Rupert Murdoch’s first Boyer Lecture was a bit of a let-down. Undoubtedly left-wing critics will bag the Great Man for positing a neo-liberal economic agenda, but there wasn’t much there that too many people would disagree with. Immigration is good. We need a better education system. We need to seriously address Aboriginal disadvantage. We should become a republic.

All pretty tame stuff. It was good to see, however, that Murdoch had forgotten nothing from his years running tabloid newspapers and TV networks in Australia, and conjured up the dole bludger as a threat to Australian prosperity. All that was missing was the picture of one sitting on a beach with his surfboard.

But Murdoch’s warnings against too many handouts and growing dependence on government would make a little more sense if his newspapers weren’t such dogged advocates of the handout mentality. Today the Telegraph is railing against the NSW Government cutting a school handout, after having a go at plans to reduce school bus travel costs on the weekend. And The Australian appears split between providing a forum for George Megalogenis’s fine campaign against government largesse and running sob stories about wealthy families victimised by the failure of the Rudd Government to reward them. The problem has got worse since The Oz decided to attack the Government over the bank guarantee, parading unfortunates who have had their fortunes frozen, while Glenn Milne put the case on behalf of wealthy businessmen who don’t want to go to Centrelink.

The theme underlying all such stories is that Australians are entitled to government income support no matter how wealthy they are. It’s the entitlement mentality fostered by the Howard Government as part of a political strategy of using taxpayers’ own money to buy electoral support. It’s a mentality the Rudd Government is for the most part continuing, despite making some encouraging starts in the direction of means-testing of some benefits. Is there a link between the media encouraging a sense of entitlement and politicians afraid to take them away? You be the judge.

This is where Murdoch’s Lecture could have dug deeper. The role of the media — all media — in shaping public expectations is a key issue for anyone seriously interested in convincing Australians government should provide a safety net and nothing else. It’s an issue Murdoch, probably more than anyone else on the planet, is perfectly placed to explore, drawing on a lifetime of selling newspapers, unashamedly shaping debates, and dealing with world leaders. He could have provided a priceless insight into the relationship between the media and politicians.

But to do so would be a dead giveaway, a public admission of responsibility, and an indication not merely of the capacity of major media organisations to shape debate but of the capacity of proprietors to play a role in that process. The magician would, in effect, be explaining his tricks. Murdoch, even at 77, is still too much the tycoon to do that. And probably always will be.

Peter Fray

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