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ABC should expose News Corp’s agendas, not Labor’s “Mean Girls”

by Michael West | Mar 20, 2022 | Business

The ABC had a choice this week: amplify Murdoch’s toxic “Mean Girls” coverage, or expose News Corp for exploiting the death of Kimberley Kitching for political purposes. It made the wrong choice. New management is in order. Michael West reports.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is the story, not the sad, sudden death of Senator Kimberly Kitching. And certainly not the grotesque narrative being peddled by News Corp’s rabid propagandists. Manslaughter, that is, manslaughter by Labor senators Penny Wong, Katy Gallagher and Kristina Keneally.

How low they are stooping. Kitching may well have been bullied, left distraught by the treatment of her colleagues. Politics is a nasty caper. It is also reasonable that this be covered by the media. But that is not the bigger story. 

That the ABC and commercial media followed the line being peddled by the political operatives of a foreign media magnate, Rupert Murdoch, only emboldened News Corp to amp up its venomous agenda to manslaughter. Bullying is widespread. It is a legitimate public interest story. Yet the politicisation of Kitching’s death, the political agendas and the unscrupulous electioneering by News Corp is the bigger public interest story.

Bitter experience

This writer can speak with some authority on the subject, having been a columnist at News for eight long years. It is not that they are all rotten, the journalists that is, things are far more nuanced than that, but there is no doubt this company is effectively the communications arm of the Coalition government and it is getting worse.

Loyal thugs get promoted, paid more. Those who conduct journalism eke out a difficult existence.

Just ask two former prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd. They will not disagree with this, and they know the players at News Corp and their tactics all too well.

So it was that, emboldened by the coverage by the ABC and other ovine media this week, Rupert’s flunkies took the narrative to a new level. “Hounded to her death,” said Liberal Party operative Peta Credlin on Sky.

There was no autopsy, the funeral would not be held for days, but according to News Corp, Labor killed her.

No doubt the scandalous politicisation of Kitching’s death will be amplified again this morning on the ABC’s Insiders, a show whose very name captures the problem with media in this country. 

Insiders are the problem

The corporate media do deem themselves to be “insiders”. They flaunt it, some superciliously. Journalists ought to be outsiders who report fearlessly on governments of both stripes, not insiders who cravenly burnish the credentials of one political tribe over another.

Not stenographers who get daily “drops” from the PR people in the Prime Minister’s office.

Yet there they all were this week with all the searing indignation and hypocrisy they could muster.

The ABC, particularly, should be above this fray; and to be fair, Paul Barry and the very good Media Watch program do do their bit to call this sort of rubbish to account. But this is serious: News Corp is not just a blight on the landscape of politics and media, its political practices – designed for commercial ends – actually cause harm and death.

Had its producers at Sky News, its editors at the newspapers and websites acted as journalists holding power to account, rather than as virulent gossip mongers trafficking in Coalition hype, there would have been fewer deaths in aged care, fewer deaths in the pandemic, the floods.

Had they been watching at the time, investigating, they would have caught up on the crisis in nursing homes earlier, on the failure of the government’s outsourced contractors to come good with booster vaccines, rapid tests and a surge workforce. Lives might have been saved.

Fatal distraction

Then there’s the floods, the fires, the economic mismanagement, the gutting of the bureaucracy, the rising cost of government, the mountainous debt, the abject failure on climate, the chaos which is Defence spending, the epic corruption of unprecedented pork-barrelling.

Arguably, this lot has blood on its hands for the deaths of one million people in the Iraq War. This writer was working on the newsroom floors at Holt Street at the time, the time when the “Liberation of Iraq” was being boisterously cheered on by Murdoch’s apparatchiks around the world. Would British prime minister Tony Blair have had the electoral licence to join George W Bush in this deadly Iraq folly had The Sun and other tabloids opposed it?


Just the latest smear

The upshot was ISIS, the destabilisation of the Middle East and North Africa. Bombings, death. And now we see the Fox News Trumpists, spearheaded by the truculent Tucker Carlson egging on Putin in his invasion of Ukraine.

Make no mistake, the Murdochs love a war. They have oil interests for a start; wars sell newspapers, ramp up network audiences. Ergo, advertising revenue.

The searing hypocrisy of the Kitching coverage is that, had the accusations been made against a bunch of Liberal MPs, the confected outrage from Holt Street would be targeted at “leftist” media.

A serial victimiser of women

What of their thousands of words expended in trashing Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs? Or their hounding Yassmin Abdel-Magied out of the country, the failing to censure Scott Morrison’s attack on Christine Holgate, the bagging of Rosie Batty, Julia Banks, Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. 

Would Julia Gillard, who enacted more substantial legislation in her short time than nine years of this regime, be seen more in public? Probably, were she not to resile from the inevitable shellacking by Murdoch’s minions for being on the wrong side of politics.  

While the other media is following News Corp, lending their imprimatur to its toxic political agendas, let’s follow the money for a moment. Because, in following News Corp’s agendas, the ABC and other media are literally making money for a sinister foreign media baron whose monopoly pays no tax in this country.

Its pundits are daily promoted by the national broadcaster, and Nine, Seven, Ten as well as a host of radio stations. 

Follow the money

We know what the Coalition gets from News; daily propaganda. What does News get for its support for the Coalition? A lot of money, and the protection of an entrenched market position:

  • Large ad revenues, both from government, which recently leapfrogged even Harvey Norman as Australia’s biggest advertiser, and from oil and gas giants for patronising their cause.
  • Straight grants such as the $30m to Sky to cover women’s sport.
  • Cross-subsidies in the millions from the protection racket which is the Digital Media Bargaining Code, forcing Google and Facebook to pay money to Nine, News and Seven (not to mention JobKeeper for Nine, Lachlan Murdoch’s Nova and Seven).
  • No tax. News Australia Holdings has paid no tax in Australia for at least 7 years.
  • Self regulation. They occasionally get hit with a rosette of wet lettuce by the Press Council. Communications “regulator” ACMA is useless, captured. 
  • Protection from anti-trust enforcement. Lachlan Murdoch’s lawyer was recently appointed to chair the competition regulator ACCC.
  • Media concentration via the legislated dismantling of media laws to allow the Fairfax/Nine merger. Ergo a duopoly.

The quid pro quo

And this duopoly has been cagily exploited by Scott Morrison, keeping him in power dispensing the favours. 

This is the way it works in brief. Cooperative members of the Canberra Press Gallery get “drops” from the PMO and other ministers. The websites and newspapers publish these drops, largely without scrutiny and routinely without policy detail between midnight and 5am.

Morning TV and radio producers arrive at work around 4am. They get their fodder mostly from Nine and News newspapers and websites. Largely without question – ABC Radio is often better on scrutiny – they reproduce the News and Nine line on stories, stories written in line with Coalition political agendas.

So it is that Morrison and co control the daily news cycle. The corporate media rarely dares to follow anything in independent media such as this website or Crikey or Renew Economy or do its own research. Too early in the morning for that.

An increasingly captured media has spurred growth in independent media, inspiring community support – people know there is a problem – yet we have the disadvantage of competing for audience against large subsidised corporations, having to pay tax and tackle defamation threats with tiny balance sheets.

Goodies and baddies

Unlike the many media with their penchant for a goodies and baddies narrative, we can attest that there is more nuance. Press gallery types such as Laura Tingle and Katherine Murphy among others do good work, they do their best to withstand the pressure to reproduce government talking points. Others are better or worse in their journalism, in degrees.

Many, when they get their drops from Morrison’s dark arts maestros, “bury” the “other side” of the story in the 14th paragraph. Reporters don’t write the headlines, choose the story placement or pick the photos. That is the domain of editors and managers with their KPIs and profit expectations. Down the chain, most have mortgages. If they don’t play the game they miss the story, the bosses ask why.

And there is moral equivalence too. “It’s just the way it works”.

The answer

It’s up to the community to demand change. And it’s up to the ABC, for we are its paymasters, to lift its game. Yes, it has been cut up by government defunding, but yes, it has also been largely shielded from the ravages of the online revolution which cut up the newsroom floors of its commercial rivals.

We are talking about big media management as the culprits; government revenues, bias, favours, agendas, a “small target” Labor campaign strategy which breeds policy reticence (fear of News Corp), corporate advertisers, conniving Coalition media management. These all conspire to favour the incumbents. They have brought Australia to where it is now: incompetent, corrupt government and a stasis in political reform.

In the media sector itself, this publication has been the only one to investigate the News Corp restructure which led to Foxtel, a supposedly regulated broadcast monopoly, being taken offshore, or at least the company which controls it, an exclusive Australian licence that is, whisked away to the secrecy jurisdiction of Delaware in the US.

Why Delaware? You can conceal your shareholders and directors. What did “regulator” ACMA have to say about it? They didn’t know. How about Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications? Didn’t seem to know, or care, either.

This country’s good fortune as a rich farm and a quarry, the rising wealth of the upper and middle classes, a rising share market and property values, are quite incidental. Yet they have led, along with the failure of the media and the political system to a stasis in reform. A public apathy for change. This country is falling down the ranks of prosperity and performance against its peers.

It could be argued, and quite legitimately, that Rupert and News Corp are not to blame for all this. Corporations are here to make profits for shareholders. It is the government’s duty to regulate and successive governments have failed. For shareholders, it is a boon that Rupert can influence governments to enact policies which suit his commercial interests.

It was Paul Keating who – and this is evidently his greatest stuff-up – allowed Rupert to get his claws on the Herald & Weekly Times, and therefore the state tabloids in the 1990s including the highest selling, and frankly hysterical Liberal propaganda outfit, Herald Sun. That was a backfire – and Keating, if you are listening, to borrow from Pauline Hanson, please explain.

The decisions which governments make, and those they don’t make for fear of upsetting media proprietors, affect all policy decisions, including those which affect the future of the planet, so in these terms, it is important. Vital. We have seen rising concentration, insufficient reform to defamation laws, insipid regulation by ACCC, ATO, ACMA leaving successive governments kowtowing to King Rupert.

The future is not bleak yet systemic reform is desperately needed.

So what is the agenda? Why the Murdoch venom over Kimberley Kitching? It’s a distraction, a distraction from failed government, a distraction embraced by our complacent and compromised political classes and a feeble media unable to grasp the real story. It’s about Murdoch’s foot-soldiers keeping their proxies, the Coalition, in power. It’s about the rest of the media being led about by the nose like a pony at the fairground. It’s about money and power for a foreign company.

Michael West established Michael West Media in 2016 to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. West was formerly a journalist and editor with Fairfax newspapers, a columnist for News Corp and even, once, a stockbroker.

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