By Situation Theatre 13/5/2019
The first article in this series discussed the ancient Murdoch family tradition of political assassinations. Part Two argued that a fundamental characteristic of a successful political movement is to name the antagonism, in this case The People vs Rupert Murdoch. This final piece in the series proposes strategies for a united front to defend itself against Murdoch’s war on the demos.
Rupert Murdoch has been poisoning our democracy for decades. It’s time for a united front to offer an antidote.
“Alpha males are selected as editors. It’s a real big swinging dicks culture … With the editors it’s often about the relationship with Murdoch himself: who can be the ballsiest, toughest, cheekiest editor at the next editors’ conference in Belize or wherever.”
This is how one News Corp insider describes the aggressive, masculine culture inside the organisation.
And Murdoch journalists, editors, and bosses certainly do swing their dicks across the Australian media landscape.
According to The Guardian,
News Corp Australia dominates the country’s media sector, with 58% of daily newspaper circulation; a swathe of regional newspapers, the only national broadsheet, the Australian; the only pay TV network, Foxtel, which broadcasts the Murdoch-owned Sky News; and the most-viewed website, news.com.au.
A major international study found Australia has the world’s third-most concentrated media market after Egypt and China.
And that was before the Turnbull government scrapped the two-out-of-three rule in 2017, which prevented media moguls owning television, newspapers, and radio stations in the same market, along with other controls on media ownership.
Since then, Murdoch’s Sky News made a deal with WIN Television, the “world’s largest privately-owned regional television network”, reaching 5.2 million viewers across six Australian states. The deal sees “the WIN network broadcasting a range of Sky New programming 24 hours a day”, and according to The Guardian, “it’s likely another deal will follow for city markets. That will give Murdoch the means to turn Sky into the Australian equivalent of Fox News”.
Even before the latest developments increasing Murdoch’s power, Kevin Rudd’s former campaign manager, Bruce Hawker, wrote that News Corp is “easily the most powerful political force in Australia, bigger than the major parties or the combined weight of the unions”.
So our media is dominated like no other in the world by, what Professor of Journalism Eric Alterman describes as a family which “has been able to use the power of the press to subvert democratic norms, misinform citizens, undermine governments, and fill our national debates with lies, misogyny, racism, and ethnocentrism while calling it news”.
For those who place hope in Rupert’s age, keep in mind his mother lived until 103. For those who have hope for the transition to Lachlan, note former editor of The Australian Chris Mitchell’s opinion that he is further to the right than Tony Abbott.
For Robert Manne, “while News Corp retains its present dominance, mainstream debate about certain fundamental ideologically sensitive questions…the climate-change crisis…taxation…foreign policy…media reform – is effectively ruled out in advance”.
The fact is, unless you get your kicks from ecocide, we’re gonna need to neuter News Corp ASAP.
They destroyed the mining tax, they destroyed the carbon tax, and they will destroy any future climate action by a likely Shorten government unless effectively castrated by civil society.
A good place to start thinking strategically about this question is with the enormously successful Bernie Sanders campaign. After results no one thought possible in the 2016 primaries, this time around he’s already raised nearly $20 million from small individual contributions, more than any other Democratic Presidential candidate. He also signed up one million volunteers to support his campaign in less than a week after announcing his candidacy.
The democratic socialist knows how to win popular support for what seem to be politically unrealistic goals.
Bernie also fully understands the need for a united front to fundamentally transform US politics.
He has said “The truth is that the powers that be… are so powerful, they have so much money, that no one person, not the best president in the world, can take them on alone. The only way we transform America is when millions of people together stand up and fight back.”
Bernie’s argument has its antecedent in US socialist leader of the early 1900s Eugene Debs, who argued “Employers, who are the beneficiaries of the wrong, have hitherto been able to crush, in most of the states, all remedial legislation,” Debs wrote, but “labor may be induced to unify, and taking the aggressive in politics, bring about the reform required”.
An article in Jacobin titled Bernie Wants You To Fight articulates the counterargument to this political pessimism in the context of industry opposition to Medicare for All, but exactly the same argument applies to achieving media diversity in Australia:
The only way out of this unfavorable predicament is for a mass movement of ordinary people to exert its own pressure on politicians, rivaling the pressure exerted by capitalists. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways: political strikes that tank profits or halt the normal functions of society, disruptive mass protests, successful media campaigns that create new moods in the electorate and threaten politicians’ careers.
When Bernie says that he can’t deliver the needed reforms by himself, that he needs help from millions of people who themselves have no formal power, he’s not just flattering us. He’s insisting that extra-parliamentary movements are the key to political success. This is the underlying meaning of the slogan he has revived for his 2020 campaign: “Not Me, Us.”
Back in 2013, Manne had the misfortune never to have heard of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg, and Extinction Rebellion. The against-the-odds success of these figures and movements shows us that what’s politically possible is pliable.
It’s clear that the only way to stop the gigantic swinging dicks of News Corp slapping down anything of value in this country is for a concerted people’s campaign to change what’s politically realistic.
It will take nothing less than a co-ordinated alliance of the ALP, Greens, unions, organisations like Getup, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and 350.org, and independent media outlets like Crikey, The Guardian, New Matilda and The Juice Media, all campaigning for media diversity, to properly emasculate the evil empire.
The foundations for such a campaign have already been laid.
According to Rebecca Huntley’s recent Quarterly Essay, the general public has views vastly to the left of News Corp on affordable housing, funding the ABC, childcare, negative gearing, foreign and corporate political donations, renewable energy, and Indigenous policy, amongst others.
Popular sentiment envies the politics of New Zealand and Canada, where Murdoch influence is minimal.
Shorten’s recent actions reflect this. He refused an offer by Murdoch for a meeting in New York and described the recent The Daily Telegraph front page as “gotcha shit”.
Meanwhile Shorten’s Deputy, Tanya Plibersek, denounced the “new low from News Corp media in Australia” and called it “one of the dirtiest campaigns I have seen in my 20 years in parliament”. She wondered “if that’s got anything to do with the fact that Rupert Murdoch and his companies paid little or no tax in Australia”.
More of that please Bill and Tanya.
It’s a smart play because as we know from history, Labor’s appeasement of Murdoch has only ever resulted in disaster.
Labor is clearly flirting with taking on News Corp but they need a passionate and mobilised public behind them to push them over the line.
They are currently not contemplating Kevin Rudd’s idea of a Royal Commission into the “cancer” that is News Corp and how it impacts democracy. Asked by Barrie Cassidy on Insiders whether he would “go after News Corp”, Shorten danced around the question.
There are measures beyond a Royal Commission which Labor could consider. For example, they could amend the Competition and Consumer Act in a way that required News Corp to sell some of its newspapers.
But Labor won’t have the power or confidence to do any of this unless backed by a a large proportion of civil society.
One redeeming feature of Murdoch’s complete and utter shitfuckery over so many decades is he’s made a lot of enemies. If these enemies bound together in opposition, they would be unstoppable.
Imagine if The Greens flipped the script on News Corp and went after them as the real extremists.
Imagine if the ACTU, recognising News Corp’s deleterious impact on workers’ rights for the last thirty years, put their full organisational weight behind a “change the rules of media ownership” campaign.
Imagine if Getup, after successfully turfing out the most toxic right-wing Liberals this Saturday, turned their full attention to turfing out Rupert Murdoch.
Imagine if they were fully supported by a wide range of environmental, refugee, Indigenous, and poverty organisations in a unifying campaign for media diversity which recognises Murdoch as the enemy preventing action on any of these fronts.
Imagine if the journalistic heft of The Guardian, the ABC, Crikey, and New Matilda joined forces with the satirical genius of The Juice Media to decrease the sway of sewer journalism and radically increase the power of independent media?
Imagine if this movement prompted the remaining News Corp journalists with integrity to go on strike like they did back in 1975?
Imagine if tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Australians hit the streets as part of this campaign.
Labor would be emboldened by these civil society actions to pursue sweeping reforms to media ownership laws.
What’s politically realistic would drastically change and finally Australia’s government and its people could stop being slapped around by Murdoch’s swinging dicks.