Rupert’s Game


WORDS Anna Glen

Rupert Murdoch is a colourful character. His Twitter page is often outlandish, the Melbourne Theatre Company has just opened a play with him as its subject and Grapeshot’s very own mascot ‘Rupert’ takes his name from Murdoch. The eccentricity of the man makes him an interesting subject and after Labor’s defeat and News Corp’s palpable political bias everyone is asking, was it Murdoch that won it?

Those who seek to emphasise News Corp’s role in determining the outcome of the election will point to Murdoch’s personal interests and his dislike of Labor’s National Broadband Network policy, which sought to jeopardise News Corp’s pay TV syndicate Foxtel by allowing Internet Protocol Television. They will point to his Twitter account and the fact that, on the day of the election, Murdoch tweeted “Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy”, a line that clearly corresponds with Abbott’s 12,000 public sector job cuts and the Liberal Party’s credentials for “saving the economy”. They will point to his affable relationship with Tony Abbott who described him as a “hometown hero” after the election despite the fact he is now a US citizen. They will likely reference the 1992 British election where English newspaper The Sun famously ran the headline “It’s the Sun Wot Won It” after a close and unexpected win by Britain’s conservative party.

Others may make the argument that News Corp simply reflected the view of the constituency and that Abbott too has born the brunt of the Murdoch press in the past. Rather than an innocent victim of ruthless political bias, the ALP exacted their own electoral suicide through the political upheaval caused by insufferable leadership challenges that cried division rather than efficient government. Such events made Abbott’s rebuttal an easy one – “If you want better coverage, be a better government.” In this sense, the famous 190-point font “KICK THIS MOB OUT” headline in The Daily Telegraph, which hit the stands immediately after the arrival Murdoch’s right hand man Col Allan, was merely holding the government into account and communicating the dissatisfaction present within Western Sydney.

However, in light of the election results, both arguments do not hold up. Labor’s loss to the Coalition was nowhere near as severe as many had predicted. For instance, in the supposedly disgruntled region of Western Sydney, Labor held two marginal seats of Greenway and Werriwa both of which were forecasted to be wipeouts (though Greenway is likely to be a result of Jaymes Diaz’s infamously poor six-point plan response). This leads to the conclusion that News Corp’s hysterical anti-Labor coverage did not accurately reflect community sentiment nor did it have much impact on swing voters. Like crass political advertising, Murdoch’s vitriolic headlines and distasteful portrayals – such as depicting Anthony Albanese and Kevin Rudd as Nazi leaders – simply served to reaffirm pre-existing beliefs rather than generate any actual change.

If anything, News Corp’s coverage of the election did more damage to journalism and its affiliated watchdogs rather than to the ALP. To the chagrin of many journalism students, Murdoch broke every rule in the book and made a farce of the orthodox view that newspapers and its journalists perform a public service role to act as the ‘Fourth Estate’. What this requires is facilitation of rational and informed debate, what we got were headlines and graphics that were clearly intended to add fuel to the fire. The fact that Col Allan arrived to brief News Corp journalists and get the agenda straight is testament to the partial approach taken by its writers. Despite this, the Press Council and ACMA were taciturn and again proved to be toothless tigers.

It would be drawing a long bow to give Murdoch and News Corp the election however as a corporation that accounts for 59 per cent of all newspaper sales in Australia – the most concentrated in the democratic world – it is perhaps unwise to be so complacent with this media landscape.