recent years, with a particular focus on attacking attempts to battle the climate crisis. Turnbull will say at the inquiry that he believes News Corp is effectively a political party, working in lockstep with right-wing politicians to influence policy and the result of elections.

As well as his newspaper holdings, Murdoch owns Sky News Australia, which is far more right-wing than Sky News was under his ownership. It has often given air-time to people like Milo Yiannopolous and Brendan O’Neill and has its own slate of blathering bigmouth bigots who frequently hit the headlines with their ‘thoughts’ and confected controversies. If you want to see the template for talkRadio in the UK, you should take a look at Sky News Australia.

While its good news that Turnbull and Rudd — two men with little left to lose now politically — are going for Murdoch, I doubt it’ll take him down any more than Leveson did. Rudd’s petition to secure a Royal Commission to investigate the media, which called Murdoch “an arrogant cancer on our democracy” was signed by 500,000 people, including Turnbull. However, just as Murdoch managed to slip out of the clutches of Leveson, I expect he’ll shake off Australian reproach. After all, the government there are his allies, just as the Conservative Party in the UK dances to his atonal tune.

Rudd’s rhetoric — Murdoch as cancer — has a precedent. In 1990, when he was dying of cancer, the writer Dennis Potter said in his final TV interview:

“Who would you kill? I call my cancer - the main one, the pancreas one - I call it Rupert, so I can get close to it, because that man Murdoch is the one who, if I had the time - in fact, I've got too much writing to do and I haven't got the energy - but I would shoot the bugger if I could.”

Dennis Potter died in 1994 aged 59. Rupert Murdoch, who was born 4 years before Potter, is still alive and cruising towards 90.

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