As practising political pragmatists, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister both did something counter-intuitive this week. They openly and deliberately criticised News Limited.
To outsiders watching the daily cut and thrust of politics, these may seem innocuous acts. But inside the political tent there has been an unstated but closely observed rule for decades that publicly poking a stick inside the cage of the country’s biggest media gorilla is not a career-enhancing move, given News Limited’s long-standing predilection to deploy its newspapers to campaign personally and vindictively against anyone on its enemies list.
Yesterday, the PM twice attacked The Courier-Mail in an ABC Brisbane radio interview (with the wife of the editor of that newspaper, as it happens), and this morning on ABC Radio National the Deputy PM explicitly criticised News Limited for its journalism in covering the Utegate matter.
These are not uncalculating politicians. By poking a stick inside this particular cage they are making a meaningful statement about media power: how it is evolving and diffusing; how the spectre of Murdoch no longer acts as a curb on politicians doing the right thing; how new media is recalibrating the unhealthy influence of the old media establishment; and how political leaders now feel confident enough to believe that the machinations of one newspaper empire can no longer unseat governments, destroy careers or turn political tides.
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