It has been a full month since the Murdoch phone hacking scandal blew up and, after more than 30 contributions across various media platforms, we finally got a rise out of the empire today.

Occasional Crikey contributor and Spiked Online editor Brendan O’Neill opened up about his controversial Q&A performance last Monday with this spirited defence of free speech and the Murdoch empire for The Australian’s opinion pages. When combined with a touch up in Cut & Paste today, it’s clear The Australian is trying to claim I’m against free speech.

This is bollocks. I’m advocating that the Murdochs already have a dangerous level of power in Australia, such that Sky News should not be awarded the Australia Network contract, Foxtel should not be allowed to buy Austar as long as the Murdochs have explicit management control and that Lachlan Murdoch should be forced to resign from the News Corp board if he wants to be CEO of Network Ten.

Rupert Murdoch’s two most lucrative markets, the UK and US, both have forced divestiture laws in the event of companies abusing power in markets. That’s what happened to Standard Oil.

After outrageous examples of power abuse and untrustworthy behaviour at News Corp, the ACCC should have the ability to require News Ltd to sell down mastheads of its own choosing to reduce its Australian newspaper market share to below 50%.

The Murdoch loyalists at The Australian are beside themselves at the moment because they fear News Corp’s New York-based finance director David Devoe will finally win the argument with Rupert and take some hard decision to stem the ongoing losses at the paper.

Devoe and many other News Corp executives are fed up with the company’s financial under-performance over the past 15 years which has seen tens of millions of share options remain out of the money. The biggest cause of this has been Rupert’s crazy obsession with loss-making newspapers such as The Australian, The Times and The New York Post and his massive blunder in paying $6 billion for Dow Jones in 2007.

Adding insult to financial injury, the newspaper division has now become an embarrassment which is imperilling the global pay-TV empire at the heart of the News Corp business.

Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes has today neatly explained how the cowboys at News Ltd have helped damage trust in the commercial media. Look no further than the self-indulgent tirades of The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, as explained by Sally Neighbour in her 8000 word profile for The Monthly out this week.

Not since the reign of Piers Akerman at the Herald Sun in the early 1990s have we seen a Murdoch editor become so politically extreme and obsessed with tit-for-tat vendettas which so often don’t stack up either factually or intellectually. Take these free speech attacks on me today, including the 2004 incident when we declined to run ads in Crikey from the Eros Foundation.

That’s called freedom of choice. The choice of a publisher to decide which commercial interests it chooses to receive money from and associate with.

If that publisher has a dominant position in the media industry the question may be somewhat different, but Rupert has always happily pocketed advertising dollars from the smut industries so Eros was hardly being denied a voice in a democracy. The only other ad we rejected over five years running Crikey was from an anti-Semite.

Which brings us to Brendan O’Neill’s bizarre claim on Q&A that criticisms of Murdoch were somehow equivalent to a Jewish hate campaign. O’Neill’s strident defence of extremist commentary on the Right ignores the obvious historical fact that Hitler’s rise in Nazi Germany was supported by some right-wing media owners.

The words of journalists and politicians can indeed turn deadly.

Finally, on the question of freedom of speech, it remains an undisputed fact that in 40 public company contested elections since 2000, News Corp is the only issuer which completed censored my platform, refusing to even tell shareholders my age.

Similarly, the Herald Sun has refused to publish numerous letters I’ve submitted over the years and by lunch time today The Australian still hadn’t posted a comment submitted under Brendan O’Neill’s opinion piece at 10.30am.

If anyone is against free speech, it is the Murdochs when it comes to public debate about the Murdochs.

*Stephen Mayne is a director of the Australian Shareholders’ Association and has recently been appointed the ASA’s “company monitor” for News Corporation. Click here to make a donation and help fund a planned trip to New York for the News Corp AGM in October.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey