The Chief Executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, Robert Thomson, delivered the Keith Murdoch Oration in Melbourne on Tuesday night1. Keith Murdoch was Rupert’s father and was one of the founders of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA)2, a far right-wing ultra-libertarian, climate change denying, tobacco denying organisation that masquerades as a think tank3 and which is effectively the policy arm of the Liberal Party4. Indeed, the IPA have come out recently, and provided a list of policies the Coalition should follow, if they win the federal election5.
It is ironic that the Keith Murdoch Oration was delivered at the State Library of Victoria, a place where a proportion of the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of our species is reposited, parts of which News Corp and the IPA deny constantly. This has been the stock-in-trade of both organisations ever since the 1970s, since the cancer of neoliberal trickle-down economics raised its ugly head, and which they enthusiastically embraced.
While most of Thomson’s address is obscure drivel, much of it is ripe coming from a News Corp executive and emanates from the school of propaganda in which you accuse your enemies of your crimes. Some examples follow:
“As a result, we have institutionally ingrained some seriously bad behaviour…”1. Some of the worst behaviour in the current media landscape does not come from social media and its peculiar little alleyways, but from Murdoch media and similar disgraceful mainstream media organisations. With their reach, they should have a responsibility to report news with veracity, but they do not. The most appalling example is of course Murdoch’s Fox News, which simply relates lies as long as they are in support of the Republican Party or Trump or both. The Australian parallel is Sky News, which also spouts outrageous drivel, including misogyny6, bigotry, xenophobia7, climate change denial8, and anything else in support of the dog whistling or denialism of the Coalition government. Murdoch’s print media are just as disgraceful, writing lies on a regular basis9,10,11,12.
“That includes, sometimes tragically, the teenagers whose insecurities and vulnerabilities are magnified cruelly in so-called social media – or the seemingly powerful global companies that panic and prevaricate at the first mutterings of the anti-social media mob”1. Conflating online bullying of children (mostly by their peers) with the campaign by Sleeping Giants Oz (‘a community initiative to make racism, bigotry and misogyny less profitable’)13 is at best bizarre and is something only a NewsCorp executive could contemplate. Sleeping Giants Oz simply notifies companies that advertise on Sky News, of some of the latter’s unsavoury content and suggests that it may be wise for those companies to rethink their advertising spend. As is clear from the fact that Thomson mentions it, this campaign has been very successful. Furthermore, calling it anti-social is ludicrous. It is precisely a social movement (I have been involved) which targets all forms of bigotry, and is in the interests of social cohesion, something with which Murdoch’s media are seemingly antipathetic. Similarly, they have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to damage GetUp (which I also support), another social movement, which has as its aim “to build a progressive Australia and bring participation back into our democracy”14. It seems community organisations scare the bejesus out of NewsCorp.
“One example of that trend [challenging our capacity for empathy] is the seething secularism that portrays any person of faith, whether an evanescent evangelical or occasional attendee at mass or synagogue or mosque or temple as a nutter, a fruitcake, a devotee of the deviant”. Again, this is rich coming from a Newscorp employee. Their whole ethos seems to be built around the lack of empathy. They enthusiastically embrace the dog whistle with regard to Muslims, asylum-seekers7,15, and anyone else they wish to hammer (the poor, the unemployed, the young16) in support of the Coalition. Indeed, lack of empathy seems to be also the ethos of the Coalition, as indicated by Peter Dutton, who stated that “success in the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion” when referring to asylum-seekers and refugees. It seems the Coalition thinks empathy is dangerous17.
“There is actually a hierarchy of content and of news, the fact-based and the fantasy based, the profound and the profane, the veracious and the vacuous”1. The Murdoch media mostly deal in fantasy insofar as they lie, mostly by omission, or are at best in ignorant of the facts. This is perhaps exemplified by their rabid opposition to the fact of climate change. We have known for 30 years that it is a significant danger, but it is people like Murdoch’s ‘ruperters’ who for some reason known only to their proprietor, refuse to accept the science, believing either that they are superior climate scientists to all the climate scientists on the planet, or that all those climate scientists are involved in a massive conspiracy. Perhaps the most ludicrous example of this denialism is that of Sky News’ Rowan Dean. He is either very stupid in that he cannot grasp the basics of science, or is a liar8.
“There should be scepticism about elites….but the question we must ask is who are the elites, who is the establishment?… Now the world has a tyranny of the distinguished, a smug, sneering elite that derides popular concerns as ‘populism’, and whose self-image is fuelled by an abiding sense of absolute superiority”. Who is part of the elite, if it is not a billionaire media mogul, who has his employees almost constantly lie for him, and reinforce the bigotry the Coalition uses when it is in electoral trouble? Personally, I’d prefer to put my trust in people who actually know what they are talking about, rather than those employed to lie in the service of their proprietor.
“It would be remiss to ignore what Rupert [Murdoch] has done for the media and for our country and for many other countries. To see Rupert up close each day, to witness the restless curiosity, the endless energy, and a genuine humility is in such stark and breathtaking contrast to the ill-informed institutional critiques”1. As I said above, Murdoch employs people to lie for him, and Thomson is no exception. While Murdoch may have endless energy, his curiosity seems to be limited to only that which can benefit Rupert Murdoch. Similarly, his humility seems to be only on display when his organisation is caught out doing what it shouldn’t18. It is no coincidence that the anglophone nations in which Murdoch has very limited or no media presence (New Zealand, Canada), have functioning progressive governments who are dealing with the 21st century, while those which have corrupt, kleptocratic and inept conservative governments (Australia, UK, US) clinging to the last century, are those in which Murdoch has extensive media interests19.
It is probably no coincidence that this oration bemoaning the modern digital democracy should appear not long after former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s articles, calling Murdoch media the cancer on Australian democracy and noting its deleterious effect on democracy in the US and UK20,21. If Australian democracy is to survive, then the Murdoch influence needs to be massively diluted.