So Rupert Murdoch praises
the prime minister at a do in Washington? Who better? Is there an
Australian with a greater global presence than the media mogul?

First, a declaration. I take Rupert’s shilling – with the emphasis on
shilling. I’ve done paid commentary on Sky News and write a column for
the News Limited suburbans in my hometown of Adelaide.

But why can’t we be rational over Rupert. Stephen Mayne indulged in
virtual conspiracy theorising in yesterday’s Crikey Daily. Stephen
constantly bewails that Australia fails to produce world players in
business. Here’s our prime exhibit – the man who took an afternoon
paper in Adelaide and built an empire, seeing it through the
vicissitudes of the early nineties and moving it into new media to
leave it stronger and more influential than ever.

Is Australia’s judgment of Murdoch still completely clouded by the editorial stance The Australian took back in 1975 – a generation ago?

Murdoch should be hailed as a hero – a man who’s not afraid to take an
anti-establishment stance. The Australian who won control of The Times and has used it to argue for republicanism. Remember the Sunday Telegraph’s “How you were conned” banner after the republic referendum? That doesn’t fit with the right-wing demon paradigm.

Fox has given us Sean Hannity. It has also given us The Simpsons.
Let’s remember that News Limited is a business. What sells is more
important than ideology. Remember what happened after the ill-advised
“It was The Sun wot won it” boast when the Tories fell over the
line in the 1992 British election, only to lurch from disaster to
disaster? People didn’t like Murdoch’s product and didn’t buy it.

There’s not the space here to canvass an issue like this in detail, so let’s just have a quick look at one case study, The Australian newspaper.

First, its very existence is a sign of Murdoch’s boldness. Moving from
Adelaide to launch a national paper in Canberra in the middle of winter
with the technology of 41 years ago was brave enough – but look at The Australian’s
purpose. It has sought to be both a nation builder, first by its very
existence as a national daily, and as an agenda setter. It’s a
demonstration of both courage and an acute appreciation of the power of
the media.

So the Des Keegan and Katy West columns in the eighties on Sir John
were an embarrassment. We all make mistakes. The freedom of information
work it is doing today under Michael McKinnon displays more rigour and
consistency than Labor has under three opposition leaders and has
become even more important with the new Senate dynamics.

What about the case raised by Media Watch on Monday of Herald Sun
reporters Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus, who must reveal their
source for a story on veterans’ benefits claims or face contempt of
court charges and possibly jail? What about the public servant who has
been charged as a result of their story? Isn’t News acting in the
public interest?

We could go on – and don’t throw in that red herring about
concentration of media ownership. We only have that because the
cultural Hansonism of the Left has blocked foreign companies from
offering Australians greater diversity.

Let’s be rational about Rupert.

Peter Fray

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