Kevin Rudd has launched a petition to initiate a royal commission into News Limited in a quixotic and cynical bid to curtail the news organisation’s influence in Australian politics.
Quixotic because neither the current Coalition Government nor the Labor Opposition is likely to take any notice of the call no matter how many signatures the former Labor leader manages to get to sign his petition.
And cynical because Rudd knows this but also knows that he will garner a lot of publicity and support from non-News media groups (including the ABC) that will help him to rebuild his tattered reputation on the left side of politics.
Not surprisingly, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has said Rudd is acting as a private citizen and a royal commission is not Labor policy. Nor was Mr Albanese consulted beforehand.
It is in fact a sad reflection on the former prime minister, whose considerable foreign affairs expertise is being wasted in his retirement.
No leader of a political party in recent times has been more deliberate and obsessive about cultivating the media – especially News Limited editors, than Kevin Rudd.
In 20017, Rudd courted News Limited slavishly in the lead-up to him becoming prime minister, travelling to New York to appeal to Rupert Murdoch. Rudd had a special relationship with former editor of the Courier Mail and The Australian Chris Mitchell and is godfather to one of Mitchell’s children.
During his rise to power and in the lead-up to the 2007 election, Rudd was relentless in securing support in News Limited papers. But now Rudd says the Murdoch empire has turned Australia into a country that is gripped by a “culture of fear”.
News Limited in Australia is a dominant media group. It owns the only major daily mastheads in several capital cities, including Brisbane, Adelaide and Darwin. The Australian is one of only two national dailies, the other being The Australian Financial Review. And the organisation owns a large number of regional papers, many of which are being closed down in their paper forms.
It also owns Sky News, which has a limited audience reach, but has a significant influence on the political debate.
But newspapers in particular no longer hold the political sway they once did, and are regrettably dying in their paper form. People in Australia are far more likely to get their “news” from Facebook and myriad other online sources as well as television and radio.
In Australia, News Limited has no scripted line. The Daily Telegraph, for example, in Sydney, appears to be generally quite supportive of Anthony Albanese, as was Melbourne’s Herald Sun at the last election of its hometown boy, Bill Shorten.
The Australian is considered generally a conservative newspaper on many issues, but it often has strongly different and often conflicting editorial opinions within the one newspaper. The newspaper has several left-leaning columnists.
Furthermore, News Limited in Australia is a very different beast to Fox News in the United States, which was set up deliberately to cater for the massive conservative middle America demographic because it was largely being snubbed and ignored by the east and west-coast media.
Fox News panders to a particular part of America, whereas, in Australia, News Limited is far more mainstream.
Kevin Rudd is correct on one count. There does need to be a royal commission into the Australian media, but it should focus on the ABC, an organisation that is a vertically integrated behemoth on left-wing issues, and has institutionalised cultural bias against conservative, mainstream values.
As commentator Gerard Henderson has oft said, there is not one “conservative” radio or television host, producer or news editor inside the ABC. All its programs are stacked with panels where there is usually one conservative and five other people disagreeing with them.