By Mike Head in Australia:
Australian media “inquiry” designed to protect Murdoch empire
20 September 2011
The Gillard government last week announced a narrowly-focussed inquiry into the print and on-line media. The six-month inquiry, to be run by a former judge with no powers to compel witnesses, is clearly designed to defend Rupert Murdoch’s interests in the face of the ongoing phone-hacking and influence-peddling scandal wracking his News International group in Britain and globally.
Communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy flatly ruled out any examination of the two most obvious issues raised by the exposure of Murdoch’s British operations: whether his News Limited outlets have conducted similar activities in Australia, and the grip that Murdoch and a handful of other proprietors have over the Australian media—which has one of the most concentrated ownership structures in the world.
“In terms of a witch hunt to breakup News Limited or to attack News Limited, we’re not interested,” Conroy told a media conference last Wednesday. “I don’t need an inquiry to establish that the Murdoch press owns 70 percent of the newspapers in this country. We’ve all known that for years.”
In fact, the inquiry seeks to strengthen the virtual monopoly held over the Australian print media by News Limited and John Fairfax Holdings, which between them own 11 of the 12 capital city daily papers and the overwhelming majority of the regional and local papers. The government’s overriding concern is that the explosion of on-line media outlets over the past decade has undermined the power of the media moguls.
Conroy said: “The pressures brought about by the advent of digital technologies and the 24 hour news cycle are threatening the traditional business models that support the essential role of the media in our democratic society.” The Labor government, no less than the press barons, is concerned at the intrusion of the Internet and its wider range of commentary and expression into the present, tightly controlled media monopoly.
The inquiry’s terms of reference speak of exploring means of “supporting the investment by traditional media organisations in quality journalism and the production of news.” This terminology echoes that used by Murdoch himself in 2009, when he announced measures to try to reverse the rapidly declining profits of his newspapers around the world by making readers pay for on-line content.
Murdoch denounced the “content kleptomaniacs” of the Internet, declaring that the time had come to shut the door on them. He told analysts in mid-2009 that the traditional newspaper business model had to change. “Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting,” he said.
In reality, Murdoch’s media outlets have nothing to do with “quality journalism”. In Australia, as in Britain and the US, they pursue a relentless free-market agenda, coupled with flag-waving support for US-led military interventions and a constant diet of sensationalism, banality and the demonising of workers, refugees and other vulnerable people.
Through their monopoly, the media empires wield considerable political power. As Conroy himself declared: “They set the agenda every day for our national conversation.” Since being installed in June 2010 through a backroom coup, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has at least twice met with Murdoch personally, and time and again her government has taken its cue from his News Limited editorials.
There is nothing in the inquiry’s terms of reference about privacy breaches, the issue that triggered the British revelations. For all the self-serving claims of the media groups that there is “no evidence” of similar practices in Australia, there have been frequent examples of the media intruding into the lives of particularly the most vulnerable layers of society, such as welfare recipients, in order to demonise them. Any probing of such practices might well open a can of worms—as it did in Britain.
Britain: The Metropolitan Police threatened Guardian journalists with the Official Secrets Act over the paper’s reports on the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the Murdoch media empire earlier this year: here.
On Tuesday, citing procedural irregularities, the Met dropped its attempt to force the Guardian to hand over its sources for stories exposing phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World: here.
MPs are set to question a top Scotland Yard officer over the Met’s dropped bid to force the Guardian to reveal confidential sources relating to the phone-hacking scandal: here.
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson is suing his ex-employer after it stopped paying his legal fees in relation to the phone-hacking scandal: here.
Rupert Murdoch’s News International has made a £3 million offer to the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. It is an attempt to settle the phone hacking case that led to the closure of the News of the World: here.
Surrey Police knew for nine years that the News of the World hacked the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler: here.
Rupert Murdoch wants to teach your kids: here.
New allegations about the phone-hacking scandal have hit News International, with claims of more victims and fresh legal rows: here.
Conrad Black: My Destruction by Murdoch: here.