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Oct 30, 2008

Brace yourself for a lecture from Rupert Murdoch

Orwell was right to suspect that some of us were meant to be freer than others, writes Humphrey McQueen.

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To redress the left-liberal bias of the commercial media, the Board of the ABC has invited Rupert Murdoch to deliver the Boyer Lectures, starting on Sunday 2 November. As he observed in his 1972 A. N. Smith Lecture: “The public does not want to read propaganda: it wants to read objective news and informed comment.”

A promotional clip has Murdoch confronting the question of his Australianness. He gave up his Australian citizenship in September 1985 to secure broadcasting licences in the United States. Nowadays, Murdoch can hold dual citizenship. The matter of his nationality was marginal since his loyalty has always been to the expansion of his capital.

However, while Murdoch, the individual, swapped allegiance, Murdoch as the personification of that capital in News Corp remained registered in Adelaide because Australian reporting standards were what Business Week (13 June 1994) called “loosey-goosey”.

Just after his nationality swap, the US journal Corporate Finance (April 1987) reported that News’s Annual Report for 1986 was a triumph of creative accounting. The exposure had been written for Forbes, which declined to publish so as not to offend Murdoch.

In March 1999, The Economist recorded the tangle of tax returns to conceal the liabilities of News, by then incorporated in the US State of Delaware (aka as “the State of du Pont”).

The Boyers will not be the first time that Murdoch has lectured us. In October 1994, he addressed the Centre for Independent Studies on “The Century of Networking”. Murdoch quoted Solzhenitsyn that the essence of totalitarianism is “the destruction of collective memory”. Murdoch is a master of selective memory as he demonstrated in talking about how his father had sought criticism from the British tycoon Lord Northcliffe on how to improve circulation of the Herald where he had become editor in 1921.

Murdoch junior made no mention of the sensation that did most to boost revenues — the Herald’s lynching of Colin Ross for the murder of the 12-year old Alma Tirtschke on 30 December 1921 in Gun Alley, off Little Collins street. The Herald and Weekly Times building on Flinders street became known as the Colin Ross Memorial, since Ross had paid for it with his life on 24 April 1922. In May, Victoria granted a pardon to Ross. We await Rupert Murdoch’s act of contrition for Ross during his Boyers.

The theme of the Boyers is to be “The Age of Freedom”, as it was in the 1994 Lecture. Murdoch had acknowledged the source of what passed for an idea in that talk as Peter Huber’s Orwell’s Revenge: The 1984 Palimpsest. Huber’s rewriting of Nineteen Eighty-Four is a paean to free markets, which Murdoch hastened to assure his listeners “are not monopolies”. Murdoch endorsed Huber’s faith that Orwell had been wrong because technology and markets were going to set us free.

It turned out that Orwell had been right to suspect that some of us were meant to be freer than others. In March 1994, Murdoch had replaced the BBC World Service on his Star telecasts into the Mainland. Within days of his Networking lecture on how technology would break down totalitarianism, Murdoch was in Malaysia offering its authoritarians a block-out switch over Star TV. In 1995, he provided Beijing’s Ministry of Truth with one. By July 1995, News Corp had a joint venture with the People’s Daily. In his Lecture, he expected his access to “whole new audiences and markets” in China to be “goldmines”.

In the current crisis of capital accumulation, how free will the Asian Wall Street Journal be to comment on the thugs and swindlers running the People’s Republic of China, or on Murdoch’s access to funds?

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