Melbourne property developer and publisher Morry Schwartz has decided
to make a big splash in edition three of his new independent magazine, The Monthly, by launching the strongest attack in Australia on Rupert Murdoch for many years.

The cover features a beaming picture of the Sun King and declares
“Murdoch’s War: Starring one love struck teenager (Greg Sheridan), one angry man (Andrew Bolt) and one
ambitious press baron”. Robert Manne then lets fly over five pages. Try
these lines for size:

“Yet in no country was Murdoch’s stance on Iraq so influential as in
Australia. For in no other country does Murdoch wield even remotely the
same media power.”

Manne uses the word “monopoly” to describe Murdoch’s Australian
newspaper interests and largely writes off Fairfax as having “almost
altogether forgotten the tradition of fierce independence that still
produces the best family-owned quality newspapers in the US: The New York Times and The Washington Post.”

Manne has done a Gerard Henderson-esque dissection of Andrew Bolt, Greg Sheridan and The Australian’s Iraq editorials.

Sheridan was pounded for over-cooking Saddam’s weapons with
preposterous lines such as suggesting Iraq would have nuclear weapons
in a couple of years and then was likely to “invade Kuwait for a second
time, dominate the oil deposits of the Persian Gulf and stay there as a
result of nuclear blackmail.”

Sheridan’s dozen interviews with former US deputy secretary of state
Rich Armitage were described as showing “the kind of uncritical
enthusiasm one might expect from a teenager in love.”

Andrew Bolt was described as “the most politically consequential
newspaper journalist in contemporary Australia” but he then fared even
worse from Manne, who describes reading a Bolt column as “like being
trapped in a small room with an angry, indignant, simple-minded man who
believes the best way of convincing you that he is right, yet again, is
to ridicule and shout.”

This didn’t stop Manne doing his own ridiculing, declaring Bolt
“unembarrassable” as he rolled out countless examples of distortions:
“Bolt was perhaps the only journalist in the world who claimed that in
post-invasion Iraq the sky-rocketing crime rate was actually falling.”

After a similar serve for The Australian, Manne concludes
gloomily about the prospect of Murdoch adding a free-to-air television
network to push a Fox News style presence Down Under.

“The anti-Democratic implication of all this is clear. Murdoch already
has a stranglehold on the Australian press. As Iraq shows, on questions
of interest to him he is willing to use his power. It is likely that in
the near future he will increase his influence substantially once the
cross-media regulations are removed. By this time he will be almost
irresistible. And, in our present mood, we will hardly care.”

Indeed, the excess of power of the Murdoch and Packer families in
Australia has long been taken for granted yet continues to reek untold
damage on our democracy.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey