Kevin Rudd has made blistering accusations that News Corp runs a “protection racket” for the government and acts to “radicalise” Australians, drawing links between founder Rupert Murdoch and the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6.
“Murdoch is, by any objective measure, not a fit and proper person to control a media empire in Australia,” former prime minister Rudd wrote in a federal parliamentary submission.
“The Liberal Party is now at risk of becoming a fully captured subsidiary of the Murdoch media.”
Mr Rudd made the claims in a scorching submission to the Senate’s communications committee, which is currently running an inquiry into ‘Media diversity in Australia’.
That inquiry was set up following Mr Rudd’s own record-breaking petition, calling for a Royal Commission into News Corp. Despite 501,000 signatures, the notion was not supported by either major party, but Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young saw the Senate committee instead take on a similar task.
Thousands of people have made submissions to the inquiry, with Mr Rudd’s among the first to be published online.
In his submission, Mr Rudd said he hoped the inquiry would be a “circuit-breaker” and lead to “a genuinely strong and diverse media”. He called for legislated protection of ABC funding, and protection of the AAP news wire service, but devoted much of his 15-page contribution to News Corp.
“Murdoch operates a kind of protection racket for those individuals in business and politics who are considered useful to the Murdoch organisation’s commercial or political interests,” he claimed.
“This ‘protection racket’ phenomenon is evident in terms of the current federal government as a whole, but it is by no means limited to the conservative side of politics.
Politicians from all parties have taken out unofficial insurance policies with the Murdoch media to be protected.”
Mr Rudd, who himself courted News Corp executives and staff both before and after becoming Prime Minister in 2007, claimed the news organisation had subjected the Labor Party to “a systemic campaign of smear and delegitimisation as a party of national government.”
“There should be no region of this country where one owner controls the majority of news circulation, let alone has a near-total monopoly,” he wrote.
“There is an essential role for parliament, as the democratically elected representatives of the people, to ensure that such monopolies do not emerge or persist.”
He also slammed the proposed News Media Bargaining Code, which has received the support of both major parties and is almost certain to pass the parliament in coming weeks.
He claimed the controversial framework “risks accentuating some of the industry’s existing monopoly”, would incentivise “sensationalised or deceptive coverage” of news, and be of far more benefit to large news outlets than smaller ones.
Mr Rudd had sharp words specifically for broadcaster Sky News, which he claims was being used “to further radicalise the Liberal Party base and increase its capacity to guide the party’s preselections and leadership contests.”
“For those concerned about the cumulative impact of Fox News in America on the radicalisation of US politics, the same template is being followed with Sky News in Australia. We will see its full impact in a decade’s time,” he wrote.
Mr Rudd draws parallels between Sky and Fox News. He claimed the American TV channel has promoted political and racial division, stoked conspiracy theories and delegitimised democracy, linking that channel to the deadly insurrection at the Capitol.
“This has been Murdoch’s template for America, culminating in the political crisis of 6 January 2021 … It’s also Murdoch’s vision for Australia,” he claimed.
In its own short, five-page submission to the inquiry, News Corp made brief mention of existing media ownership laws, current statistics on online audiences for news outlets, and its concerns over “restrictions on reporting – including government secrecy.”
“The culture of secrecy arising from these legal provisions that unnecessarily restrict Australia’s right to know has permeated attitudes and processes more broadly,” News Corp said in its December submission.
“This is deeply disturbing in a modern and robust democracy.”
Senator Hanson-Young, the committee chair, said she welcomed Mr Rudd’s contribution, and also shared criticisms of News Corp.
“Along with the more than 4000 other people who have made submissions to the inquiry, Kevin Rudd has highlighted some of the key issues around media diversity in this country,” she told The New Daily.
“A functioning democracy needs a healthy and diverse public interest journalism sector. It’s clear that the Australian news industry is dominated by one company.
Their dominance in the Australian media market has allowed News Corp to have a huge influence on politics and to spread dangerous and false climate denialism, persecute multicultural communities and punish individuals who try to take them on.”
Senator Hanson-Young said she looked forward to the committee beginning hearings on February 19, in Parliament House in Canberra. The first witnesses have not yet been finalised, but other submissions to the inquiry include News Corp, Facebook, Channel Nine, Google, SBS, the ABC, and The New Daily.
Another former PM, Malcolm Turnbull, also supported Mr Rudd’s petition.
“The Parliament has a role in creating an environment in which we have more, not less voices in the Australian media landscape,” the senator said.
“The committee will look at a wide range of issues from media ownership to the proliferation of fake news online and make some practical recommendations on how we can improve media diversity and public interest journalism in Australia.”