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 result. 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 coincidence. 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 chance? 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 night. 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 over. 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) Editing Timelines need to be checked SOURCES REFERRENCED AND QUOTES QUOTED Logic needs to be checked RELEASE OF ADDITIONAL MATERIAL? Media laws cross-media, foreign, News Limited's status etc.. CALL FOR RESEARCH ASSISTANCE?
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