When Tony Abbott was attacking Kevin Rudd yesterday over the Government’s despicable $500m handout to free-to-air television, suggesting “it looks like an election-year bribe”, he neglected to mention his own recent dealings with media moguls.
Crikey understands that Abbott had a secret meeting with News Ltd supremo Rupert Murdoch on Sunday morning and had breakfast with him. Murdoch was in Australia to celebrate his mother Elisabeth’s 101st birthday last week.
“I think there’s nothing wrong with ministers and moguls having meetings,” Abbott told talkback radio this morning. “That is probably a natural part of life and it’s probably a good thing that they meet from time to time and I don’t think it’s necessary that there be a tape recorder going that we all get access to, but I guess it’s not a great look when it looks more like a social encounter than a business meeting.”
When pressed by Neil Mitchell to say whether he would reveal details of his discussions with media proprietors, Abbott refused to be drawn, only insisting “it’s not a good look when ministers and magnates have what look to be cosy friendships.”
While Murdoch professes to “give the planet the benefit of the doubt” on climate change, News Ltd outlets in Australia have consistently and enthusiastically promoted climate denialism, now at the centre of Coalition policy since the right-wing putsch that dislodged Malcolm Turnbull and installed Abbott, under the aegis of arch-conservative Nick Minchin.
This week the company’s loss-making flagship publication The Australian has noticeably ramped up its attacks on the Government, today launching a dogged defence of the Opposition and savaging the Government over industrial relations. The Opposition itself has also adopted an increasingly hostile line on the FTA handouts this week, although it has declined to commit to reversing them.
The mainstream media has belatedly picked up the FTA handout issue, but only after revelations in News Ltd tabloids that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy met Seven Network owner Kerry Stokes while on holiday in Colorado, leading to headlines about his “skiing tryst” with Stokes, a major beneficiary of the handouts.
There’s now a simple test for News Ltd – whether it covers Abbott’s meeting with its proprietor in the same way as it covered Conroy’s, and whether it demands the same details of Abbott as the Sunday Telegraph demanded of Conroy – what was discussed and what hospitality did Abbott enjoy from Murdoch?
And, most of all, was there a deal made between the two for favourable coverage?