It seems Bruce Dover’s book Rupert’s Adventures in China has already been given the kybosh when it comes to being reviewed in the mogul’s local newspapers – though apparently this has been done without the Sun King even having to pick up the phone. The locals just know what to do.

This morning The Australian’s book pages editor, Stephen Matchett, told Crikey that the Dover book would not be reviewed. Why not?

“How do I put this diplomatically? Looking at the book and considering its merits and the background and skill sets of the author, we decided not,” he said.

Was this the result of an order from on high? “Certainly not,” said Matchett.

What about the monthly Australian Literary Review, which comes with The Australian but is published in conjunction with the University of Melbourne and receives Government money through the Australia Council? Can we expect it to display more independence?

The editor, Stephen Romei, did not return calls asking for comment before Crikey’s deadline this morning but the next edition is due out Wednesday of next week — so then we can draw conclusions about how much independence the taxpayer’s dollar has bought for the ALR, or whether it is merely a subsidised arm of the Murdoch empire.

To put it mildly not reviewing the book is a conspicuously strange decision. News Limited papers mentioned Dover’s book several times late last year in the usual round ups of interesting titles to be published in 2008.

The Fairfax papers The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald published reviews by Fiona Capp and Paul Sheehan respectively on 16 February. Age Literary editor Jason Steeger said that books about News Limited, and written by News Limited journalists, were always reviewed on their merits. “Any other approach is pathetic.”

Meanwhile Sheehan, hardly a red ragger, wrote that the book was “not a loyal book, which is one of the reasons it is interesting” and concluded: “This book navigates the shoals between gossip and analysis without ever coming aground as malicious. By the end Murdoch emerges as largely the man we already know and not unlikeable. In contrast, his younger son, James, and his third wife, Wendi Deng, are portrayed as adventurers.”

Reviews and comment have appeared overseas on Slate.com, and in the Economist and the Financial Times.

So not worth reviewing in The Australian? All too predictable.

Peter Fray

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