Over the weekend, two major things happened in the News Corp universe.
First, The Australian launched a new page technically titled “gender issues” that, coincidentally, is 99% directed at trans people. Of those, the majority either focus on the Prime Minister’s squeamishness about trans people playing cricket, fear-mongering over Victoria’s new birth certificate laws, or flat-out lies about people “castrating children”. The folks at Junkee go into this further, but the short story is that no, neither early childhood support or latter-stage puberty blockers are anywhere near the same thing as castration.
Secondly, journalist Rick Morton published his first major story since leaving The Australian, which, not for nothing, covers a world-first study examining how News Corp papers embolden far-right groups that use stories around Safe Schools and immigration as recruitment tools. Morton joins a growing stable of journalists and editors who have left the media giant.
These events didn’t come from nowhere — and they have both helped spur existing campaigns against News Corp, each targeting different facets of the organisation. But can they work? Crikey looks into the realities of such a disparate push.
Following the “gender issues” launch, writer Benjamin Law launched an unofficial Twitter campaign. For anyone who unsubscribes, or convinces someone else to unsubscribe from The Australian, he’ll donate the monthly cost — $36 — to the Gender Centre and their work supporting trans youth. Law notes that, much like the anti-Safe Schools campaign, the publication has largely foregone interviews with affected parties — trans youth — in favour of critics.
The Chaser, which launched the catch-all unsubscription app in response to that bizarre attack on Bill Shorten’s mum earlier this year, also jumped in. The team tells Crikey that they noticed an uptick in cancellations over the weekend in response to the anti-trans articles, listing 27 cancellations coming through over 24 hours on Monday, “which is a noticeable increase considering we normally only get about one a day”.
Law, too, notes that about five people have told him they’ve unsubscribed. He said some of those have noted subscription operators have cited similar calls recently. Law admits that he wasn’t expecting a huge turnout considering “the people who follow me aren’t likely to subscribe to The Australian anyway”. He notes that the dent with campaigns like these are always relatively small, especially considering News Corp’s funding base, but can form important social movements and help raise “awareness of grassroots organisation doing great work”.
“So for me it’s less about taking money away from a corporation that’s going to be funded in perpetuity by the Murdoch clan — it’s not going to go away — but what we can do is create a sense of solidarity, a sense of usefulness, and for me it’s more about raising money for the Gender Centre and the organisations there for trans people and trans variant youth that are really starved for money.”
Focus on advertisers
While targeting audiences might be a slow game, sponsors tend to be a bit more sensitive to bad publicity. Sleeping Giants Oz, the anonymously driven Australian branch of the online protest movement, has successfully seen advertisers like ANZ, Origin Energy and Huggies quit Sky News.
“Targeting advertisers is an effective strategy: it’s low cost, high impact but we know we are up against it. The might of domination and collaboration especially between Murdoch and Stokes and the incestuous relationship with 2GB announcers is daunting quite frankly,” Sleeping Giants told Crikey.
Sky has now pulled their videos from Twitter, and while their announcement hinted at a bid to “stop the misuse of its journalism by anonymous accounts”, Sleeping Giants believe it was largely down to the second, commercial decision based on getting more online advertising revenue.
The group still monitor Sky News “6pm to midnight weeknights” and sporadically around those times — they still post videos to Twitter, regardless of Sky’s move to quit the platform — and say they are currently developing a strategy to address the advertising that appears alongside online content, “but as with everything Murdoch, we have to convince companies that they no longer represent a trusted and respected voice in the public square”.
“Let’s face it: companies are lazy when it comes to their advertising placement. They spend millions producing the perfect ad and then leave it in the hands of a media buyer to get them the best deal for their budget.”
Target the individuals
In May, Richard Cooke published a damning call to action against the “good journalists” at News Corp — whose work he argues softens the campaign content. That the likes of Rick Morton, Chip Le Grand, and even some editors have since left certainly cannot be directly attributed to the piece, but does suggest something of a splintering.
Some other examples of journalists speaking out against the company: Rashna Farrukh publicly announced earlier this year why she left the day shift at Sky News; former editor-in-chief of The Australian David Armstrong revealed he’s cancelled his subscription to the broadsheet due to the presence of too many right-wing columnists; and former News Corp journo Tony Koch labelled The Australian “shameful” in its present state.
Cooke tells Crikey that, rather than being dimmed by industry pressure — Nine now has an internal rule not to criticise the competition — other outlets need to start holding News Corp as an entity to account.
“We’re now in a situation where Nine/Fairfax and ABC reporters are a bit cowed, they feel like News can criticise them as much as they like and they like won’t return fire. I would encourage people to return fire, once that happens — if it’s not too much of a mixed metaphor — I think that fierencess turns out to be quite thin.”
What do you make of these campaigns? Write to [email protected] and let us know.