There’s a loose historical rule of the thumb that one of the rare occasions when power structures are properly exposed is when there’s an internal conflict within them. This is when it becomes in the interests of those within to either reveal what’s really going on, or ally with forces outside in their own interests.
As a result of the Liberals’ leadership debacle, we’re now seeing the role played by media proprietors Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes in the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull, with conversations between all three being detailed in multiple media outlets — along with the inevitable outraged denials and distractions from News Corp functionaries.
None of this comes as any surprise. Stephen Conroy spoke of News Corp’s campaign of “regime change” against the Gillard government in 2011, which involved, inter alia, fictitious stories of misconduct by Gillard years before she entered parliament. In the UK, Murdoch’s outlets have actually boasted of the role they play in winning elections. The only noteworthy aspect in all this is Murdoch arguing that a Labor government would only last three years, suggesting his outlets will work to that end. But even there, that will come as no surprise. The relentless campaigning of News Corp is simply part of the political landscape that Labor has to operate within.
One person eager to make a lot of the details emerging about Turnbull’s ouster is the perpetually limelight-deprived Kevin Rudd, who wants a royal commission into Murdoch’s influence, partly on the basis that Murdoch’s outlets ran a “vicious campaign” in favour of Tony Abbott in 2013.
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Hate to break it to you Kevin, but News Corp’s campaigning for Abbott had virtually nothing to do with you losing in 2013 — that was all down to you, your relentless undermining of Julia Gillard and your apparent complete lack of ideas about what you wanted to do once you’d got the prime ministership back.
And it’s pretty rich to see Rudd complaining about the influence of News Corp, given his relationships with local editors like Chris Mitchell (Rudd is godfather to one of Mitchell’s children) and how he made the now ritualistic trip to New York to pay homage to Murdoch in 2007 and tipping off the media about it. Julia Gillard did the same in 2011. So did Tony Abbott in 2014. As Tony Wright accurately noted, Murdoch doesn’t come to Australian prime ministers, they go to him.
No wonder Murdoch appears to have been reluctant to take Turnbull’s call: according to Fairfax (and former Australian) journalist David Crowe, the Murdoch-Turnbull call “was the result of several days of organisation on both sides”.
The narrative of sinister Murdoch hiring and firing prime ministers is, at the very least, incomplete, when prime ministers feel they need the Murdoch benediction and seek it out. And Murdoch — or Stokes — has no votes inside the Liberal partyroom. If MPs are stupid enough to be influenced by the parade of night-time clowns on Sky into dumping a prime minister, that’s on them more than the Murdochs and their executives — particularly given it has sent them spiralling from a competitive position in the polls to facing a landslide loss.
You can regulate for media ownership and influence. You can’t regulate for stupidity.