News Corp Australia newspapers. (Image: AAP/Paul Miller)

It’s been a trying few months for News Corp.

The Daily Telegraph was ordered to pay Geoffrey Rush over $850,000 in a landmark defamation case. Then the prize tabloid was slammed by the public after taking swipes at Bill Shorten’s cancer-surviving mother. 

We also knew that News Corp was bracing for losses. The company recently announced 55 redundancies across its major mastheads, including The Australian and the Herald Sun.

But even before this announcement, News Corp journos were beginning to head for the exits, leaving many to wonder whether these departures are a coincidence or a coordinated exodus. 

Most recently, social affairs writer Rick Morton and investigative journalist Anthony Klan both revealed they were leaving The Australian.

Departing in droves

Last week, Jeni O’Dowd announced her departure as editor of the Saturday edition of The Daily Telegraph –– a role she’d held since 2011 — with little fanfare, by retweeting a Telum Media alert. Veteran reporter and former Indigenous affairs editor Stephen Fitzpatrick quietly left The Australian earlier this yearIn March, finance reporter and former China correspondent Scott Murdoch also departed the masthead, after almost two decades with News Corp papers, with no announcement from the company. The Australian’s business reporter Ben Butler has also left to join The Guardian.

Perhaps the biggest blow will be the loss of Sky Newspolitical editor David Speers, who is set to replace Barrie Cassidy as the host of ABC’s Insiders. Speers, who is incredibly well-respected throughout the media landscape, and on both sides of the political aisle, was always seen as something of a counterweight to the reactionary sludge the network puts on after dark. His loss puts Sky in a truly bleak place.

‘The craziness has been dialled up’

Morton, Klan and Butler didn’t respond to Crikey’s questions as to their motivations for leaving. But taking to Twitter on Sunday, Klan — who resigned after 15 years with the company — explained that he has “serious misgivings about the direction that is now being taken [by the Australian” and “to do otherwise, I felt, would be treasonous”.

It’s no secret News Corp papers have pushed an unashamedly conservative agenda. But the mastheads appear to have lurched even further to the right in recent months.

The last dregs of objectivity were tossed out during the recent federal election, alienating many current and former Oz journalists. Morton told a UTS journalism student podcast that “there [has been] a real kind of mood that something has gone wrong” at the paper, and that “some of the craziness has been dialled up”.

“We know what the empire is, we know what the papers do, but something has changed in the last six months. I don’t know what it is. Death rattles or loss of relevance? And journos pretty much spend all day talking about it,” Morton said.

The craziness, according to business editor-in-chief Alan Kohler and retired award-winning journalist Tony Koch, is the Murdoch press’ clear political agenda to bolster the Coalition into federal power. “No editor I worked for would have put up with the biased anti-Labor rubbish that, shamefully, the papers now produce on a daily basis,” Koch, a five-time Walkley award winner, wrote in The Guardian. Kohler told his newsletter readers last month that the Murdoch press was clearly biased towards “pumping up the Coalition and attacking Labor, while the rest of the media is generally trying to be fair”.

And this time around, News Corp’s political coverage took a turn. After the budget, The Courier-Mail ran a front page that looked like a Liberal Party how-to-vote, complete with a bullet-ridden traffic sign declaring the “risk” posed by a Labor government. As the unloseable election drew close, the anti-Labor attacks sharpened. The Daily Telegraph repeatedly warned readers in apocalyptic tones about Labor’s “retirement tax”. Even as a sizeable majority of Australians express fear about climate change, News Corp continues to bury its head in the sand and double down on denialism. Just days out from the election, the Telegraph ran a front-page story (wrongly) accusing Bill Shorten of fabricating a story about his late mother, leading to fierce backlash.

As Denis Muller — senior research fellow at University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism — argued, “at some level, democratic societies have had enough of Murdoch and his propaganda operation masquerading as a news service”.

What will News Corp do next? Write to [email protected] and let us know. Include your full name if you’d like your comment considered for publication. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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