by Lauren Van Der Westhuizen
Image: AbsolutVision / Unsplash
Often the centre of criticism, media mogul Rupert Murdoch is facing another fight. This time, it is not about his ties to the Donald Trump presidency but rather focuses on the abundance of media organisations under his ownership in Australia. While Murdoch may be most well-known for owning the parent company of the controversial Fox News in the United States, he also owns close to 70% of Australian newspapers as well as a number of television stations and online news publications in the country.
This somewhat unfamiliar concentration of private media ownership has become known in Australia as the Murdoch Media Monopoly, a notion that Australians are beginning to question. One of the most prominent critics of Murdoch’s role in Australian media is former Australian Labour Party Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
Mr. Rudd has spotlighted this issue by bringing a petition to the Australian Federal Parliament calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Murdoch’s ownership of media in Australia. According to the former Prime Minister, the petition titled ‘Royal Commission to ensure a strong, diverse Australian news media’ has more signatures than any other online petition presented to the Australian Federal Government with it reaching over 500 000 signs of disapproval.
The reason for the petition is simple. Without a free and diverse press, democracy simply cannot function in its wholeness. This idea shines through in the petition with Mr. Rudd, stating that when only a few voices are amplified, “Australians who hold contrary views feel intimidated into silence which chills free speech and undermines public debate.” While the petition’s focus is the Murdoch Monopoly, it also hopes to examine the role that Nine Entertainment plays in Australia’s news landscape since their recent purchase of a multitude of smaller news organisations. While Nine’s ownership is not as large-scaled as Murdoch’s, it still contributes to another 13% of Australian media. This is further shallowing out the number of media owners in the country.
The online platform news.com.au and the twenty-four hour television station Sky News Australia, two of Murdoch’s most well known Australian holdings, are often considered more politically right wing than other Australian media. These orgnaisations regularly face criticism for spreading falsities about hot topic issues, particularly those regarding climate change and the legitimacy around the 2020 United States election.
Mainstream media holds a strong power over citizens and their beliefs. The news that we consume often helps shape our opinions on issues foreign to us. When people absorb news that comes from what we believe are ‘different sources’ that tell us similar things, we take that to be true. This happens time and time again in Australia. When a multitude of news organisations are owned by one company and one man, that person’s morals and beliefs begin to show through in their publications. Murdoch’s ideas are shown through in the websites, newspapers and televisions stations under his ownership.
The number of signatures on the petition proves that Mr. Rudd’s concern for the issue is clearly echoed by many Australians. Australians who live in a country ranked a worrying 26 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. This is a position that since 2018 has dropped by 7 places. The Murdoch Media Monopoly, however, is not entirely to blame for this daunting ranking. While the Rudd petition was taken to the Australian Federal Senate for an inquiry on February 19th 2021, this date also marks the day that Australians can no longer view, share or post news from any local or International organisations on the platform indefinitely. A dramatic move that is further crumbling Australia’s freedom of press, an important pillar in a democracy.
This then begs the question: With social media news bans and media monopolies where does this place news legitimacy in the future of Australia’s democracy? The answer to this may be found in the results of a royal commission or whether or not one takes place at all. One thing is certain, without a change, Australia’s press freedom could come tumbling down.