It is a sign of the times when John Hartigan, News Limited’s head in Australia, has to defend his newspapers’ aggressive approach to the Gillard government. Murdoch’s Oz media have been accused of abusing their power with a campaign for regime change. The announcement of the carbon pricing and emissions trading scheme is the latest battleground.
The aptly named Loon Pond tracks the former Australian with vigour. The last two posts by ‘Dorothy Parker’ are typical of the criticisms. In ‘News Corp, Jack the insider and blood on the wattle redux …‘ he started by comparing the way their online blogsite The Punch has treated the News of the World hacking scandal with their coverage of the carbon tax:
It's carbon tax all the way at The Punch, like a robo bunny with a heavy duty battery, plus the usual mindless frivolities and nary a bleat about the Murdoch follies which have entranced every other website around the world.
This was followed by a detailed analysis of other Murdoch media. His post on Friday 15 July, ‘John Hartigan, and time for some bold as brass strident coverage of all that strident coverage …‘ continued this theme:
The comedy stylings at News Corp get better and more entertaining by the day, and none more so than that adept humorist John Hartigan.
…Leading the way, naturally, is the anonymous editorialist, who explains how A medieval world view does not help the planet in Black, white and green all over. And who holds this medieval world view? Why greenies of course, as the anon edit flings around such finely balanced words as zealots, preconceived ideas, dogmatism, blinkered world view, monochromatic world, and so on and so forth…
Matt de Silva at Happy Antipodean ponders their aggressive editorial policy in an untitled post:
Watching John Hartigan perform on the ABC's 730 program… There's an exceptionalism at play here in Hartigan's words that probably serves a lot of the troops in the organisation well at different times, especially when they feel besieged as a result of run-ins with external entities. When the time comes to making a stand it's therefore easy for journalists to say “We're different and, yes, this will be unpleasant but we're performing a public duty here”.
He anticipates a backlash:
This attitude can only inflame the situation because a wild animal when cornered will always turn and fight. So every headline and every editorial, every story placement on the corporate website and every picture selection – designed to depict, say, the prime minister as domineering or cowed – is animated by a preemptive supposition that thousands of people out there in the Australian public sphere hate what you are doing.
In confession time at News Ltd Gary Sauer-Thompson at Public Opinion bemoans the level of public debate about climate change that results from the relentless pursuit of their own agenda:
News Ltd's newspapers are well known for them providing a platform for the denial of climate change, opposition to a carbon tax, hostility to making the polluters pay for the greenhouse emissions that heat up the planet, and their antagonism to using renewal energy. They are also partly responsible for the low standard of public debate on the need for Australia to shift to a low carbon economy. News Ltd basically want the taxpayer to pay the polluters big money to keep on polluting.
Open and Shut’s Peter Timmins links current scrutiny of News td in Australia with its UK implosion In ‘Murdoch's UK woes bring Australian debate centre stage‘:
The debate about ethics, responsibilities and journalism standards and broader issues concerning the media that seemed a long way off a week ago is now well under way, and unlikely to stop anytime soon.
…We have Greens leader Senator Bob Brown calling for a Senate inquiry into Australia's media ownership laws and into the ethical standards of journalists.
The Greens position is no surprise given the open attitude of The Australian, Murdoch’s flagship down-under. Jeremy Sears at Crikey, quoting their editorial argued last year that it wants to destroy the Greens (and hence the minority government):
You can take pretty much everything The Australian says about the Greens in that context: they are not interested in giving them a fair hearing, or listening to what they have to say, or presenting their arguments for public assessment: they want them “destroyed”.
At The Drum former Democrats and Labor parliamentarian Cheryl Kernot criticises:
…politicians in Australia who have been, and currently are, in thrall to the power of media proprietors and shock jocks; seeking to court support, in the belief that a newspaper's endorsement is one of the powerful keys to election success. The trade-off is timidity in the face of a newspaper's “policy line.”
She hopes for a change from past practice:
Many former and current Australian prime ministers and opposition leaders have publicly courted Rupert Murdoch with their ritual pilgrimage to worship at the Murdoch shrine on visits to the US. Media commentators have used this as a (perverted) measure of “success”.
Stephen Mayne, former publisher of Crikey, doesn’t pull any punches on their platform:
At some point, the creeping and insidious influence of the Murdochs over Australian media needs to be wound back and there is no better time to start than now. If the Pommy politicians can belatedly develop some spine with some US Democrats following suit, why not their jelly-backed equivalents in Australia?
There didn’t appear to be any posts on the Oz blogosphere defending Murdoch’s local media from these accusations. It’s hardly surprising given the kind of week Murdoch is having in Britain. However, Columnist Joe Hildebrand from News Limited's Sydney tabloid the Daily Telegraph has struck back on The Punch with ‘Gillard and Brown are shootin’ the messenger‘:
The argument … is that a Government which has driven itself into uncharted depths of antipathy in the public’s view, should still be treated generously by the newspapers, even though their readers and the electorate are overwhelmingly opposed to it.
…Governments can usually get by on good policy or good spin; the best have both, this one has neither. Using the appalling behaviour of UK tabloids as an excuse to pursue a political agenda against the Australian press is just more proof of that.
The last word goes to media specialist Margaret Simons in a short video for the InDaily predicting “the end of the big media empires”: