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Rupert censored: Herald Sun spikes Murdoch review

A review of a new David Williamson play on the life of Rupert Murdoch was written for the Herald Sun — but it never appeared. What happened?


A review of David Williamson’s Rupert, a play charting the career of News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, was pulled from publication in Melbourne’s Herald Sun and is unlikely to appear in the paper.

Regular Herald Sun theatre reviewer Kate Herbert filed a review, which could have run as early as Friday, for the Murdoch tabloid. Four days after Rupert opened on Thursday, the play has still not been reviewed by Melbourne’s biggest-selling paper in print or online. Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston today suggested his paper is unlikely to publish a review of the play at all — despite it being arguably the most anticipated original Australian production of the year. Johnston tells Crikey the play is too “niche” for his readers’ tastes.

The Herald Sun usually uploads its theatre reviews online the day after a play opens, but the Rupert review has not made it onto the website. The play has been reviewed in The AgeThe AustralianThe Weekend Australian, The Australian Financial Review and Crikey.

Crikey understands the question of how to cover Rupert has been highly sensitive among the top brass at News Corp’s Southbank HQ in Melbourne. Rupert Murdoch, like mother Elisabeth, was born in Melbourne and many Murdoch relatives still live in Victoria.

When asked whether his paper would review the production, Johnston said: “The Herald Sun only undertakes to run reviews for what we consider mainstream productions such as King KongMary PoppinsMousetrapGrease and Jersey Boys. These are the kinds of shows that interest the vast majority of our readers. Reviews of niche productions — and we would include most MTC productions in this category — have never been guaranteed a run.”

But the Herald Sun has reviewed all of this year’s MTC productions — including Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Arthur Miller’s The CrucibleConstellations (apparently an exploration of string theory and the delicacy of relationships) and Solomon and Marion (about life in post-apartheid South Africa).

Rupert, which will tour the US next year, has attracted international attention. The New York Times is currently preparing a piece on the playwhich is expected to focus on how Murdoch’s tabloids have reacted to it.

The Herald Sun published a lengthy feature on the Melbourne Theatre Company production in mid-August, but since then there has been an eerie silence about the play in its pages. The paper commissioned Williamson to write a piece on the play three weeks ago, but it has not been published and may never make it to print.

As for Williamson’s in-depth piece, Johnston said: “At this stage it hasn’t run. As to whether it will run at some stage in the future will be determined by available space and other stories competing for that space.”

Any sensitivity about the play hasn’t extended to News Corp stablemate The Australian which published a review of the play today and a news story last week. Oz reviewer Chris Boyd told Crikey: “My editor was hands-off, as usual, with me.”

  • 1
    John Taylor
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Freedom of speech is alive and well eh Suzanne Blake. Suzanne? Suzanne? Earth to Suzanne Blake….

  • 2
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Freedom of Speech — a right unless it happens to be you that is being critiqued. This is like censoring Gilbert and Sullivan and Laugh In.

  • 3
    Keith Gow
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    The Hun reviews shows that are a lot more niche-market than Melbourne Theatre Company shows! I know, it’s the only reason I read anything on the Hun’s site. This is censorship, pure and simple.

    Can’t wait until we have a Prime Minister in Murdoch’s pocket, too.

  • 4
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Weird. The consequence of not reviewing is speculation about why they’re not reviewing, which inevitably leads to suspicion of proprietor influence, thereby perversely ensuring the undesired outcome. That’s the problem with the “his Master’s voice” method of control, sometimes the underlings overthink it.

  • 5
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Do they print bad reviews of Abbott’s plays?

  • 6
    zut alors
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Can’t wait for the next chapter in the Murdoch story.

    Will he re-marry, will there be more heirs, will Abbott be a godfather?

  • 7
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD SUN: “”These are the kinds of shows that interest the vast majority of our readers.”“

    Quite so. Heaven forbid that your readers should actually think.

  • 8
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    The failure to print is bad enough but the mewling mendacity of Johnston is a shame of the journalistic trade.

  • 9
    Posted Monday, 2 September 2013 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Come on people, this is the Herald Scum we’re talking about here. It’s finals week in AFL AND a drugs cheat to expose.

    No room for arty wank.

  • 10
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Tuesday, 3 September 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    More Murdoch control-freakery. What are they going to be like with Abbott in?

  • 11
    Posted Tuesday, 3 September 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Put the rose-coloured glasses back on of course.

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