A nation suborned to a media empire by Xw6rV7j


									A nation suborned to a media empire

In this essay I will seek to demonstrate that the actions of News Limited and the Howard
Government have been highly synchronised in the lead-up to the 2004 election. I will
re-evaluate the evidence presented on www.limitednews.info in light of the election

News Limited is the Australian arm of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's media
empire. News Limited runs the dominant daily newspaper in every capital except Perth
and Canberra, giving News Limited the power to set the daily news agenda every day
across the nation. News Limited also has a significant interest in Foxtel.

News Corporation is incorporated in South Australia, but at its recent Annual General
Meeting, Murdoch obtained shareholder approval for a move to Delaware in the United
States. This AGM occurred just after the federal election, and I will argue this is not a

Ever since Rupert Murdoch took out US citizenship, News Limited has existed in a legal
twilight zone. On the one hand, Australia media law dictates foreign ownership
restrictions. But on the other hand, the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, the regulator of
the day, (?) looked the other way. The authorities decided that because News
Corporation, the ultimate holding company, was incorporated here, News Limited was
still Australian.

This legal elephant sitting in the living room has just got up and started moving about,
and soon we are all going to notice. The result of News Corporation shifting domicile to
Delaware is that one of two things must happen: News Limited must sell out of its
newspapers across the nation, or the law must change to allow foreign ownership.
Unfortunately for News Limited, the latter option was unrealistic or at least not certain
without the Howard Government having Senate control. But conveniently, the Coalition
now has control of the Senate. The question is, would News Limited leave this all to

The stakes were very high – the future of a major global media empire, billions of dollars
of shareholder value and so on. Elections are inherently unpredictable acts of pure
democracy, right? All Murdoch's plans were up in the air and possibly never come to
pass. So what was to be done?

It is worth considering what News Limited would have done if Labor had won the 2004
election. It is conceivable they would have postponed the recent AGM, and done a
thorough re-think. Same goes if the Green-Democrats-Labor forces still had effective
Senate control. In sum, News Corporation's plans would be in severe doubt.

And given the level of outright antagonism displayed by News Limited towards federal
Labor and its leadership, the prospect of a Labor Government would have actually been a
nightmare for News Limited. But I need not speculate. Quoting from the internal daily
News Limited corporate brief: “gulp etc”

In April, Lachlan Murdoch met with Peter Costello. And Rupert Murdoch met with Mark
Latham. Shortly afterward the News Limited press started taking a very strong line
against Latham for his call to withdraw Australian troops by Christmas.

This was not a spontaneous common-sense reaction from Murdoch's editors. Nor was it a
case of Murdoch's like-minded appointments second-guessing the corporate line (a
milder form of coincidence theory). No, the Australian Gazette, the company-wide daily
brief, made it very plain what the line was. “Quote from Australian Gazette on Latham
and war in Iraq”. Journalists are not stupid, and any Murdoch hack who picks up the line
and runs with it must know full well that they are practicing a compromised form of
journalism. A journalism in which critical thinking is always applied outward, but never
upward. Maybe it isn't even journalism at all.

What is it that Latham told Murdoch senior that made News Limited so fearful and
spiteful. And what did Peter Costello tell Murdoch junior at the Turkish restaurant that

This was around the time that News Limited publically announced its plans to shift
domicile to Delaware. Another coincidence.

News Limited's machinations are not confined to Labor and the Coalition. I believe
that the disintegration of the Australian Democrats was achieved by incessantly stirring
up leadership speculation. In the end it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. The Democrats
were unfortunately too assimilated into the political system to publically question News
Limited's role. The Greens seem to have a more robust survival instinct. When the
Murdoch press started on about the Greens' drug policy, Bob Brown let it be known he
won't go quietlyand named News Limited at a press conference.

Decimating the Democrats has been a strategically effective move. It appears many
voters have shifted from the Democrats to the Coalition, from whence many came.
Andrew Bartlett noted that it was the Democrats taking a Coalition seat in Queensland 24
years ago that ended Fraser's control of the Senate. And now it is the loss of a Democrat
seat back to the Coalition which has restored unfettered power.

Howard is cautious by nature and has milked four consecutive election endorsements out
of News Limited. But the Howard Government also has something that I believe no-one
else federal politics has – strategic thinking. The Howard Government has assiduously
plotted with the most powerful people in this country to secure for itself the vanity of
four consecutive election victories. It has shameslessly lied and manipulated, and sold all
of us out on countless occasions, to advance interests that simply cannot be reconciled
with the public good.

So this is my hypothesis:
Early this year, News Limited finalised long-standing plans to shift domicile to the US.
In consultation with the Howard Government going back years it was understood that the
plan for eventual changes to the cross-media and foreign ownership laws required control
of the Senate from either a double-dissolution election victory or a half-Senate victory.
So the Coalition had to convincingly win two elections in a row, 2001 and 2004.

In order for this to happen, the alternative government had to be a divided, weakened
shambles, crippled by self-doubt.

This is what News Limited thought they had achieved under Crean. Crean staffers did
have a clue and were publically recorded to have jeered Murdoch hack Steve Lewis over
The Australian's barely disguised campaign against their leader (The Bulletin some time
in 2003). But the staffers confined their critisisms to this one relatively little-read paper –
unable to confront the dire truth, that the bulk of Australia's print media was out to
destroy their hopes.

But something bizarre happened. Labor did not switch back to two-time election loser
Kim Beazley. In a fit of defiance, more intuitive than strategic, the caucus elected Latham
by a margin of one vote.

News Limited didn't expect it, and my evidence is this: unlike almost every other player
in Parliament, News Limited had not yet invented a derogatory nick-name for Latham.
The Australian Gazette features monikers including Little Johnnie Howard, Thin-lips
Costello, Bulbous Beazley, Cranky Crean, Mad Monk Abott and Aimless Alston. But
when Latham became leader, he wasn't even on News Limited's radar. Only later did they
invent the remarkably respectful title “The Larrikin”.

So by April it was decision-time. The Murdochs, junior and senior, met with Costello and
Latham. And a decision was then taken. And out of that came the marginal seats guide.
An extraordinary document, the News Limited 2004 Federal Election Marginal Seats
Guide gives demographic data for the 30 most marginal seats. It was not prepared by a
journalist, but by a senior News Limited business manager, Warwick Costin. And
accompanying it was a list of issues prophesised to be important in marginal seats,
including “Latham attacks on church”. The Guide was prepared prior to the 2004 budget,
months out from the election. The Guide goes far beyond anything revealed in the critical
documentary Outfoxed. The Marginal Seats Guide is probably the closest thing to
election-rigging we will ever see in Australia.

The guide was part of an assiduous, ongoing campaign of opinion-making and
doubt-sowing against Labor, and the Greens. And while I took it at face value, that it was
targetted at marginal seats, it was also targetted at marginal voters everywhere – those
who would decide control of the Senate, state-by-state.

Howard called the election for a date prior to the News Limited AGM. It makes sense
they would occur in this order. Howard wanted Murdoch to campaign for him up to the
election. And Murdoch wanted to know the election outcome before finalising the
shareholder approval.
That is what I think has happened. And most Australians wouldn't have an inkling.

It would be interesting to closely analyse coverage of the Scrafton affair. On the eve of
the election campaign, this story was big in the popular press, including the infamous
lie-detector test on A Current Affair. But News Limited played the story down, never
giving it deserved prominence. It is a testament to tenuous nature of our parliamentary
system that merely by playing a story down, it can be killed outright.

I say “Parliamentary System”, because I don't think it is really a democracy. We keep
trying to fit the square peg in the round hole, assuming that rational debate will naturally
win voters over. What we really have is popular arbitration. The decision is arbitrary, and
everyone is supposed to live with it. But that does not mean the result does not matter.
Rather, from time to time it matters a great deal to some powerful interests who
understand that mere election donations would not alter the obstinance of those who
controlled the Senate.

By seeing our system for what it really is, we can start to identify how popular opinion is
guided. Not by thoughtful rational debate in the first instance. But by many forces, the
most powerful of which are economic security and the popular media. Only then it is
possible to take away undeserved media power. Because once everyone understands what
Malcolm Farr, Dennis Shanahan, and even dear old Paul Kelly are up to, the game is

So now I am sending out a call to all those with some time to spare. Shortly I am going to
release the remainder of my collection of Australian Gazettes, from the period leading up
to and including the 2001 election, and some more from April-May this year. I believe
some detailed and retrospective media monitoring is in order. It would be very interesting
to see, day by day, the effect these editorial directives had on coverage in each of the
News Limited papers. Does the Gazette lead the Murdoch papers' line, or merely follow
and reinforce it? Copies of newspapers going back years are available in state libraries,
and in the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

The situation is hopeless. We must take the next step. (With acknowledgment)

Timelines need to be checked
Logic needs to be checked
Media laws cross-media, foreign, News Limited's status etc..

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