Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ganging up on Rupert? - News Corporation becomes the news

With the Australian Federal election firmly decided in favour of the conservative Liberal-National Party Coalition it is time for those of us in media studies to engage in some analysis of the reporting across the media. The approach News Corporation has taken to reporting in its original home base, Australia, is an example of election influencing. Media critics are well aware of News Corporation's interest in boosting conservative causes.

It is fair to say that the defeat of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) government led by Kevin Rudd on September 7 was in the sights of the Murdoch-owned press for many months, and yet in seeking a change of government, Mr Murdoch himself became the news. Even his tweets were reported. Tweets by Murdoch New media such as Twitter, has moved the public into a relationship with media owners as opinion makers, generally unmediated by gatekeepers. In Mr Murdoch's case he can and do say whatever he likes, without editors telling him what to say or moderating his commentary.

The narrative from the News Corporation bunker was one sided: remove the ALP by reporting on the party and their leadership in antagonistic and negative ways, while reporting on the conservatives in supportive and positive ways. It is a well tried path, as Fox News support of the Republican Party and President George W. Bush played out in the 2004 US election. The election coverage in support of the conservatives and against the ALP in the News Corporation Sydney Telegraph tabloid was calculated by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Media Watch, a weekly 15 minute television commentary at around 134 anti-Labor articles and headlines out of 293. Media Watch  It hardly proves much except that it distracts from detailed journalism.  

Peter Botsman put it as follows:
"The media portrayal of the Rudd campaign has been beyond belief. It was a true 1950s ‘we will tell you what is good for you’ exercise. The Murdoch press effectively acted as a storm anchor that pulled back any positive news about Labor in any other media source...." Botsman Working Papers

But the importance of all this is elsewhere. Australian Labor Party supporters - the True Believers as they are called - could have spent more time devising policies that make significant contributions to public welfare, instead of counting the coverage. The media as the story is a function of a narrowing band of policy options. There are distractions everywhere, with little progress made on progressive policies, perhaps importantly on media and public communication debates, that would entail broadening the circulation of ideas through multiple sources. (The News Corporation argument is that the everyone has the Internet, so there's plenty of diversity. Do not be concerned...).    

It's business as usual.  At least the global aspects of media kicked in to the Australian election to add some stringent colour. There are two examples to this part of the story: the first is an unfounded yet public accusation from a mining tycoon and leader and funder of Palmer United Party (PUP - woof woof!), Clive Palmer, that Rupert Murdoch's estranged wife Wendy Deng was a Chinese spy Litigation central - Clive Palmer; the second that the UK Levenson inquiry followed Mr Murdoch to Australia, in the form of his chief British Labour Party antagonist Tom Watson.Tom Watson Sydney Morning Herald coverage

Both of these "events" put the Australian activities of News Corporation into the global context. In the former case, perversely, in the latter case, critically. No progressive public policy ideas made the light of day in this whirl of media wind.