Imagine if the toxic nature of Rupert Murdoch media’s lies and bullying became so overpowering in America that a bipartisan movement sprang up against it. Imagine if former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush came together to demand a Congressional inquiry into Fox News and the danger Murdoch poses to our democracy.
That’s what recently happened in Australia, when former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull — occupying different parts of the political spectrum — joined forces to denounce the Murdoch media cancer that’s eating the country. They’re urging the government to take steps to diversify media ownership and to break up the dangerous coalition that now exists between right-wing politicians and the Murdoch press, which serves as an unaccountable, but extremely powerful, entity in Australian politics.
Parliament hearings were held after Rudd’s petition to establish a royal commission into media diversity became Australia’s largest-ever e-petition, and the country’s third largest petition of any kind.
Rudd, a progressive, has labelled Murdoch’s’ empire a “cancer” on the country, while the center-right Turnbull branded it “an absolute threat to our democracy.” Both men were targeted by the Murdoch media machine when they were in power. Turnbull actually pointed to the destruction Murdoch has done to Australia’s “most important ally,” the United States, and specifically the Fox News-backed January 6 insurrection, and warned Australia was headed for the same type of democratic calamity. (We’ll never know how many thousands of people Fox News killed during the pandemic by spreading lies to its mostly elderly audience about the virus, and then the vaccine.)
In Australia, Murdoch media’s relentless attack on climate change has already fed sweeping natural disasters, most notably the epic bushfires in 2019 and 2020, which killed dozens of people, more than a billion animals perished, and 2,000 homes were lost.
Murdoch’s media concentration there is unmatched. His News Corp controls 60 percent of newspapers in Australia, the country where he was born. To get a sense of his pull Down Under, that would be as if he not only owned the New York Post and Wall Street Journal in the U.S. but also the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and used them all to pump out toxic, right-wing misinformation. In Australia, he does it for the counter-intuitively named Liberal Party. It’s News Corp that effectively governs the country and makes policy by using its vast media properties to push politicians around.
News Corps also owns the country’s second-biggest news website news.com.au and 24-hour channel Sky News Australia. (Murdoch might soon make Fox News available in Australia.) The country recently ranked third in the world for media concentration, behind only the state-owned media of China and Egypt.
“The most powerful political actor in Australia is not the Liberal party or the National party or the Labor party, it is News Corporation,” Rudd warned. “And it is utterly unaccountable. It is controlled by an American family and their interests are no longer, if they ever were, coextensive with our own.” He added, “We are drowning in lies.”
That feeling of disdain may be spreading. Last year, a News Corp finance manager sent a stinging, all-staff email as she resigned. “I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies,” she wrote. She described the news reports that came out Murdoch’s The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun as “irresponsible” and “dangerous”.
All during Australia’s Black Summer of 2019, as deadly bushfires spread, “News Corp’s massive misinformation campaign defended fossil fuel interests, accused arsonists of being the major cause of the fires and repeatedly attacked individuals who advocated urgent action on climate change,” Al-Jazeera reported.
Months after the Black Summer, State Environment Minister Matt Kean broke ranks with the conservative government when he delivered a speech calling for stronger action on climate change and criticized those that treat the issue as a “matter of religion” rather than science. He clearly stated that the unprecedented bushfires had been caused by climate change. Kean then became a prime Murdoch media target, especially from his largest Australian tabloid.
“The attack on him in the [Daily] Telegraph following that was bitter, vicious and personal,” Turnbull testified last month. “And it was designed not only to punish him but it sends a message, and this is how it operates like a gang, like a mafia gang, it sends the message, ‘If you step out of line you’ll cop some of this, too.’ That’s the threat. So other politicians look at that and say, ‘Oh gosh I don’t want to go there.’ That is the reality.”
In the U.S., Fox News was first created to serve as an obedient megaphone for the Republican Party, loudly spreading its talking points. Over the last two decades, the network has taken a much more proactive position, often launching attack campaigns against liberals and Democrats, which the GOP eventually signed on to.
Now, as in Australia, we’re seeing signs of Fox News and other Murdoch properties ascending to the role of party disciplinarian and punishing players who fall out of line. Look no further than the Murdoch media attacks on Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who has emerged as a rare, interparty Trump critic and who voted for his impeachment this year.
America and Australia remain uniquely plagued by the Murdoch cancer.