Don’t hold your breath

The report is about media diversity, which in Australia means it is about Rupert Murdoch. Most strikingly, it recommends a judicial inquiry into the media with the powers of a royal commission. Again, because this is Australia, it means a royal commission into Rupert Murdoch.

The senate committee heard that News Corp perpetuates and legitimises racism, that it conducts vendettas against individuals and has misled debate on climate change and the coronavirus. The report notes the “unhealthy and dangerous influence on politics” of a media monopoly. It also points to the risks for national security.

It asks whether Rupert Murdoch is “ ‘not a fit person’ to steward a global media company”. It considers this point so seriously that it gives it a subheading of its own.

“It was suggested in evidence that the record of News Corp-owned outlets, both in Australia and globally, demonstrated that Mr Rupert Murdoch is not a ‘fit and proper’ person to lead a global media company, due to repeated failures of corporate governance and management. These include a culture of ‘hacking’ sources illegally, bribery of police officers, covering up sexual harassment cases among its employees, and promoting dangerous disinformation that puts the community at risk.”

Elsewhere, it noted: “This inquiry has received evidence about the internal culture of News Corp, including that staff can be directed to cover issues in certain ways to fit a predetermined agenda, suggestions that there are highly sexist attitudes in the workplace and reporting, as well as a tolerance for racist attitudes informing its content.”

There is no doubt that News Corp has damaged Australian politics. To read the committee report is to read page after page of distorting influences, ideas and processes bent monstrously out of shape, mostly to the will or benefit of one man.

It is a decade since Rupert Murdoch sat in the modest, crowded room of a House of Commons select committee in London. The line he delivered was obviously prepared, although he still interrupted his son James to offer it. “Before you get to that, I would just like to say one sentence: This is the most humble day of my life.”

News Corp has largely weathered the phone-hacking scandal that was being investigated. This is despite evidence that police were bribed and communications tampered with.

James Murdoch, who was cut off saying “just how sorry I am, and how sorry we are, to particularly the victims of illegal voicemail interceptions and to their families”, has left the company. He said it was a “matter of great regret of mine, my father’s, and everyone at News Corporation”. Now he says, “I reached the conclusion that you can venerate a contest of ideas, if you will, and we all do and that’s important, but it shouldn’t be in a way that hides agendas.”

Campbell Reid, a former senior editor and now group executive at News Corp, told the senate committee, “James hasn’t worked in the Australian market. I’ve never worked with him. I am aware of his comments. I’ve never spoken to him about them.”

Whoever wins the next election now has a stark choice. It is between the courage to properly investigate the power of a man and company who have debased the politics of this country for decades, or to pretend once again that they don’t know what is really happening at the organisation that controls the news and every anxiety and forced decision that flows from that enormous power. No one is holding their breath.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 11, 2021 as "Don’t hold your breath".

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