Kevin Rudd’s petition is blowing up. The former prime minister’s call for a royal commission into News Corp has more than 350,000 signatures.
While his demands are almost certainly not going to be met, he’s rebooted a crucial conversation about the company’s pervasive influence over Australian politics. It’s forced plenty of coverage in rival news outlets, even those traditionally more reluctant to attack the beast than Crikey.
But despite Rudd’s call being pretty newsworthy, you’d be hard-pressed to read about it in any News Corp publication.
But it’s not because of any specific “anti-petition” policy — News Corp is happy to report on all kinds of petitions.
And snubbing Rudd can’t really be chalked down to a lack of relevance.
When Tony Abbott was a former prime minister, in 2016, his signing of a petition calling for a review of safe schools got a write-up in several News Corp papers.
Last year, when Sydney pre-schoolers signed a petition calling for the Aboriginal flag to be flown on the Harbour Bridge, it aroused a spree of tabloid fury, capped off with some Andrew Bolt hyperventilating.
Perhaps the lesson here is if you want your petition to get noticed, focus on the culture wars that News Corp has become obsessed with. When that obsession was squarely on Islam, a petition with just 400 signatures calling for a ban on anti-Muslim writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali got ample furious coverage (also with a Bolt column, of course).
And in the last year alone, The Australian’s transphobia correspondent Bernard Lane has written at least seven articles mentioning petitions related to gender identity and trans rights. One was a piece on Coalition Senator Amanda Stoker’s petition calling for a stand against the “radical transgender agenda”.
Other cranks have also got their due: Miranda Kerr’s mum’s anti-vaxxer petition was written up fairly uncritically in news.com.au.
Of course, there are some petitions the News Corp papers can’t avoid reporting on, even if they don’t fit into the current culture war.
Last year Warringah MP and Abbott-slayer Zali Steggall tabled a petition with a record 400,000 signatures calling for a climate emergency declaration. Despite News Corp’s well-documented hostility to the science on climate change, it covered the petition.
On the other hand, The Australian soon after gleefully reported that another online climate emergency petition had been blocked because of alleged fake signatories.
Perhaps if Rudd crosses Steggall’s record and gets more than 400,000 signatures, Holt St will be forced to take notice. But don’t hold your breath.