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News Corporation has no-one to blame but itself

By Alan Austin - posted Monday, 18 March 2013

After Rupert Murdoch's chickens came home to roost spectacularly in the UK, his emus are scuttling about in Australia.

The entire Australian organisation is attacking the federal Government over proposed legislation to strengthen media self-regulation.

Entirely predictable. News Limited is the main perpetrator of media abuses in Australia. And hence the strongest proof the current self-regulation system is useless. Naturally it will squeal when called to account.


Intriguingly, we are seeing precisely the same tactics deployed against the Minister for Communications Senator Conroy and his proposed rule changes as gave rise to the need for them in the first place.

News Corporation in the UK now admits to having hacked the phones of a murdered schoolgirl, and of countless public figures, and of deceased servicemen and their families. All this they denied for years with point blank lies.

They have been found to have fabricated damaging stories about their enemies and suppressed stories damaging to their friends. They have been caught using criminal means to obtain information, including pay-offs to police. These they also lied about for years.

Several British editors and executives have now been sacked, others jailed or charged, and a newspaper shut down in shame.

In the USA, Murdoch's Fox News is notorious for distortions, omissions and fabrications in political reporting. Outlets there bow to the whims of Rupert Murdoch regarding content. But the man himself is unaccountable.

Downunder, Justice Bromberg found Australia's most widely read columnist Andrew Bolt guilty of multiple fabrications in Melbourne's Herald Sun. The Federal Court judge found Bolt had no evidence for more than 19 damaging distortions in his racially-motivated attacks against vulnerable Aboriginal people.


This was not a first for Bolt. For years he has waged campaigns against Aborigines and others based on falsehoods. He has been admonished by academics regarding his persistent refusal to write accurately about climate. He was found guilty of "very, very serious libel" in 2002.

Just a year earlier, Justice Stephen Kaye in the Victorian Supreme Court slammed Murdoch executives for lying to the court. In the matter of Bruce Guthrie's wrongful dismissal the judge said he "had reservations about a number of features" of the evidence of News Limited's then chief executive John Hartigan. "In my view Hartigan was an unreliable witness ..."

Kaye was even more scathing of Herald and Weekly Times chief Peter Blunden. "The explanations given by Mr Blunden in evidence," the judge said, "do not survive scrutiny".

In the matter of Eatock v Bolt, Justice Bromberg also rejected the testimony of Murdoch executives.

The Australian Journalists Association has a 12-point code of ethics. All twelve are now routinely violated by Murdoch employees.

In 2010 Herald Sun reporters lied about their identity to ensnare politicians in a British tabloid-like sting. They had the support of editors and executives – despite explicit condemnation in the code.

Most Murdoch publications seem now primarily spruikers for conservative political causes. The frequency and viciousness of these crusades increased markedly after Labor came to power in late 2007.

In 2008 Glenn Milne in The Australian attacked PM Kevin Rudd over a risqué play in Gippsland which the local Labor candidate had promoted in his newsletter. Milne failed to disclose, however, that the tawdry theatrical event was actually approved and funded by the previous Howard Coalition Government.

Examples since are the campaigns against the economic stimulus packages during the GFC, against climate change, against the mining tax, against the carbon tax, against internet security, against changes to discrimination laws and against the National Broadband Scheme. 

Sydney's Daily Telegraph was found by the Australian Press Council to have used false customer figures in a news story on the NBN. Other Telegraph articles were found misleading by serious omission. The Council expressed concern that "within a short period of time three articles on the same theme contained inaccurate or misleading assertions."

The Daily Telegraphran a front-page story headed "Thousands of boat people to invade NSW". The Australian Press Council found elements of the story to be "gravely inaccurate, unfair and offensive". The Council condemned the newspaper for "an especially serious breach of its principles."

Murdoch outlets have attacked the PM ruthlessly over her alleged involvement with a union two decades ago. They have produced no evidence whatsoever of anything amiss and were forced to retract and apologise at least twice.

They have constantly attacked the Treasurer Wayne Swan, who according to external assessment, has done a better than average job.

The last four years "have been disastrous for Australians," claimed The Daily Telegraph in 2011. "There have been broken promises, billions lost in wasteful spending and economic mismanagement and sheer incompetence."

This was the month Australia gained its triple A credit rating with all agencies for the first time ever. And shortly after The New York Times reported" Australia's economy has been booming".

In February last year, The Australian ran a cover story headed "Mutiny kills PM's Bob Carr plan". It contained at least six "revelations" relating to the appointment of Bob Carr as Foreign Minister. All six were soon proven false.

Murdoch publications have campaigned against all Labor state governments. News reporters at Brisbane'sCourier-Mail were instructed to use the news pages to drive a campaign targeting then Premier Anna Bligh.

The campaign against the Greens, and former leader Bob Brown in particular, has been particularly vicious.

An editorial in The Australian declared"We believe he (Brown) and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box."

These are not just vigorous campaigns confined to the opinion pages, which would not be so objectionable. But crusades fought with misrepresentation in the newscontent.

Can anything be done? Ex-employee Bruce Guthrie who beat News Limited in court in 2010 believes "you can bite back against Murdoch".

Senator Conroy seems to be attempting exactly that. Will he succeed? We shall see.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nīmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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